Sales have frequently been labelled as the “lifeblood” of any business. Yet it is often one of the biggest bottlenecks in businesses, especially where the entrepreneur is more technically orientated. Many tools and services exist to help entrepreneurs improve their sales funnel and repeat business, but with the development in technology, automating that process, or parts of it, has even become economical for small enterprises.
The June episode of the IBASA & EPI Webinar Series titled “How to Support Your Clients to Increase Their Profits with Sales Automation”, provided practical insight and solutions to Business Advisers and owners alike.
The webinar was hosted on 27 June 2019 with experts in the sales automation value chain joining as panellists such as Scott Cundill from majestic3.com, Tania Cooke-Tonnesen from BluWave Software and Kekeletso Moloto from jedimarketing.co.za.
The sales cycle is like a 3-piece rubber band
Scott, providing a quick and dynamic view on sales automation and what to watch out for, warned that automation is not your golden ticket to sales success. He stressed that the greatest salesman is still a human because it is people doing business with people. He also believes that the SME business owner (or one of them), is always the best salesperson for the business.
This being said, Scott emphasises that you (business adviser) and your clients must have some level of sales automation. It is not a question of whether you should have it, but what is the minimum level of automation you should have.
He then proceeds to use a rubber band to illustrate the sales cycle, it is flexible because the length of sales cycles is different for different businesses. Important is that the sales cycle consists of three sections which also differ in length:
1. Prospecting – you’ve got to meet the people you want to do business with;
2. Nurturing those relationships; and
3. Closing those deals.
“It is important to understand that there are three distinct sections in the sales cycle and that automation will not do all three in one go”, Scott says. He suggests you start with only one section, the one that would be easiest to automate, normally the prospecting phase. Scott continues that “the easiest approach is automating your LinkedIn and start making connections with people in your target audience while you are sleeping”.
Automation only works with a niche, according to Scott. You need to be clear about the target market. It’s also not about your product, it is about their (your customer’s) pain. He gives a practical example: “if you’re a financial advisor and you sell insurance, don’t go around saying you’re a financial advisor or that you sell insurance. You need to go in and say I help teachers with their financial needs, specifically to help them have a second (holiday) home. That’s how you create a niche. And that’s how you build a relationship”.
Leveraging social media, especially a professional/business orientated platform like LinkedIn seems a good place to start an automation. According to Scott LinkedIn is your BFF (best friend forever). He maintains that this is the easiest and quickest to automate and focus on people in that target audience. It is cheap to do, but effective.
Ensuring sales automation improve the bottom-line
Tania provided us with detail on what to look out for to grow profits through sales automation.
Asking who should Automate, Tania argues it is good for all. From one-man companies to nationwide teams. Product or Service based Companies. Low-price consumables or high-ticket capital items. She does, however, acknowledge that return on investment is normally faster for smaller implementations but a ROI within three months is not unusual even for larger projects because of affordability (with user per month from about R 300 and set up and training from R 5000).
Tania maintains that there is no better investment for a small to medium business returns are quick, on-going and exponential. An HBR study shown an average boost in new sales by 30%, with increased customer retention, and reduce selling costs (25%). What I like about it is that it provides information to make better marketing decisions.
Automating the quoting process, a huge time waster in most businesses seems to be a quick winner. According to Tania, a good system should generate quotes in two minutes. This process should control quote content enabling you to add terms, function descriptions, pictures, brochures, and cover letter content. This way, you empower the sales team to get quotes out on the move quickly, with high quality every time, and thereby increases their selling time.
She stresses the importance to connect your web inquiry pages to your system and set up immediate automated responses. This way entrepreneurs can automate leads management with electronic marketing campaigns to nurture leads and supplement telephonic and face to face selling.
Automation will also increase customer retention, according to Tania. She suggests businesses use automated call cycles to manage proactive customer calling and use key dates to prompt for business such as service contract renewal dates, service due dates, the warranty expires, purchase agreements. You can further enhance the quality of your after-sales service using a service ticketing system. I agree that customers will buy again if they get regular good service. Tania proposes businesses leverages support logging of service tickets via web or email – making it easier for customers to do business with you.
On how to grow sales to current customers, Tania suggested integrating your CRM with your Accounting/ERP system to draw in sales history. Using sales history to identify customers not purchased recently and find ways to an added value by spreading product and market knowledge in your push messages (bulk mail). She underlines Scott’s words that it is about people, by advising SMEs to identify possible cross-sell and up-sell opportunities and then direct targeted messages to trigger customers to initiate discussions with your sales force.
Tania maintains that selling cost can be reduced through increased productivity and enhanced efficiency of your internal and external sales force. Use also digital marketing to supplement telephonic and face to face selling bringing down the cost of selling. She proposes the use “specials” and discounts with expiry dates to shorten the sales process while using “workflow functions” to automate tedious manual processes e.g. capturing new leads directly off the web, send emails on customer birthdays to leverage cost savings through automation.
What management will appreciate is the ability to make better marketing decisions through capabilities like lost deals analysis (which will also improve objection handling). Tania suggests entrepreneurs use Business Intelligence functions to graphically manage their sales teams with custom dashboards and drill downs. She suggests you leverage automation to find your ideal prospects and replicate them for better lead generation.
To start with sales automation, Tania proposes you select functions that will generate quick wins for you. Define key objectives and prioritise actions. Do one key area at a time in one to three-month phases and then continually extend your sales automation. She gives the following process example:
- Start with quotes automation.
- Extend into your lead generation processes.
- Extend to account management, customer agreement renewals, contract management.
- Extend into after-sales services and customer care.
Tania stressed the importance to appoint a system champion to maintain the system and drive the automation strategy – even if you must outsource some of the processes to an expert.
Take customers on a journey through all three stages
Kekelestso gave us a clear picture of the customer journey we need to understand. She shared also three stages in the cycle, before (lead generation), during (lead nurturing) and after (one-on-one consultation) she applies in her marketing business.
The first stage, lead generation (before), consists of six elements to be considered according to her. This includes content, landing page, social media, website, lead magnets, and offline. Keke elaborated on each, but what stood out for me was authenticity. You do not have to use all the elements, but according to her, you need to provide credible, useful information. The idea of lead magnets was also interesting, especially for business advisers. Keke suggests the use of publishing white papers and blog posts, or even sharing your “cheat sheets” to confirm your expertise.
Explaining the lead nurturing (during) stages, Keke talked us through a nice graphic to provide a better understanding of the processes.
For new leads, she suggests a bonding series, because “people only buy from people they know like and trust”. The next phase is the action series where they are exposed to an event, like a webinar, and asked to act. When they make a purchase, they get onto the “value ladder” where they start to contribute to your business viability and growth.
She stresses the fact that people readiness to engage with your product or to purchase is on different levels. You need to find ways to segment your audience and tailor your communication to were they are on the journey.
Keke highlights an important sales reality. Not everybody will choose to purchase. She says “that’s where you learn to re-engage people. Just because someone did not take that specific action at the time that you wanted them to, does not mean that you cannot really target them in future”.
On the other side, she emphasises, you also don’t just want to have people on our mailing list that will never become customers. And that’s where you must learn to remove people. Keke suggests sending them a communication “We’ve been communicating for some time. I’ve been sending emails. You don’t seem to be interested in buying any products we offer. Should we take you off our mailing list”? She advises that if you don’t get a response after a very long period, don’t be afraid to move people, they just did weights on the mailing list.
The final stage for Keke is to create an ongoing, direct interaction with a paying client, taking them up the value ladder. She illustrates the path for a free webinar, should lead to for instance to a paid for the workshop, next level paid for an online course and eventually to a paid membership. A pre-requisite for this to work, one would need a clearly defined value offering at each level.
A text question “What challenges did you face, or do you anticipate facing when introducing sales automation” also highlighted the challenges business advisers face in order to bring this solution to their clients.
Attendees confirm challenges and opportunities to support clients in automating sales
Responses ranged from “my clients have never heard of terms like leads and certainly have no idea what a CRM is, older business clients fear of technology and trying something new, lack of digital skills among entrepreneurs and resistance to chance adopting new tools, and fear of losing the personal touch – probably because they think that the entire sales process needs to be automated”.
Other BAs also acknowledged that is not easy for older clients to user-technology, and they rely mostly on Accountants and Business Advisors. Other hurdles highlighted were perception regarding overcoming spam, cost limitations for SME clients, and even cultural challenges. Technology seems to be a monster when you speak to some entrepreneurs some said, with others stating some of their clients have a ‘culture’ challenge, they believe that it is inappropriate to network with friends and family, let alone for business.
While some BAs also acknowledged their own shortcomings about automation, stating that it is a first for them, they are learning and have not applied any automation themselves. Arguing that to advise someone else effectively might be a problem.
The challenge for business owners to see selling within the broader business system and the need to understand the different skills and options available were also posted.
Some challenges stated went beyond automation with SME owners often wanting to do everything on their own and some only want to focus on themselves and their product rather than the needs of their clients.
Despite these perceived challenges, a poll early in the webinar confirmed the importance of exposing business advisers to this kind of knowledge. While only 29% of attendees indicated that they have often assisted clients with sales automation, 87% indicated that their clients can benefit from it.
- To view a recording of the full webinar, << CLICK HERE >>.
- The next IBASA & EPI Webinar, scheduled for 25 July 2019, will cover the important subject:
” Easy Ways To Use Financial Information To Identify Challenges to Address With Your Business Clients”
<< CLICK HERE >> to register for the next episode in the IBASA & EPI Webinar Series (to be updated before publishing).
Carel Venter is the producer of the IBASA & EPI Webinar Series.