Let’s start with the most obvious question: is it even necessary to automate the sales process? After all - and any passionate salesperson would mark these words - each sale can be considered an individual and creative process in and of itself. Form of art even. In this day and age, though, automation seems more like a necessity than an option.
Is it so imperative for the sales process as well? Short answer: yes, long answer: read on and see why.
The reality is that, on average, salespeople spend just 1/3 of their day on customer interactions. The rest of their time is taken up by ineffective and time-consuming administrative tasks. CRM integration solutions are designed to reduce some of that workload. However, this is not always an all-in-one solution due to the peculiarities of the IT infrastructure of every company and unique characteristics of its business processes.
The daily 9-to-5 of the sales department is filled with dozens of routine tasks and, despite technological advances, most workers still spend a huge amount of time entering and deleting data, updating CRM databases and even fixing errors. No wonder multitasking is a stressful reality for salespeople and is often the culprit behind the backlog.
Quite a lot of things around the sales office would be different if it had routine processes automated. We’re going to explore some of those routine processes and see if we can think of ways to automate them.
What do we actually mean when we speak of automation?
Deploying automation means using software tools that simulate a specific set of human actions. Automation is a solution suitable for eliminating routine, repetitive, time-consuming tasks that won’t suffer in quality if a program does them instead. Those tasks are scattered throughout the working day of a salesperson and can take the shape of anything from registering an invoice to scavenging the web for the freshest leads.
These tasks are hardly the type of work the valuable sales department should be spending time on. However, things can be a little different in the real world and every business department has its own list of repetitive, routine tasks, even sales.
The difference is in whether their bottom line wins or loses from those repetitions. And in the case of the sales department, it's usually the latter, since automation holds great potential for boosting revenue and reducing costs.
Which sales processes can be automated?
Cross-functional research by the McKinsey Global Institute indicates that approximately a third of sales operations tasks can be easily automated with technology. The same study says 13-50% of sales functions can be automated, with 13% for situations where a salesperson plays a critical role (e.g. identifying and qualifying leads), and 50% for playing a lesser role (e.g. order management).
It should be noted that acquisition of new customers often happens at the intersection of two areas: marketing and sales. And while marketing has gone a long way in implementing workflow automation tools, sales performance still largely depends on the human factor. However, there are tons of tasks in sales that can be automated. Some of them (e.g. order management), while being the most time consuming, might not even have a direct impact on sales.
#1 Automation in communication process
From complexities to simplification and increased customer loyalty
Sales managers these days must pay more and more attention to the needs of customers, they must structure their work at every single PoC with the client, which, in turn, leads to an increase in the number of repetitive tasks. Automation empowers your team to focus on building customer relationships by handing over routine work to conversational AI or, as most people call them, chatbots. For example, dealing with FAQs about a product 24/7/365 while people focus on the subsequent stages of the funnel.
Another example is when a potential customer stagnates in the funnel. A chatbot could be that effortless opportunity to remind them about their interest in your company and bring the deal to a close. And by effortless we mean the chatbot will automatically contact the customer via whichever channel is best (email or SMS), talk to them in a manner that actually makes sense (due to inbuilt natural language processing) and switch over to a real person if needed.
This makes a lingering customer-to-be unstuck without any need for a salesperson to dedicate their time and resources to keeping an eye on them. A salesperson can take over at any moment or usually when the customer is ready to communicate more.
While chatbots are great for simple practical questions and all, they’re no match for when it comes to a good sales deal. And nobody’s saying we should outsource all comms to the robots, although some of them might be getting quite good at it. However, some tedious parts of organizing the process of communication are very much automatable.
Hubspot 2021 numbers say that sales teams spend 21% of their day writing emails, 17% entering data, another 17% prospecting and researching leads, 12% going to internal meetings, and 12% scheduling calls. Is there any way to make the organization of comms simpler?
There is dedicated software that will act as virtual assistants, taking on the tedious part of the job, such as the automated dialing of calls in call centers or receiving incoming calls through an automated voice response, thus giving sales managers the ability to guarantee high quality of customer service from their side. All of these things, along with automated email campaigns, can build a solid groundwork for an accurate multichannel strategy, efficient lead funnel and growing customer satisfaction.
#2 Automation of sales funnel
Collecting new leads’ data - from endless copy-pasting to data extraction
Speaking of an efficient lead funnel - it's one thing to work with existing contacts, but a whole other to be looking for new ones. Here’s where one of the most accessible ways of automated data gathering can fit in, to the point you might not even realise it’s actually automation. It’s called web scraping.
Here’s how it works: if a salesperson aims to create a whole new list of all logistics companies in the city, their first logical step would be to look them up and - if they’re lucky - find a nicely compiled directory with all the important contacts. The only problem being that websites have dozens of pages of those contacts. And that’s where the grind starts, as well as the loss of priceless time to menial tasks. Our sales guy is now facing the seemingly endless copy-pasting process of making dozens of inputs into CRM forms, all while making sure not to make any mistakes and keep things orderly. Who knew a job in sales could look like that at times.
Web scraping companies such as Apify offer fairly simple programs that can pick out that data from the website and wrap it all into one file. The data can be anything: from occasional contact details compilation (like in the example above) to the daily monitoring of the prices of your competitors.
You can head over to Apify Store to explore the ever expanding range for simple automation. Maybe web scrapers will not directly generate leads for your funnel, but they can gather and structure all the needed info within minutes. All the salesperson will have left to do is finish their coffee, upload the file into the CRM and start working with it.
#3 Automation in data management and reporting
From information overload to clear sales strategy and strategic planning
Last but not least - in the sales department, information perpetually flows in such volumes that at times not even a top-notch Head of Sales would be able to process it, let alone build a decent report on it. Without the help of automation tools, the task of taking into account every important aspect is nearly impossible. This spills over into strategizing as well. Scattered data leads to a scattered reporting picture, which leads to poor business vision and forecasts. The difficulty also lies in the fact that the report can take quite some time to prepare.
Accurate and timely reporting is one of the key aspects of good team management. Automation will keep the managers informed about the daily work of the sales team members, and also help them create more accurate reports in a shorter time. As a result, they are able to build a reliable sales strategy based on actual, data-based performance. So automation tools allow sales not only to reduce repetitive administrative tasks, but also to analyze and identify ineffective workflows that need to be improved.
Summing it up, sales automation empowers to:
- Create a high-quality, well-organized customer base that will boost sales
- Get a helicopter view on the sales funnel as well as how the stages of sales are being carried out
- Satisfy customer requests and potentially increase customer satisfaction
- Analyze the work of the sales department, take note of the problematic aspects and work on improving them
- Facilitate the process of managing the sales department
- Improve sales reps’ performance and achieve new heights in efficiency and bottom line
- Plan and envision the future of the company while armed with data
It’s important to remember that technology is here to help us, enhance our goals and business aspirations. It all depends on how we decide to use it. Automation solutions can take on some of the grueling tasks and give your team back valuable time that can be effectively spent on tasks within their competence and interest: active sales, customer communication, and improvement of customer service.
Natasha Lekh is a Technical Copywriter at Apify. She writes about web scraping, data extraction, and web automation.