Years ago I had a sales manager who refused to take work home. I asked her how she was able to leave it behind at the end of the day with a clear conscience. She coolly said, “If I can’t get my work done in 8 hours, I’m doing something wrong.”

Sage advice, but is it relevant today? When salespeople are doubling as statisticians, designers, accountants, and researchers, is it still possible to accomplish everything that needs to be done to support the sales cycle without being sucked into an endless loop? With the right technology and a little outside help, the answer is yes.

We are firm believers that automating aspects of the sales process should enable your team to have more meaningful conversations thus closing more deals, not as a crutch for avoiding the human-based aspect of sales.

 

What Part of the Sales Process Can You Automate?

According to TOPO, one of the most respected sales and marketing research and advisory firms, only 53% of the typical sales rep’s week is devoted to core selling activities. The remaining 47% is consumed by things like administrative work (21%), sales development (12%), and internal meetings (14%).

automation sales process 2
Image courtesy of the SalesLoft report: Best Practices of Top Performing Sales Reps. Statistics courtesy of TOPO.

Of the three non-core sales process activities depicted above, certain admin and development tasks are the easiest to automate. These tasks may include but are not limited to:

  • Order/invoice processing (admin)
  • Compiling monthly sales figures (admin)
  • Contract review (admin)
  • Lead maintenance/enrichment (dev)
  • Responding to general email/web form queries (dev)
  • Email prospecting (dev)

There are several tools on the market that can automate most of these tasks. My team uses Salesforce and Apollo (a lead gen tool) for a few good reasons. The two platforms integrate easily, they seamlessly exchange data in real time, and together, provide anything you could want in terms of report generation and sales development task automation. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do your homework to find the best automation tools for your team, but for the sake of illustration I will refer to the SFDC/Apollo model. Consider SFDC your CRM (customer relationship manager) and Apollo your lead gen tool. Most workflow automation platforms can roughly produce the same results without regard to ease-of-use, features, or price. 

Admin Automation

With one-click you can pull data from Salesforce into the Apollo database, making it easy to build and run reports based on practically any metric stored in SFDC.

Does your team need a report on closed/won opportunities for the month, quarter, or fiscal year? How about a quarterly sales pipeline report, including the number of signed contracts, verbal agreements, and opportunities that need further analysis? With the data at hand, pulled from Salesforce into Apollo, reports like these would take a minute or two to build and a second or two to run. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some other metrics you can use to build custom reports:

  • Call reports:
    • # or % of calls dialed
    • # or % of calls connected
    • # or % of positive, negative, and neutral calls
  • Email reports:
    • # or % of emails delivered
    • # or % of emails opened
    • # or % or emails replied
    • # or % of emails clicked
  • Account-based reports:
    • Active opportunities vs. dead opportunities
    • # of accounts touched over a specific period
    • # of accounts called/emailed
  • Opportunity/sales pipeline reports:
    • $ Opportunity total/avg. amount won
    • Opportunity avg. sales cycle in days
    • % Opportunity win rate
    • $ Opportunity pipeline generated

These reports can be shared with your entire sales team instantly on the Apollo team dashboard, or the raw data can be downloaded in a CSV file for use in slide decks or other types of collateral.  Apollo uses CSV (comma-separated values) files for both uploads and downloads because they are simple, text-based files that communicate with most databases and can also be opened as Excel or Google spreadsheets. 

With both Apollo’s extensive list of standard and custom filters you can build reports to pull a specific dataset, your report-building power with these two platforms is virtually unlimited.  

Sales Dev Automation

Volume is a major concern when prospecting with email. With the average open rate for B2B emails at around 15% and the conversion rate on those anywhere from 0.5 to 1.5%, you need to get your message in front of a lot of people before seeing any measurable ROI. Volume email is a task that begs for automation, and Apollo is an excellent tool for the job.  

But whether you choose Apollo or another email automation platform, you should insist on some standard features:

  • Build automated email sequences of unlimited steps (recommended max of 5).
  • A/B split feature to test variations on subject lines and sales message.
  • Ability to manually override any step for greater control over personalization.
  • Code snippets that pull pertinent information from the database, such as first names, titles, business names, day of week, time of day, and even custom data.
  • Easy integration with popular commercial webmail platforms, such as Gmail.

Features like this are nice, but not revolutionary. Many highly rated email automation platforms offer the same or similar features, so I only point to Apollo’s features as a minimum standard. Still, when you can get a world-class, data-first sales platform designed to work with the world’s best CRM and a dynamic email automation feature all in the same package, serious consideration must be given to the SFDC/Apollo package.

But the larger point is, choose the automation platform that’s right for your team so you can stop dumping time into redundant tasks and start funneling it back to your core selling activities.

 

What Part of the Sales Process Should You Outsource? 

There’s no way around it, some tasks require a human touch. Though AI has advanced remarkably in only a few short years, it’s still not evolved enough to answer phones, write a comprehensive research report on a prospect, clean up your CRM, or any number of tasks better left to people. Elon Musk may have something sales process related in the works, but we’re not there yet.

An outsource company can be your friend but choose wisely. There are hundreds of outsource companies and virtual assistants that either specialize in certain tasks or pad their resumes to appear as a catch-all solution.

Make sure any outsourced help you bring in familiar with your type of sales cycle and has experience with the tools you use. If Salesforce is your CRM, you don’t want to spend time training a HubSpot expert who isn’t a certified SFDC administrator. If you need white papers and technical collateral designed and written, it won’t do much good to bring in an email marketing specialist with no experience in Photoshop, InDesign, or RoboHelp, no matter how good the copy is.        

Do You Need Extra Help?  

Maybe your company is in an awkward in-between stage – too busy to manage the workload with current staff but not busy enough to justify bringing in another vendor. Maybe it’s time to hire a sales ops assistant or cross-train someone in your department.

Sales ops has evolved over the past decade as companies have adopted a more strategic, data-driven approach to sales. As a result, what used to be a subset of sales has blossomed into an independent discipline with its own science, workflow, and knowledge base.

If you decide expanding your team is the way to go, make sure you bring in someone with the proper credentials. Look for experience in copywriting, CRM management, design, and customer service. If you think cross-training is a more practical solution, make sure you get your candidate trained properly. Salesforce offers several administrator certifications and Hubspot is famous for its online training.  

Take a Look at your Daily Activities

When was the last time you actually recorded everything you do in a day? When have you logged the time you spend on email, impromptu phone calls, paperwork, research, report writing, and everything else that plays a role in the sales process? Maybe .. never? If that’s the case, then it’s safe to assume that quite a few time wasters have bored their way into your daily routine. Spend one day doing an audit of your workflow. See where holes exist in your process! These pests need to be uncovered and exterminated, and a comprehensive inventory of your activities over the course of a day, week, or month is just the thing to do it.

Before you start to think that taking inventory of your daily tasks is just adding another task to your to-do list, automation rears its beautiful head again. There are a number of apps on the market that can do this for you. Toggl is a popular choice, but there are about a dozen similar apps that will perform your time keeping function.

But if you decide to keep it simple and put pen to paper, be prepared to be honest and meticulous when you write. Let your regular routine run but take note of what you do as much as you can.

  • Did you check your email at 11:20, 1:30, and 4:10 for no apparent reason? Write it down.
  • Did you pull up LinkedIn to see if a prospect had responded to you in Messenger and found yourself drawn into an article on rebutting sales objections? Take stock of it.
  • Did you suddenly remember that you need to compile a report on close rates by Friday and you’d like to devote some time to it now rather than doing the whole thing in one session? Mark it.

Though it will be tedious, write it all down and look for patterns after a week or two. This will not only throw a spotlight on your own typical time wasters but expose some habits that you didn’t know you had. Once you have some hard data to work with, cleaning up is just a matter of organization, making decisions, and finding the proper tools and people to help.

After all, you’re probably not doing anything wrong, you’re just trying to do too many things right. 

 

We love helping teams build out a proper social selling toolkit that is scalable, personalized, and high touch. In today’s day and age, automation is appropriate when it comes to organizing and finding contacts, but when it comes to outreach, the more legwork you put in the higher the reward. Contact us to chat about sales enablement, building a new sales playbook, or seeing how content and social selling can really amplify your goals.

Tom Cholewa

Tom is a Sr. SDR at RevenueZen. He works with various SaaS start-ups to create as much sales pipeline as they can handle. When he’s not writing email sequences, LinkedIn content, or building targeted prospecting lists, he’s brushing up on the latest trends in K-Pop so he can have a conversation with his 12-year-old daughter. Occasionally, he’ll catch a St. Louis Cardinals game.