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Myriad vendors propose solutions to fill the void that exists as we enter the dawn of the Sales Automation Age, or better yet The Age of the Intelligent Workflow. Unfortunately, almost everyone is getting it wrong.
That's a bold claim, especially when I'm one of those vendors. This warrants an explanation. From my perspective, there are a few must haves for any automation platform. This is the list of how to not get it wrong. Any solution you evaluate that lacks even one of these criteria should be disqualified; it's no longer an option for you.
Customization - Being able to customize automated communication prior to execution is imperative. Sales is both science and art. It requires hard-coded processes and a gut feeling. That's why automation is so difficult to get right. The ability to dress up a drab sales processes and templates with personality, and all the other things only a human can do, separates the winners from the losers. Take care with this advice and remember: not having best-in-class automation (a.k.a. semi-automation) means you aren't truly doing what salespeople need to do most- accelerating the pace of meaningful human connections.
Social engagement - Using social selling dramatically increases results. Honestly, I hate the term "social selling." Selling is selling… it's always social. If the tool you are evaluating doesn't allow for engagement via social networks (that's what most people mean when they say "social selling"), you won't be where many of your prospects are. Seamlessly weaving these social channels into your workflow will get you in front of more people.
Workflow Management - Execution of a process requires a workflow (you'll notice I use that term a lot). I've seen dozens of sales processes. Winning processes always prioritize workflow, i.e. not only what sales reps do and when they will do it, but also how they will do it when they're at their desks tomorrow. I can set up a sequence of tasks that happen at specific intervals of time, but I need to make sure my teams can do those tasks without drowning and that their execution will drive results that merit the effort, planning, and implementation required. Anything that promises to allow you to do more without properly addressing your workflow is just hype.
Alignment to current tools - If a solution doesn't "work" with the tools you already have and use, then the pain of change will outweigh the benefits. Disjointed solutions and half-cocked integrations mean your team's use of current tools will wane as their workflows grow more complicated. Specifically, a sales automation/intelligent workflow tool needs to be able to integrate seamlessly with CRM, marketing automation, and lead gen/prospecting tools. I'm not talking about hacked together integrations through third parties - you need top-notch, direct integration into your main selling platform. If your solution's (or prospective solution's) engineering team doesn't understand the other technologies you are using, then you will not have the right tool alignment. Make sure they go deep and the integration is something better than what a hobbyist programmer could cobble together using basic APIs and Google searches.
Flexibility and power - Do you want your sales tools to dictate the way you do business or do you want to optimize your sales process the way you see fit and have your tool be flexible enough to support it and powerful enough to have a substantial effect on it? You should determine and control the level of automation, testing, user access, organization, etc. One challenge of a sales automation/intelligent workflow tool is to implement it widely and deeply across a market, meaning that it's flexible enough to meet any process thrown at it and powerful enough to be a force multiplier on that process's results. Ask questions to make sure you rule the tool; don't let the tool rule you.
Security - Locking down sales data is critical. Companies need to be aware of the risks they incur from hacked-together tools and single-user deployments of non-enterprise solutions and extensions employees have installed on their browser. Having a couple of reps on a rogue tool is a big security risk. Using a tool that can't provide security certifications, penetration test results, and detailed explanations of what is done with your data will start getting sales leaders fired. You need more substance than "we run on AWS" or "yeah, we are secure" answers. Demand proof that your data is secure. A truly secure tool always welcomes a security review.
These are must-have, non-negotiable criteria. If you want to get the right sales automation/intelligent workflow tool for your sales team, I encourage you to begin here. How the tool looks, if your reps like it, price, etc. are secondary factors to save for after you've answer the major questions posed above.
Originally published on "LinkedIn"