Sales Best Practices

What is sales automation?

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Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices

How sales automation can drive efficiency and success

For many sales teams, outdated, manual processes are tedious, time-consuming, and often frustrating. Sales teams are busy: They must complete and track daily workflows, tasks, and activities in the sales process, all while generating pipeline. In fact, reps only spend 35.2% of their time on true revenue-generating sales activities.

Competitive sales organizations have started leveraging automation to help relieve the burden of manual processes and free up time for higher-value initiatives. By pairing their CRM system and sales automation software to automate outreach, sales people can better focus on building relationships with customers and clients and (ultimately) move more deals across the finish line.

Here, we’ll take a close look at sales automation, how it can impact specific sales team members, and some barriers to automation success.

What is sales automation?

Sales automation refers to the practice of using technology — like AI — to systematize sales-related tasks and boost efficiency. Sales automation tools can reduce or eliminate otherwise manual, laborious tasks such as email campaigns, sales outreach, and data entry.

Some sales automation technologies use conversation intelligence to help teams improve their sales calls conversions, too. They offer meeting transcripts, bookmarked notes, action items, and even real-time guidance for sellers. For example, instead of having to jot down call notes (which is distracting), then transcribe those notes into a system of record for later analysis and follow up, a rep using an automated tool gains instant, insightful summaries and next steps. The result is a well-prepared, more confident rep who can execute their action items quickly, accurately, and efficiently.

What is sales process automation?

Sales process automation takes things to the next level by automating multiple steps and workflows within a team’s sales process for an even more optimized operation. Successful sales process automation enables reps to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time focusing on what really matters: building customer relationships.

Teams can apply sales process automation to each stage of the buyer’s journey to streamline day-to-day operations.

Interest

There are various ways in which a prospect can demonstrate interest in your company’s products and/or services. For example, leads may connect with your brand by signing up for a newsletter, booking a demo, downloading gated content, or registering for a webinar. Each of these actions should trigger swift followup from a rep, as the prospect may be interacting in a similar way with competitors.

But identifying, tracking, and acting upon each of these leads (across numerous channels) in a timely manner can be challenging for already-busy reps. They often miss out on that critical point in which a prospect is ready to hear from a seller. And since sales reps only have a 14-day window after first contact to engage a buyer before it’s too late, speedy identification, categorizing, and action is absolutely essential.

With the right technology, sales process automation can seamlessly capture those leads and immediately notify reps of their interest. Sellers can instantly see exactly how and when the prospect interacted with the company and take the appropriate next steps. If a lead books a demo, for example, sales process automation tools can automatically schedule a rep meeting and include the prospect’s relevant details for review prior to the call. This saves precious time otherwise spent manually sorting through and contacting leads who’ve expressed interest.

Decision

Effectively engaging with prospects, fielding their questions, and providing thoughtful resources and collateral are all crucial to nudging them towards making a purchase. But getting that deal across the finish line also means successfully executing each of these tasks better than your competitors.

Sales automation gives reps the upper hand during the decision stage, as it empowers them to easily share essential information with prospects at the right time. Intelligent technologies identify and create post-meeting action items, so nothing falls through the cracks. Reps always know when and with whom to share product documentation, contracts, invoices, and more, without having to manually track these details for each lead.

Plus, they’re not bogged down by manual data entry, since automated technology instantly stores, updates, and shares key documents. This streamlines the entire decision-making process and ensures buyers perceive your company as a well-oiled, efficient, and confident solutions partner.

Action

Once a customer is ready to buy, it’s time to either collect payment or confirm the closing of the deal. While this phase of the process is always considered a win for sellers, it’s traditionally time-consuming and tedious, too. It requires copious amounts of data entry and administrative work and is prone to human error.

But with sales automation technology, reps sellers can instantly track new deals, payments, and customer deals in a single, centralized place. Automated billing software even helps teams accurately track revenue and easily manage customer accounts.

What does sales automation look like for sales reps?

Sales reps who use traditional, manual, or disjointed tools waste an average of four hours per week toggling between notes and apps. This eats into time that could be better spent creating more pipeline, engaging with customers, and closing deals.

But with automation, sales reps can:

  • Boost their productivity - Sellers are tasked with engaging leads in the pipeline across various channels by researching prospects, making sales calls, requesting client meetings, and sending followup emails. Without intelligent technologies to bolster their processes, these tasks slow down reps’ daily work. This is especially true if they still rely on myriad, disconnected apps and platforms to conduct their sales tasks. With automated, integrated tools for call analytics and conversation intelligence, workflow optimization, AI-driven insights, and complete alignment between buyers, sellers, and stakeholders, reps can maximize their productivity. Instead of being bogged down by labor-intensive, low-impact (yet necessary) steps, they always have everything they need to keep deals on track with less effort.
  • Build better customer relationships - Reps often don’t have the bandwidth required to foster genuine relationships with their clients. But since fully engaged customers result in 23% greater profitability, building strong customer relationships is likely an initiative your company can’t afford to ignore. When paired with your CRM, automated sales technologies can help your team better personalize the buying journey from start to finish, which ensures an ideal customer experience and deeper relationships between reps and their clients. Some automated tools offer buyer sentiment analysis, which reveals customers’ intent behind every interaction. With that in-depth understanding of what their customers want (and don’t want) at any given time, salespeople can make more authentic connections and better demonstrate their customer-centric approach.
  • Close more deals at a faster pace - It’s tough to move deals forward if the involved stakeholders aren’t on the same page every step of the way. But keeping everyone in the loop and ensuring transparency isn’t easy if your team isn’t using the right tools. Sales process automation helps reps easily store, track, and share all essential documents and resources with the right people at the right time. Buyers, sellers, and other key decision-makers can collaborate on documents (like mutual action plans) in real-time, so no one is left in the dark about a deal’s progress or what’s needed to push it forward. This level of alignment allows sellers to move more deals to close at a faster pace without sacrificing attention to detail.

What does sales automation look like for sales managers

Effective sales managers and leaders know that driving their teams’ growth requires strong processes and strategies. But even the best-laid plans can fall short if they don’t use competitive, intelligent technology to help optimize the management process.

When they adopt sales process automation tools, leaders and managers can:

  • Boost transparency - “Transparency” has become a buzzword as of late, but many sales managers struggle to actually find and maintain that elusive visibility into their teams’ operations. Outdated tools don’t help, since the data they offer is typically outdated by the time it’s collected and analyzed. To gain a deep, accurate understanding of what’s happening across their teams, sales managers need automated tools that enable them to track and analyze data in real time. Sales execution platforms, for example, surface AI-driven insights to help managers translate their sales data into action. Using these insights, they can better understand rep progress and performance, easily identify what’s working and what’s not, and ameliorate issues before they become larger problems.
  • Reduce turnover - The average turnover rate for sales reps is around 34%, and it's no wonder why. Inadequate tools, sticky processes and workflows, and inconsistent commissions all drive sellers to jump ship. In order to decrease turnover and attract new talent, too, managers need robust tools that make their reps’ jobs easier. Instead of requiring them to spend hours on end memorizing scripts, digging through resources to find what they need, or manually entering data, equip them with automated technologies that provide a single, easily-accessible, up-to-date source of truth for everything they do.
  • Save time - Sales managers and leaders are busy people. They must provide ongoing training and support, deliver predictable, cross-team production, drive rep development, and properly use data to inform their management efforts. Without sufficient technology, this can feel like an impossible feat. Sales automation tools can take some of the burden and stress off of the day-to-day management duties, such as sitting in on every meeting or analyzing every call transcript to determine how reps can improve. These systems automatically identify essential information in calls and emails, so managers can help their reps course-correct their behavior before a deal is lost — without spending countless hours on manual review.

The benefits of sales automation for sales teams

Every member of your sales team is an important cog in the larger machine; so keeping each cog as productive, efficient, and engaged as possible is vital to the broader team’s success.

By automating the sales process, sales teams reap a variety of benefits that contribute to improved performance, including:

  • A standardized sales process - It’s difficult to ensure consistency if you don’t have the right data (or enough of it) to see what’s really happening and how it impacts your team’s successes and failures. Sales automation helps ensure data consistency across the entire organization to better assess and improve your process. Tools that automatically generate powerful sales dashboards, for instance, instantly generate standardized, centralized, and visually appealing displays of your data (from a variety of relevant sources) in a single place. This helps managers create challenging, yet achievable goals, and easily measure team performance and progress against those goals in real time. It also takes the guesswork out of building an effective, standardized sales process that yields positive results, since managers can always see what’s working and tweak the process across the board with limited disruption.
  • Increased collaboration - Effective sales managers know that their reps don’t operate in a vacuum. They must collaborate with their fellow salespeople and members of other teams and departments in order to maximize their work. But manual, disjointed tools don’t allow them to do this efficiently. Lack of alignment across teams often leads to duplicate or competing efforts. Sales and marketing teams are somewhat notorious for misalignment and an absence of cohesion. They struggle to understand each others’ needs and priorities, share valuable information in a timely manner, and ensure a cohesive end-to-end customer journey. With automation, though, different teams and departments can more easily unify their work. Powerful tools (like sales automation software, marketing automation platforms, CRM systems, and more) automate task hand-off, cross-departmental operations, and key workflows. They keep sales and other teams on the same page, so everyone is working toward a common goal without stepping on each others’ toes.
  • A faster sales process - Workflow bottlenecks are the enemy of the sales process. Too often, sales teams are immobilized by barriers caused by disparate systems, lack of rep accountability, and inadequate tools for tracking and validating progress. Action items fall through the cracks, deals are held up, reps aren’t sure of their responsibilities, and the sales process all but slows to a halt. Automation seeks to solve this problem, with technology that helps teams create a clearly-defined, repeatable, measurable, goal-oriented, and adaptable sales process. Plus, by automating otherwise manual tasks, sales teams are able to focus on both selling and improving their sales skills — both of which speed up the sales process.

Common challenges of sales automation

While automation is undoubtedly advantageous for sales teams, it can also present some very real pitfalls. Modern customers are smart, and while they’re attracted by highly personalized, consistent outreach, they can smell slick, disingenuous sales tactics from a mile away. In an effort to make the art of sales less stressful, teams are sometimes tempted to turn it into a complete science. They automate everything and, in doing so, forget the importance of human touch and authentic relationships.

Instead of receiving one email blast after another with their name plugged into the greeting, buyers want to interact with sellers who are authentic, empathetic, and consultative. To ensure positive customer perceptions and avoid turning prospects off, sellers should lead with their “human” side and use automation to prop them up.

Sales organizations also tend to face uncertainty surrounding which types of technologies to adopt as they begin to automate their processes. They rush to reap the benefits of sales process automation and end up investing in the wrong types of tools. It’s a half-baked approach that leads to even deeper silos, wasted time and resources, and unnecessary spend. 

To get it right, sales leaders should take a close look at their existing systems and evaluate the gaps they need to fill. It’s important to remember that marketing automation and sales automation are two very different things, and a successful team needs both to thrive. It’s equally essential to note that automated systems should “talk” to one another to derive the most value from each; so organizations should verify integration capabilities before making a purchase.

Automate your sales process for greater efficiency and revenue

Regardless of industry, the sales process is typically complex — but it doesn’t have to be. By eliminating the tedious, time-consuming tasks with which both reps and managers contend, your team can realize unprecedented productivity and growth.

Outreach is the leading sales execution platform that helps market-facing teams efficiently create and predictably close more pipeline. From prospecting to deal management to forecasting, our platform leverages automation and artificial intelligence to help revenue leaders increase the efficiency and effectiveness of all go-to-market activities and personnel across the revenue cycle.

Learn more about Outreach, or request a demo today.