Staples Boost Sales Through Automation

By Heather Baldwin

In mid-2000, office supply giant Staples realized it had a problem common to many rapidly growing sales forces today: the bigger it became, the harder it was to sustain its mix of paper-based spreadsheets and databases in managing and supporting the sales force. It consequently rolled out Salesnet’s online SFA solution (, and the results were so noteworthy that the deployment recently was named by Aberdeen Group as one of the top ten ASP implementations.

Prior to deploying Salesnet, Staples sales reps filled out paper- and Excel-based logs and spreadsheets that managers then compiled by hand to prepare their own reports for senior management. Not only did information lag by about 30 to 45 days, but opportunities in the pipeline were not quantified by where things were in the sales process, says Jim Dorman, Staples’ vice president of sales and marketing. “All you had was a finite number and you never knew if a lead had just started or was getting close to closing.”

By automating much of the sales process, reps and managers now have a near real-time view of their performance. Tasks are color-coded to show whether they are on schedule, a day behind or three days behind, which has made it easier for reps to prioritize their days. The efficiencies they’ve consequently gained have enabled each rep to boost the number of prospects in his pipeline, which in turn has boosted average sales figures per rep. Salesnet also helps ensure reps are asking prospects intelligent questions and enables them to track the answers, meaning reps are getting to customers’ pain points more quickly. And managers can quickly benchmark a rep’s performance against that of his peers. “If, from a cold calling standpoint, a sales associate only yields 30 percent of potential targets but the rest of the organization is at 60 percent, that’s a red flag with that sales associate,” says Dorman.

The bottom line: New customer acquisitions increased by 2,253 accounts in the third quarter 2001 versus a total of 3,500 – or an average of 1,700 per quarter – in the first and second quarters. Sales per sales associate increased 10 percent during the first three quarters of 2001 compared with the same period in 2000 when Salesnet was not employed. And the company is now seeing revenue from new sales reps within one to three months of that rep’s arrival where it used to take three to six months for a rep to contribute to the company’s bottom line. Those improvements resulted in Staples growing 12 percent during the first three quarters of 2001 despite 5 to 10 percent shrinkage in its organic customer base.

“We’re in the process of doubling the number of associates in one of our divisions,” Dorman says. “Our biggest fear was how to manage that increase, but Salesnet took the fear out of it. The automated process lets us track what folks are up to and coach on absolute issues rather than guessing where an associate is having problems.”