Eight Secrets to Sales Tech Success

By Steven Wright

It’s no secret that companies routinely get burned by their sales technology purchases. And, if it’s happened to you, you’re not alone. So here are eight items to check off when buying or implementing a technology purchase or expansion.

Also, keep in mind that the seller should be responsible for the post-purchase results of using the product – which, in the world of tech, tells vendors and buyers just how important customer success management really is. So expectations need to be clear on both sides.

1. Introspection: Know Your Needs (and Your Company)
Start with an assessment of the current state to have an idea of how to improve it. A doctor should not come up with a diagnosis without having a full list of symptoms. Come up with the longest list possible of what’s not working – without even thinking about how to fix it.

What problems and gaps are slowing down sales? Is sales turnover too high? Is ramp time or the sales cycle too long? Is the win rate too low? After listing the symptoms, identify the potential underlying causes. Are reps properly trained – and retaining that knowledge over time? Can salespeople respond in a timely way? Do salespeople have quick access to information needed? Introspection should also include an assessment of what is working well and why.

2. Impact: Consequences Intended and Otherwise
The question of impact is legitimately one of culture. If you introduce a solution, how will that affect the culture? Maybe there is a culture of “who you know” in order to get things done – yet introducing a new solution can impact those who were previously “in the know.” That can have unexpected consequences: users have a stake in things, so they should be involved in the selection process and become an integral part of introducing the new solution.

Are you replacing a home-grown system? How will that impact those responsible for supporting it? Sellers resent time spent entering data into the CRM and other “administrivia,” so how will they view this new thing? Get those who will be affected (whether by using, creating, administering, customizing, or supporting a solution) involved early.  See “Introspection” above – they know things you don’t.

3. Information: Signal to Noise
For the problem you are solving, what is the information needed to solve it? Notice I used the word “information,” not “data.” Data, by itself, is not information. All sales tech solutions gather lots of data – much like Google or Facebook gathers lots of data about you.

The challenge is how to refine data into useful information and knowledge that will measure the solution’s impact on sales. A Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) solution can show how many quotes were delivered and how accurate those quotes were; but, if not mapped to a sales stage, that information doesn’t matter since you won’t know when quotes create a positive (moving to close) or negative (lost deal) result.

If you don’t first map out the information you need from a solution, it’s easy to get distracted by fancy concepts such as machine learning or artificial intelligence. Lots of data means lots of noise – understanding the signal you hope to find is what’s important. This is where digital is not enough; it’s understanding that counts. Think about how much static there can be on a phone call, but you can still understand the voice – up to a point. So, if the information is unclear, less might mean more.

4. Interest: How Bad Do They Want It?
Who cares about solving the problem? Or, more importantly, how are you going to sell the sellers on the solution? This goes back to understanding the impact of solving the problem. Start building consensus early – but in context with the results of your introspection. This is where you (whether you’re in marketing, sales ops, or sales enablement) will have to start doing some selling.

Selling involves knowing where the budget is, knowing how you will handle objections, and knowing how to build agreement. In other words, the same classic steps needed to sell externally are also needed to sell internally. This part of the process may be the toughest, but – if you’re equipped with a strong knowledge of the organization (introspection) aligned with a clear-eyed view of how things could change (impact) and agreement on what everyone involved needs to know (information) to solve the problem – you’re in good shape to start evaluating solutions.

5. Intelligence: Who Has Done It? What’s Gone Right and Wrong?
Even with the best set of requirements and due diligence on what and how a solution solves a problem, you need intelligence about how others have done it. Most vendors have case studies, but dig deeper. How long did it take to implement? What are the best practices? When do customers go wrong?

Reviews aren’t enough, so ask to speak to real customers. Or work your network to find other users. Get others involved in talking to the vendor as well (see Integrations farther down).

Understanding and prioritizing your requirements – is what you’re considering only minimally acceptable, would like to have but not essential, and so on – is also important. That Ferrari may look great, but what’s the ongoing cost? If you just need a basic sedan, why spend time looking at a Ferrari?

6. Interaction: You Want Me to Do What?
All applications automate some form of work that is now (or was) done manually. The word “computer” used to refer to a person doing (wait for it) computing. Think of the movie Hidden Figures – those women were computers. Or Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol, who was nothing more than an Excel spreadsheet with a family. When evaluating a solution, what do people need to know and do in order to benefit from it?

There is no such thing as an intuitive interface. All interfaces assume some level of knowledge or a working metaphor – whether a typewriter (word processing), accounts book (spreadsheet), or desktop publishing (paste-up). What’s the metaphor for the solution you’re considering? Where does an end user use it – a tab in Salesforce? A separate portal? Web? Mobile? Can users provide feedback or comments in the solution? How are errors or problems reported?

Managing the solution is just as important as interacting with it. Ask yourself who will control it and how it will be administered. Is customization needed and how often? What does IT need to do? How are users managed? How many people will it take to manage the solution?

7. Integration: No Application Is an Island
No application that automates a task using data is really “standalone.” They all must integrate with something else. For sales tech, that usually starts with the CRM – and, for the vast majority, that means Salesforce. But what does integration with your Salesforce really mean? (And what if you have another CRM? Now you’ll find out about APIs, SDKs – and that you have just gotten IT deeply involved.) Find out how data gets to your CRM from the solution – the more automated the better. But how does it extract information from the CRM?

Next, what other applications does or can the solution integrate with? Email? Office? Finance? Order entry? ERP? It will vary by type of solution, but, if the goal is a seamless user experience, that usually means some less-than-pretty plumbing behind the scenes. There can be licensing and support issues, currency between versions, etc. This is a good time to get IT involved – both so you are aware (caveat emptor) and so the vendor isn’t caught short because they didn’t understand your requirements (venditor emptor).

8. Investment: It Takes Money to Make Money
At the very beginning of the day, until late at night, you’ll need to know what it will cost. Licensing is only the start – blood, sweat, tears, and time need to be accounted for as well. You need to be able to leverage all the intelligence you’ve gathered (based on introspection and impact and all the other “I” words) to understand what it will take to get the benefits promised – not by the vendor, but by you to the organization.

ROI is the kind of exercise that helps close a deal, but often isn’t tracked after the deal closes. Given that your chosen solution will have lots of data, there’s no excuse for that. Quantification is everything.

Six things that can be quantifiably measured:

  • Time: Both for one-time costs (such as implementation) and ongoing costs (such as training, where the time starts high, then gets lower – but there are always new sellers to be trained); administration (again, high at the beginning, then gets lower, but never goes away); and reporting (starts low and should go up as you use the data more).
  • Productivity: What’s the benefit? Are errors reduced? Is there a point of diminishing returns? If 99 percent of orders are correctly quoted and entered, what does getting to 100 percent really give you? Sales cycle reduction is good, but may take a while to measure. Conversion rates? Fine, but from cold call to meeting? Or lead to qualified? And is it speed or volume? Say you get a lot more leads, but few deals. More and faster without better results is just spinning your wheels.
  • Adoption and usage: Without high levels of both, measuring time and productivity is impossible.
  • Efficiency and effectiveness: A combination of time and productivity; but, if users are doing more in less time, that is efficiency. If actions sellers take using the tool result in better sales, that’s effectiveness.
  • Costs: Often measured in terms of What does an incorrect quote cost? Or producing fewer pieces of content that are more effective? Or, reduction in churn or ramp time?
  • Happiness: It’s important to identify satisfaction levels. This can include sellers’ happiness with the tool or improvement in the customer experience of buying.

After examining these suggestions for selecting, implementing, and utilizing a sales tech solution, you’ll be better able to find and implement the best solutions that work for your company’s needs. 

Steven Wright is the certification analyst for Vendor Neutral. Vendor Neutral Certified Profiles™ can significantly shorten your effort to find the right path.