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Automation for Sales - Part 2

A new system should increase a salesperson's productivity by making it faster and easier to do common tasks

To read part 1, click here.

Sales operations commonly is one of the next functions businesses will automate after doing so to billing. Unfortunately, it also can be a difficult operation for which to quantify the benefit of automation.

Typically, there are a number of key drivers that push a decision maker to invest in sales-force automation:

  • Smaller customers or quotes are falling through the cracks;
  • A desire to capture information on sales leads; so that if a salesperson leaves the company, all their sales pipeline information does not leave with them;
  • There are enough salespeople such that even a small increase in sales productivity represents a cost savings;
  • Sales operations are mechanical enough (for example: a high-volume lead calling shop) that automation will result in a clear operational cost savings;
  • Salespeople are complaining about the existing sales management tool (for example: it's too slow, it's too cumbersome, etc.);
  • Recognition that a good system could result in increased revenue through holding the salespeople to task, assisting in follow up, automating quote generation, etc.;
  • The sales process is completely disjointed from the fulfillment process, creating noticeable gaps in customer service or problems with order processing;
  • Management is tired of not having any practical and quantitative visibility into the sales process, and has felt unable to hold salespeople to task.

The fundamental question of establishing a return on investment for the sales department is this: Will I be able to increase sales by X percent and/or cut costs by Y percent?

The math is fairly simple and begins with knowing the system's cost. For this example, let's say the cost of the system is $10,000. Let's further assume we need to see money returned to us in no more than six months.

From the revenue side, how much would we need to be able to increase sales productivity to generate that return? If you have two salespeople, each salesperson would need to be able to generate an additional $5,000 in six months. If an average salesperson generates $500,000 in revenue during that time, then we need to see increased sales capability from the system of exactly 1 percent.

A new system should increase a salesperson's productivity by making it faster and easier to do common tasks. He or she should be able to enter data faster, write an e-mail faster, look up information on an account faster, even generate a quote faster. Because he or she is doing everything faster, he or she should be able to spend more time selling.

A new system also should give management real-time visibility into the actions of the salesperson. On any given day, management should be able to see first-hand that the salesperson is adding notes and making calls, or they aren't. What is the value of immediately knowing whether proper sales behavior is taking place, versus waiting six months and losing the quote only to realize proper sales behavior was not happening six months ago?

In our example, if each of these benefits will result in a 1 percent increase in sales, then this would be a sensible automation purchase.

Next week I'll look at the order entry and management process for how to identify automation opportunities.

This blog was originally posted on the Central Penn Business Journal Gadget Cube.

More Stories By Treff LaPlante

Treff LaPlante has been involved with technology for nearly 20 years. At WorkXpress, he passionately drives the vision of making customized enterprise software easy, fast, and affordable.

Prior to joining WorkXpress, Treff was director of operations for eBay's HomesDirect. While there, he created strategic relationships with Fortune 500 companies and national broker networks and began his foray into the development of flexible workflow software technologies. He served on the management team that sold HomesDirect to eBay.

During his time at Vivendi-Universal Interactive, Treff was director of strategy. In addition to M&A activities, Treff broadly applied quantitative management principles to sales, marketing, and product line functions. Treff served as the point person for the management team that sold Cendant Software to Vivendi-Universal. Earlier positions included product management and national sales trainer for Energy Design Systems, an engineering software company. Treff began his professional career as a metals trader for Randall Trading Corp, a commodities firm that specialized in bartering and transporting various metals and coal from the then-dissolving Soviet Union.

Treff received his MBA from Pepperdine University and a BS in chemical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University.