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Automating the sales process automating sales process

-- Vinny Alex

Over the last 130 years the sales process has been undergoing a transformation all over the world. The early image of the traveling salesman has given way to the high technology consultant of today. However, the fundamental value contribution continues to be the ability of the salesperson to educate the customer on new offerings, and help her negotiate through the maze of products that claim to satisfy her requirements and identify the one that meets her need the best.

Today's highly competitive environment requires that sales do more than just sell products. They need to have an in-depth knowledge of how their products integrate with other's solutions to give the customer a seamless user experience. In addition, they also need a good idea of the price band they would be allowed to negotiate in so as to help close deals quicker. This necessitates the implementation of advanced Information Management systems that makes information available to the front lines quickly and easily.

One commonly deployed productivity enhancement solution is a Sales Force Automation application. However, while SFA apps do help keep customer and deal information in one central location for analysis by managers, they do not often provide the field sales personnel with information that they require to close deals. Although SFA do help increase efficiency by speeding up routine reporting tasks (and help free up more time for meeting customers) they do not improve effectiveness per se.

Another useful tool for improving effectiveness is an automatic proposal and contract generator. This is an especially useful tool when an organization seeks to ensure uniform quality and consistency of information when giving a proposal or signing a contract. Many small companies do proposal and contract creation in an ad hoc manner, often resulting in misunderstandings between clients and vendors.

Price calculators help in cases where the sales professional needs to choose from a combination of products in order to give a comprehensive solution. Being a software product, it is possible to update the prices for each of the components separately, and the software can do this easily and quickly - either manually, or automatically. This ensures that the field sales force always has the latest prices for both the company's own and third party products.

Probably one of the most useful software tools for a sales person of the field is the sales portal. Basically a website with restricted access, a portal can give instant access to the latest information and updates on any product, and can also have a secure area where the sales person can enter customer details, view purchase history, view special agreements with the customer, seek approvals on preferred pricing schemes, generate proposals and contracts and even log orders online. Advanced systems today allow field personnel to view the status of the order even as it gets executed and shipped to the customer's location. What makes these portals especially useful is that it gives just the information that the person needs at the time when he needs it. Being a centralized system, it is easy to update the information and instantly make it available to all sales personnel, even if they are currently on the field.

Finally, a word of caution. While these tools can and do help sales persons and management improve long term efficiencies (and even effectiveness to a certain degree), they do not hold out the promise of making an ineffective process effective. Even before any organization goes for IT based systems, it needs to do a thorough review of it's existing sales process in the light of the KRA (Key Result Areas) that the organization has set itself, and the advantages and constraints that a computer based system can bring. This is why, in many of our projects, we have worked with the customer to first clearly map out their existing process and re-engineer them wherever necessary before we embark on a software development cycle.

Only this self-imposed discipline, of integrating process renewal and information based systems implementation, can bring substantial and lasting return on your software investments.


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