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Create time and get more sales over the line

Lawrence Andrews
Sales technology

Sales automation gives sales teams more time to spend doing what they are good at. Getting sales over the line. We run though the key features and benefits of sales automation tools and how SMEs can apply them to boost sales.

What is sales automation?

Sales Automation or Sales Force Automation can simply be described as the combined application of technology and process to streamline the activities of sales professionals and sales teams.

But how is this actually achieved? Like CRM, sales automation is commonly used to refer to software or tools that allow common sales tasks to either be simplified or automated entirely.

Technology is only part of the picture though. Whilst it’s true sales automation wouldn’t be possible without these tools, realising the benefit of sales automation is not possible without also focusing on the sales process itself.

Bringing these two strands together, the principle of sales automation is simple: To reduce the time sales professionals spend doing administrative tasks and increase the time that they have to spend on valuable tasks that have a direct impact on sales.

What are the goals and benefits of sales automation

There are three major goals of sales automation:

  • Speed up common tasks to improve productivity and get more done with the same resources
  • Standardise processes to increase consistency, reduce mistakes and improve customer experience
  • Free up humans so they can focus on higher value tasks

Through achievement of these goals, businesses can realise benefits that have a direct impact on business performance and growth:

  • Increase lead volumes
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Increase sales
  • Increase operational efficiency
  • Reduce cost of sale

What is the difference between CRM and sales automation?

As explained in our article ‘CRM: A guide to the basics’, CRM or Customer Relationship Management covers the strategies, organisational setup, processes and technologies that a business employs to manage its relationships with its customers and potential customers.

CRM provides the foundation for managing customer relationships and therefore customer experience at all stages of the customer lifecycle. Sales Automation or Sales Force Automation (SFA) is concerned specifically with managing potential customers as part of a business's sales process.

The difference between CRM and Sales Automation tools however is less clear which is what we explore next.

What are sales automation tools?

When we talk about sales automation tools lines quickly begin to blur with CRM. Whilst modern CRM practices look at relationships with customers across the full customer lifecycle or customer journey, CRM was actually born out of technology and tools designed specifically for sales teams.

For this reason most CRM tools are also sales automation tools and as a minimum offer the foundational components of Sales Force Automation:

  • Contact Management
  • Deal or Opportunity Management
  • Sales Forecasting
  • Sales Team Management

Increasingly CRM vendors are offering more and more sales automation features to meet demand. Conversely, for software vendors that position themselves as providers of sales automation tools you would also expect to see the core foundational CRM features outlined above.

It’s not surprising that in an area that has seen massive evolution, growth and innovation that you can’t stick every offering in a well defined box labelled CRM or sales automation. It does however make effective comparison of the technology marketplace challenging!

At LMR Labs we use a functional framework that separates core CRM, sales automation as well as marketing automation features. This allows us to objectively assess and compare the overall marketplace regardless of exactly where individual software vendors position themselves.

It also helps SMEs understand what they actually need and therefore what the right technology choice is for them.

You can read more about this in our article ‘Feature blindness: Making sense of CRM and automation tools’. If you don’t want to do this analysis yourselves you can also review our conclusions here: ‘CRM and automation: Key players in the SME space’.

What are the features of sales automation tools?

Sales automation tools are usually oriented around straightforward sales workflows or sales pipelines that provide a common process for sales teams to manage deals or opportunities through to sales.

These sales pipelines are supported by sales forecasting features that help predict the value and profile of upcoming sales. Alongside this, features are provided to support the management of sales teams themselves as well as features that record and track all information related to leads, sales contacts and opportunities.

These features can also be seen as core CRM features that any CRM or sales automation tool would have as a minimum.

In addition to these core CRM features, sales automation tools provide a wide range of other features, all concerned with simplifying or automating manual tasks. We organise these into 8 feature areas, explained in turn below.

Sales Email Automation

Email remains the most important communication channel in business interactions and plays a key role in the outbound marketing strategy of most B2B SMEs. Sales automation tools allow email sequences to be automated to reduce the time sales teams need to spend on email prospecting or lead follow-up activity.  

Sales Call Management

Phone calls continue to play a key role in the sales process particularly once leads have been qualified. Sales automation tools can help with scheduling tasks to call or follow-up with leads.

Business phone numbers can be integrated with CRM and sales automation tools to enable sales representatives to call directly from the web application, log details about individual calls, save call recordings and transcripts and leave pre-recorded voicemail messages.

Webforms and Chat

Website forms and Web chat are other channels that leads may use to get in touch with sales teams. As distinct and separate channels from email and phone they also play an important role in a B2B business’s inbound marketing strategy.

In its simplest sense, inbound marketing is targeting prospects, driving them to a business’s website and encouraging them to take an action. This action might be to get in touch to book an intro meeting or demo or to share contact details in exchange for a valuable piece of content.

Webforms have traditionally been the mechanism to capture contact details or for leads to get in touch.  However, chat is increasing in popularity as people expect near instant responses particularly if they are the buyer. Chat is seen as the preferred channel for this.

Many sales automation tools now offer pre-built webforms or chat widgets that you can integrate with your website. For those businesses with webforms and chat already on their websites they offer mechanisms or connectors to integrate with the tool itself. This way you can be notified and react straight away to any lead messaging you on chat or submitting a webform.

Meeting Scheduling

We’ve all experienced the pain of scheduling meetings over email. For sales teams who rely heavily on meetings to qualify and engage leads this can be a significant time sink. Sales automation tools give leads direct access to your calendar to pick a time that suits them.

This is often provided by the tool itself or through integration with 3rd party calendar tools such as Calendly, TidyCal and others.

Templated Communications

The art of high performing but scalable sales and marketing capability is balancing automation with individual one-to-one communication between leads and a sales representatives

One way to think about this is that once a lead has reached the point of initiating engagement with you directly then one-to-one communication replaces automation. What this doesn’t account for is that after an initial interaction a lead might not be qualified and any opportunity may still be highly speculative. Sales professionals may also be dealing with a large number of leads in this stage simultaneously.

Templated communications provide a handy middle ground where common sales interactions can be standardised and templated to reduce the time sales teams spend managing leads at earlier stages in the sales pipeline. These communications still need to be sent manually but save teams time writing the same things time and time again.

Document Management

Sales professionals rely on supporting material or sales collateral in order to move leads and opportunities along the sales pipeline and through to sale. These might include case studies, testimonials, product and service descriptions, sales presentations or even price lists.

To reduce overheads on sales teams, these documents can be stored and accessed from CRM and sales automation tools. For ease of use they can be directly incorporated into templated and automated emails. In-built email analytics can be leveraged to track whether these emails and documents have been opened and read.

Further along the sales pipeline these same features can be applied to prepare and send personalised proposals, quotes and contracts. As these documents are increasingly being sent and signed electronically many CRM and sales automation tools also now support integration with e-sign solutions such as Adobe Sign.

Workflow Automation

Workflow automation provides an additional layer of automation within CRM and sales tools. These workflows automate actions or tasks that sales reps would otherwise need to perform manually.

For example consider the scenario where a deal is won and a new customer needs to be onboarded. Workflow automation can be set up to create these onboarding tasks automatically and assign them to the appropriate team.

By reducing the number of manual steps required to be carried out in the tool itself workflow automation is a key enabler of process standardisation which is necessary for a business to scale its sales activities.

Notifications and Reminders

A crucial part of a scaled sales and marketing capability is recognising when leads are actively engaging with your brand. This helps your sales team understand who the hottest leads are and identify those worthy of immediate attention.  

Through integration with your website, your sales tool can track individual interactions with website content and notify you when a lead engages or re-engages. By receiving these notifications in real-time you give yourself the best chance to capitalise on their interest by dropping them a quick call or email.

Aside from notifications, simple time or activity based reminders can also be set up to encourage best practices in managing and following up with active leads.

Analytics and Reporting

In the context of sales automation, analytics and reporting is focused on the effectiveness of the sales processes, the performance of sales team members and the interactions of leads with this sales process.

Channel specific metrics on phone, email or chat interactions are often available out of the box as well as metrics that allow businesses to analyse and illustrate the performance of their overall sales pipeline.

More advanced solutions support the aggregation of these metrics to top level sales KPIs such as conversion rate, average deal value, monthly sales volumes and values.

Similar to all other feature areas, analytics and reporting features have a dual purpose. The first and obvious one is to remove the need for sales teams to spend time collating and distributing reports. The second, but much more important, is that they give sales teams insights on the performance of their sales process and the data they need to drill down and continuously optimise activity and focus your marketing investment on the areas delivering the best ROI

Why should SMEs invest in sales automation?

The rise of automation is a global trend affecting businesses and consumers at almost every level. A study by McKinsey in 2020, concluded that over 30% of sales related tasks can be automated, however sales and marketing functions in general lag behind other business functions when it comes to the adoption of automation.

At a basic level the case is clear. Sales automation allows businesses to scale their sales outreach activity which will generate more leads. More leads contribute to more sales. Efficiency gains from sales automation can reduce cost of sale and increase the throughput of the sales pipeline.

Given that CRM and sales automation tools are increasingly affordable, now is the perfect time for SMEs to invest in building out their own sales automation capability.