Use high-touch strategies to support CRM technologies.
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Many companies hoped that the latest CRM tools would lead sale professionals to higher productivity and ease administrative burdens, but the net impact of technology on sales results has been disappointing. Perhaps we have been focusing too much on high-tech to solve the problems sales teams are facing today, and we need to augment that with additional high-touch services to help salespeople get the full benefit of the tools they have been provided.
Of the companies surveyed in Insight Technology Group's latest "Sales Excellence and Benchmarking Study," executives most often cited "increasing sales effectiveness" as their primary objective in 2002, yet fewer than a quarter of these firms reported significant improvements as a result of technology investments.
In fact, the study underscored a disturbing time-management trend. The average salesperson is spending as little as 17 percent of the work week engaged in face-to-face selling, and only 21 percent selling over the phone. By contrast, administrative and sales support tasks consume 45 percent of the sales professionals' time. If the goal is to improve sales team effectiveness, increasing selling time and decreasing administrative load need to become top priorities. So, how does a business significantly increase sales effectiveness while maintaining high efficiency? How does it maintain high profit margins without eliminating critical sales force support?
Some companies are taking an innovative approach to this problem by leveraging the efficiency, expertise, and convenience of outsourced sales support professionals. Like technical teams that solve software and hardware problems from a distant support center, these skilled administrative professionals are a phone call or email away, and offer an immediate, wide variety of clerical and sales support. Because the sales team and the support workforce are connected by technology, the work can be delivered to the salespeople from anywhere, at any time.
Under this new model, teams of remote specialists do the research, create presentations and proposals, make travel reservations, and update CRM systems, freeing up the sales force for strategic selling activities. That can result in tighter targeting of customers, higher win rates, and better margins. It also can improve morale, lower turnover, and provide greater responsiveness to customers. And that translates to increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Because administrative tasks are outsourced to experts, the sales force receives all the benefits of working with dedicated, highly skilled, and responsive support professionals, and the company eliminates the need to incur recruitment and employment costs tied to additional head count.
John H. Harland Co., an Atlanta-based provider of checks and business forms to financial institutions, is using this approach. With the sales team handling both selling and sales administration, response and turnaround time had suffered. To create a more effective support structure, Harland outsourced sales administration to Spherion Outsourcing. Once the sales force was no longer responsible for distributing collateral and building presentations, selling time jumped 25 percent.
The support of efficient, tech-savvy administrative professionals can refocus a company's sales talent on selling to increase productivity and minimize distractions that interfere with strategic business focus. And that can lead to more robust business-development activity, increased revenue, and a brighter business outlook.
Jim Dickie is managing partner for Insight Technology Group, a Boulder, CO--based benchmarking firm that specializes in researching how companies are reinventing the way they market to, sell to, and service customers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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