“Get the heck out of the building”: How to build effective sales tools

by in Marketing

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There’s no shortage of sales tools out there. Many of these tools make bold claims: to help accelerate selling, streamline sales efforts, capture one-of-a-kind buyer data, and to forge stronger relationships with clients and prospects. Interest and investment in sales tools has caught on like wildfire. According to SiriusDecisions, from 2012 to 2014, spending on sales enablement technology increased by 69%.

The heightened demand for sales tools has bred an increasingly competitive landscape. Only the most effective sales tools endure and are widely adopted. It’s a world of “survival of the fittest.” Despite the raft of bold claims, many sales tools haven’t lived up to the hype. According to C5Insight, 30-60% of CRM projects fail. We need to do a better job at building sales tools that more effectively drive higher sales velocity. Only tools that have been designed thoughtfully and strategically will succeed in tomorrow’s market. The others will be thrown by the wayside.

There are four key considerations to keep in mind if you want your sales tool to be competitive in today’s market:

  1. Listen to your users.

Steve Blank, widely viewed as the father of the Lean Startup Movement, is known for uttering the phrase, “Get the heck out of the building”. When advising startups, he’s adamant that founders focus on understanding their customers, and validating the hypotheses about their business model via direct customer observations and conversations.

Blank’s advice is particularly relevant for creators of sales tools. If you’re designing a sales tool, your customer is the sales organization. Sales reps never use 90% of marketing resources. Sales tools face a similar reality. When designing your tool, “get the heck out of the building.” Go speak to sales reps. Pinpoint the ways you can create a cutting-edge tool that optimizes the selling pipeline and helps close deals. Rather than asking your customers what their “ideal” sales tool might look like, take the time to step into their shoes and observe their world firsthand. If you understand where bottlenecks in the deal flow process occur, you’ll be better primed to design a tool that is informed by a proven need (a “need to have” vs. a “nice to have”).

By following Blank’s advice, you’ll be better equipped to develop a sales tool that will be embraced by sales organizations and incorporated into existing workflows and processes.

  1. Establish ongoing constant feedback channels.

In creating a sales tool, it’s lethal to find yourself building in a “black box.” Feedback from users should never come to a standstill. All too often, feedback tends to come a grinding halt after the initial tool design stage. Feedback should be ongoing and occur throughout and beyond the entirety of the development and deployment phases. Consistently touch base with customers. Show them mockups, alpha versions, whatever you have. Ongoing feedback channels will ensure you are building solutions that will give sales reps a true competitive advantage that moves the needle in terms of sales productivity. Feedback will offer essential pulse points to gage whether you’re on the right track in terms of building an effective tool. Building in the confines of a black hole is a sure-fire way for to failure.

When acquiring feedback, be on the lookout for the features of your tool that sales reps intuitively gravitate most strongly towards. Prioritize the features that cause your customers’ eyes to open – these will end up being the features that drive use and adoption. Don’t succumb to “feature bloat.” Focus on the features that really resonate with sales team members. As well, carefully observe how sales reps use your tool and identify any stumbling blocks. This will empower you to optimally cater training resources that incorporate best-in-class practices of tool use.

In gathering feedback, you’ll also do well to identify product advocates and “champions” who see the value of your tool and can spread awareness across the sales organization, particularly during the launch phases. Use these champions as internal sellers and product advocates. They’ll be invaluable in motivating the sales organization as a whole to buy into the validity of your tool.

  1. Ensure easy access.

Sales decision tools are of little use if they are not readily accessible. Sales reps have busy lives. Their time is precious. They can’t afford to waste time figuring out how to access your tool. Sales reps already spend up to 30% of their day looking for, or creating, content to share with prospects. Even minutes wasted can result in a lost deal.

No matter how well your tool is designed, it will not be adopted unless sales reps and managers are able to access it at their fingertips. If aspects of your sales tool are complicated or accessibility complicates the selling process, your tool is sure to fail. Effective sales tools integrate seamlessly within existing workflows. Your sales tool must synergistically fit within an organization’s current sales stack. Make sure your tool integrates seamlessly into the existing sales management solution used at the organization, whether that be Salesforce, Highspot, Netsuite, Clari, etc. By doing so, you’ll ensure your tool is scalable and easily discoverable by new hires as they are added to the team.

  1. Track results.

The proof is in the pudding. The sales tools of tomorrow must produce tangible results. By tracking the results of your tool, you’ll be able to determine whether your sales tool is actually influencing a sales organization’s bottom line. 84% of firms say they don’t have seamless and integrated reporting across their sales tools. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. From the get-go, you should establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and track the effectiveness of your tool in driving sales revenues. If, for example, your tool purports to shorten deal cycles, you’ll do well to determine or estimate the relationship between time saved and dollars saved. If your tool purports to increase the dollar value of deal sizes by an average of 10%, you’ll do well to track the aggregate increases in revenue.

In addition to understanding the impacts of your tool on revenue, it’s also important to track metrics related to tool usage. Understand how adoption rates differ across different demographic groups. Take time to understand why adoption is higher or lower among certain groups. For example, is your tool more widely used 1) during particular deal stages, 2) among particular sales reps, and/or 3) in the context of selling to particular industries?

If your sales organization is global, it’s also critical to identify variable levels of adoption of your sales tool across different regional offices. Cultural differences are often at play and tend to influence adoption patterns. A series of studies (Hsee & Weber, 1999; Weber, Hsee & Sokolowska, 1998; Weber & Morris, 2010), for example, have found that Chinese workers are less risk averse than American workers (arguably a reflection of the high level of collectivism within Chinese culture, a culture known for its access to large support networks). As a result, China-based offices may be, comparatively speaking, more apt to immediately adopt your new and unfamiliar sales tool.

Tomorrow’s sales tools must outperform the competition in terms of enabling sales reps to attract, convert, and close deals. In the long run, your sales tool must excite to the point of dependency. By thinking thoughtfully about the design of your sales tool, you’ll be able to develop a powerful piece of technology that will be instrumental in advancing deals to the finish line.

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About The Author

Rebecca Hinds
Rebecca Hinds - View more articles

Rebecca Hinds graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a M.S. in Management Science and Engineering. In 2013, Rebecca co-founded Stratio, a semi-conductor company developing infrared sensors. The company was selected by the Kairos Society as one of the 50 most innovative student-run businesses in the world.