Running a small business is hard enough without internal struggles and cumbersome sales processes. Fortunately Hampus Jakobsson, founder and CEO of Brisk, a maker of sales-process-and-optimization software, offers insight on making sales professionals, their bosses, and ultimately their customers, happy.
Small business sales professionals are often at odds both with their higher-ups and with their toolsets—resulting in inefficiencies that make closing a deal it tougher than necessary. Sales processes resemble directions on a road map, sometimes with a fun or challenging side trip or two along the way, but always with a destination in mind and instructions on how to get there successfully.
Problems arise along that journey when your map is riddled with outdated information or simply too inflexible to handle detours. Good data lies at the heart of timely and successful sales, and being in charge of fast-growing startup, helped Jakobsson develop a philosophy for better business outcomes and a harmonious workplace.
"In any sales interaction, you believe that deal or person has an ideal path," Jakobsson told Small Business Computing. Embarking on that ideal path often means coming to terms with what each part of your business wants from sales data.
Bridging the Sales and Marketing Gulf
Small business sales teams sometimes receive requests or directives from their managers or other departments that seemingly do little to help them close deals.
"Marketing is usually interested in a lot of data," said Jakobsson. After all, it's the marketing team's responsibility to target the best customers for new promotions and ads. So the marketing manager will ask the sales team for customer data.
Do the various departments in your small business practice good data-sharing habits?
Meanwhile, the vice president of sales has other priorities. "If I want to meet my quota, I have to close sales," leaving precious little time for inputting, organizing, and managing customer data, let alone generating reports for another part of the company, said Jakobsson.
Sales staffers and management often get locked in a battle between "data input versus closing deals," causing internal strife, slowing down a company's sales and market efforts. Jakobsson recommends a tactic used by firms where sales, marketing, and management see eye-to-eye.
It's a twist on the old 80/20 rule.
One successful company bases "20 percent of its quota on data quality, and 80 percent on sales deals," Jakobsson said. Sales teams receive incentives to participate fully in the process, making sure the data they input and update in their customer relationship management (CRM) and other software tools is accurate and reliable. This not only helps maintain good relations with other departments and their bosses, but it also helps minimize speed bumps along the way.
Changing Business Culture: Nudge, Don't Push
In a bid to create a data-driven culture, business leaders may feel tempted to put strict policies in place, forcing staffers into inflexible sales processes that end up causing more harm than good.
For example, if an account executive can't save a record in his or her CRM because of a required field, it will end up with useless or incorrect placeholder values. Generally this is caused by a pending action or milestone.
The intent is always to go back and eventually update the system with the correct information. Of course, that seldom happens. Ironically, systems that demand precision and specificity can end up polluted with useless and outdated information.
Jakobsson's secret is to encourage good data habits, not force them. "We believe in nudging you," he said. And the philosophy is evident in his company's own sales tool.
Brisk creates smart to-do lists from a company's sales data, guiding people along the process. If an opportunity to improve upon that data comes along, Brisk can suggest, not force, an update and issue periodic reminders at opportune times.
Jakobsson advocates using software systems with intelligence and analytics capabilities that allow for flexibility and real-time guidance. He believes that when sales and marketing teams start seeing the correlation of good data habits and successful outcomes, they find it rewarding and realize it's in everyone's best interest to engage in the process.
Otherwise, good luck finding repeatable and effective methods of boosting sales. "There's no way somebody can figure out best practices if the data's not there," Jakobsson said.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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