Getting sales departments organized

* Three keys to success when you add or upgrade your sales software

Paul Schmidt started selling things way back: after graduating from the University of Minnesota he represented RCA mainframe systems. Yep, way back.

In 1989 he started his Dallas-based company, Computer Evaluations, to help salespeople and sales departments in companies get more organized and productive. Call it CRM or Business Process Automation (BPA) or Sales Force Automation (SFA), but the goal is a more organized and efficient sales process.

Schmidt carries a wide range of software, including ACT!, SageCRM, SalesLogix, Microsoft CRM and more. "I work to guide customers into the right product," says Schmidt. "There are differences between every product, and those may be minor or major differences depending on the customer requirements."

Whether you need to upgrade from keeping your contacts in a shoebox full of business cards, an Excel spreadsheet, or a networked sales management product, there are three keys to success. Ignoring these keys guarantees at least confusion if not catastrophe.

"First you have to look at the entire business process," says Schmidt. "You have to consider the interaction between sales and service and where the marketing department ties in. Don't just grab the software a new salesperson used on their last job."

This first point fills many books by itself. Schmidt is too polite to say it, but everyone in the consulting business knows that new software won't fix a broken company. One attendee at our Small Business Technology Tour in Washington DC described the sign on her office wall: my software won't fix your personnel problems.

If you honestly evaluate how your company works, you can choose software that will support you well for years. "I have a customer still using a DOS based product, because their company hasn't changed and the software still does what they need after more than a decade," says Schmidt.

Second, "top management of the company must buy in," says Schmidt. While most companies will see an improvement if the sales manager buys anything in place of no system, long term that impulse selection process will cost the company time and money. Someone in upper management, the higher the better, must referee the competition between the sales, service, and support departments when choosing a new system.

Since the software usually says "sales," the sales department often drives the process. But in some companies, there may be a handful of salespeople but dozens of support and service people using the same software. Management must ensure each department gets what they need from the new system.

Finally, the actual sales people must use the system for it to succeed. That sounds like a no-brainer, but we are talking about salespeople, remember, a group notorious for their "what's in it for me" attitude toward every company function.

"You have to convince the salespeople that using the system will make them more money than not using the system," says Schmidt. Also important, cut throat sales groups like real estate companies must prove to the salespeople that other salespeople can't read and steal their customer information. Until salespeople trust that system, their contacts will stay in that shoebox or inside the sales person's personal computer.

"Sales information gets more valuable when shared," says Schmidt, admitting that building such trust takes some time. Show Secretive Salesguy that managers or a sales person they trust can help their customers when Secretive is on vacation or in the hospital. As a warning to management, salespeople who keep information secret may be planning to leave or at least not have the company's best interest at heart. "It's crucial that the company, not the salesperson, owns the customer information," says Schmidt."

Getting the information into new software will take time. Schmidt sometimes uses a two-stage system. Temporary workers import or type in the basic data, such as contact information and sales history. Every sales program imports data in a wide range of formats, but you will likely have to set up multiple import processes to get everything.

After the basic information is set, the salespeople for each customer then go and add their details about the customers. This makes for less typing for the salespeople, meaning they're more likely to add their critical personal insights about the customers into the system.

Every salesperson will tell you "nothing happens in America until someone sells something." You should make that process as efficient and manageable as possible.

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