Sales and marketing, Channel markets

The Problems With Efficiency and Sales Automation Tools

Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence
Author: David Brock

We design our organizations to be lean mean selling machines.

Each step of our sales process is optimized to maximize the results our sales people get. We recognize different skills and capabilities are needed in different stages of the sales process. Prospectors prospect, account managers account manage, product line specialists are expert in their product lines, and on and on….

Each role is precisely defined, we have the metrics to by which we constantly measure performance.

We’ve worked closely with marketing, they have their lean mean marketing machine optimized to deliver just the right leads at just the right time.  We have our marketing and sales automation tools, to support the most efficient operation of our organization. Each tool optimized for it’s purpose. Sales people move nimbly from tool to tool to tool.

Feeling Smart With Artificial Intelligence?

And, of course, the underpinning of all of this is analytics–increasingly with a dose of AI, because we can’t count on our own intelligence.

Cost of selling is optimized, we’ve created the most efficient machine possible. We have everything synchronized with the right cadence and well defined TAKT times (look it up, it’s an important concept.).

We’ve even borrowed concepts from our manufacturing counterparts with leader boards, call counts, data being projected on the walls or scrolling across our dashboards.

We start feeding customers through our process, moving them from person to person. They go from being MQLs to SQLs to qualified opportunities. The SDR passes the customer to a BDR who passes the customer to an AM (Account Manager), who engages a Demoer, than a Product Line specialist.

The customers move down our optimized assembly lines, with each sales person doing their job, maximizing the efficiency of our organization.  Customer like widgets being passed from one person to another, because it is most efficient for us to handle things that way.

And It Works… For Awhile

Leads from marketing may falter, SDRs cry for leads, talking to whoever wants to talk to them, perhaps passing them to BDRs and AMs who are twiddling their thumbs because nothing is coming down the line.  But we are still driven by our TAKT time, because we are an efficient selling machine.

But something else happens, our most efficient process doesn’t match how our customers buy.  The customer buying cycle is, as Hank Barnes puts it, "Squishy" we know they don’t know how to buy, they wander, they restart, they start and stop, they go at a pace that’s different from our TAKT time. The steps they want to take when they buy are different than the steps we have designed to sell to them.

And even the most logical of these customers become illogical. They have fears, they change their minds, they shift their priorities. They may get smarter as they go through our and our competitors assembly lines. They change their requirements, shift their priorities, create new requirements.

And they are emotional. They want someone they can trust, someone they know can care about them and understands them–personally and as a business.  They need to be reassured. They want a partner. They want a relationship.

And they are even more complicated. There are 6.8 of them. Each with a different agenda, with different priorities. We have to move each of them at the same cadence through our efficient sales machine. Suddenly, herding cats becomes child’s play. And each customer and each situation is different.

'Variability Is Our Enemy'

A manufacturing person reading this post would be ripping his hair out at this point shrieking, “Variability!!! You must get rid of Variability!”

But we persist, as do our customers. They find our efficient way of engaging them entirely unengaging. They avoid us, look for alternatives, self educate, only engaging when they know what they want—but then we just need order takers.

The problem with our increasing specialization, our drive for efficiency is the focus of those efforts is on us. It is on what is most efficient for our organizations and our business.  But what works for us probably doesn’t work for the customer. And even if it did, they don’t care.

Our efficiency is not their problem. Their priority is addressing their problems in a manner most effective for them. Interestingly, customers–at least in complex B2B–are rarely concerned with their buying efficiency (unless they are procurement professionals).  They care about their effectiveness, about solving their problems and producing results. If it is a complex B2B buying process, it’s something they don’t do every day, they may do every few years. So efficiency becomes irrelevant to them.

But we persist, we’ve designed our process, we need to keep feeding customers through our process...

The Human Factor (Remember That?)

Complex B2B selling and buying is, ultimately, about human interaction–with all the challenges each interaction presents. Human beings have an aversion to being widgets and cogs. Human beings treasure relationships.

Personally, the joy of being a sales professional is all about these human interactions. At times it’s frustrating, at times we’re disappointed.  But so often, it’s so rewarding. The customer says, “Thank you, you made a difference to our business, you had an impact on my life.”

We need to be as efficient in our operations as we can be. But we have to be effective before we can be efficient. We need to acknowledge we are not a lean mean selling machine but people dealing with people.

Just as our customers’ buying cycles our squishy, we need to design our machines to accommodate squishy. Perhaps our design point should be customer effectiveness and customer efficiency. That may lead to our own effectiveness and efficiency.

Otherwise we fail our customers and we fail ourselves.

David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more.