Completing the sales process requires four main steps. You need to:
- Attract a potential customer’s attention
- Present some kind of offer
- Answer any questions and overcome concerns
- Close the sale
In some kinds of businesses, parts of that process, like the closing, may require a human touch. But other parts of the process, like gathering and qualifying leads, can be helped along with automation.
And some types of businesses, such as ecommerce, may involve very little human interaction. Nearly everything can be automated in such businesses.
This is where a sales automation tool comes in.
“Sales automation tools help you take tasks that can be automated and put them into a sequence of automatic steps. Software triggers the steps and performs some or all of the follow-up action. That way, you don’t have to manually set up calendar notices to remind yourself to call a prospect, or compose the same repetitive emails again and again. Automation can handle those,” says Ivana Taylor of DIY Marketers.
How to Choose a Sales Automation Tool
The first step to choosing a sales automation tool is recognizing that you can get value from one.
For startups, this may be when you’re growing so much your small team can’t keep up.
For established businesses, it may be when you realize how much more efficient and effective your company can become. The right tool can help you close more sales without adding a lot of staff or expense.
Here’s how to choose a sales automation tool to fit best with your business.
Identify What You Want to Automate
Consider the sales process you already have in place. Maybe you meet customers in person at events, exchange business cards, schedule a phone call, send a proposal, then close over the phone.
Any tool that you choose needs to be able to accommodate your existing process.
If you’re wondering what can be automated, here are some ideas. You can automate these actions:
- Qualifying leads according to a set of “rules” and criteria, to prioritize which your or your sales team should contact first.
- “Nurturing” leads through automated content marketing, to keep prospects interested and build demand.
- Scheduling follow-up calls after stated intervals.
- Sending reminders to sign proposals and contracts that you’ve submitted.
- Recovering potential customers from abandoned online shopping carts.
- Cross selling to purchasers who bought related products.
- Sending out reminder postcards for customers to schedule billable quarterly service.
- Emailing renewal notices for services soon to expire.
- Scheduling seasonal sales offers to be sent via email to boost holiday sales.
And those are just a handful of the many sales activities you can automate.
Figuring out what to automate can be straight forward if you have one simple offering. But what if, for example, you sell a variety of software and consulting services to different industries and to customers ranging in size from small businesses to huge multinational enterprises?
“If you’re selling multiple products or services and each one has its own specific sales process, then you need a tool that allows you to implement multiple sales processes,” says Brent Leary, co-founder of CRM Essentials, LLC. The sales automation tool has to be flexible and allow variation.
Make a List of Important Features
Aside from the main functionality, you also need to consider other features.
Mobile app: If your team is always on the go, look for a tool with a functional mobile app.
Permission levels: If you have sales managers and other team members, it may be essential to be able to assign varying permission levels depending on roles.
Integrations: Integrations can be another area of concern. If you already use Gmail, Outlook or another tool for your customer communication, and an email marketing software program, your automation tool needs to be able to integrate. Otherwise, you could end up doing a lot of manual data entry, defeating the purpose of automating in the first place!
Converting existing data: Can your existing data be converted or imported easily into the tool? For instance, if you use QuickBooks and have a lot of existing customer information in there, you might want to import that into your sales tool. And then you’ll likely want to sync the data periodically.
Price: A product might “look” inexpensive. But read price comparison tables carefully. Consider the cost of ala carte add-ons, such as additional users, advanced automation, and other special features. Costs can add up quickly.
Support: Finally, consider what type of support you expect and are willing to pay for. Do you want to get someone on the phone instantly if you need support? Or is email / FAQs sufficient?
Compare the Options
Once you have an outline of your needs, it’s time to compare tools and find the options that most closely fit.
Often sales automation tools fall under the broad category of CRM software. You may be able to get some automation in email marketing software. And of course there’s a category called “marketing automation software” which usually has robust automation features.
The categories of software tend to overlap and use a wide variety of terminology to describe what they do. So it can be confusing. Be sure to look for the word “automation” in marketing materials and feature lists.
Then evaluate what they mean by automation. Is “automation” limited to autoresponse emails? Or do they offer more complex triggers and actions you can schedule?
Narrow it down to a few tools on your short list. Do some free trials to take them for a test drive.
One final point: Don’t make the mistake of skipping the step of outlining your needs first.
Too many businesses choose tools based on what works for others. An online software business won’t need exactly the same features as a local retail store — and vice versa. Pick what YOU need.
Steps to Choose a Sales Automation Tool
1. Map out your sales process. Do this for each of your products or services, from initial customer discovery to the final close. Identify the things that are tedious, time consuming, repetitive or simply can be done better by software automation. Also, if your team tends to procrastinate on something, that’s a prime activity to try to automate.
2. Write down a list of essential features. These are the features a sales automation tool must have in order to fit with your current processes and existing tools. If you write them down in a simple list, you’re less likely to overlook something important.
3. Research tools and do free trials. Expect to put several hours into finding and trying out good sales automation tools. While this may sound like time you don’t have right now, think of all the hours you’ll save every month by automating. Zoho CRM, which is part of the Zoho One bundle, offers automation.
A few hours spent now will pay off big in productivity down the road.