The Clear-Cut Advantages of Standardizing the Selling Process

Any high-growth business strategy must begin with a consistent and disciplined sales process that is easily understood across the sales organization. Salespeople and their managers need to use the same vocabulary, and view selling opportunities as having sequential stages that must be completed before a suspect becomes a prospect, and a prospect becomes a customer. Following a consistent process reduces the anxiety and uncertainty common among both salespeople and sales managers because everyone knows what is expected and needed for every sales pursuit.  Having definite requirements and policies on when and how to give a demonstration, prepare a proposal, or send a sample helps the sales force proactively control the sales process versus simply reacting to requests from potentially unqualified prospects.  Better preparation, deeper research, and clearer goals for each stage of the selling process will result in a more effective sales team and better business results.

A standard approach to pursuing and tracking opportunities is a smart way to assure that all sales activities are aligned with organizational goals and the overall direction of sales management. Consistency also reduces the amount of non-value added sales activities such as drafting letters, writing reports, and having lengthy phone calls to determine what stage is next in a sales opportunity.  Having standard terminology saves time and minimizes confusion.

Sales managers benefit from standardized CRM Sales processes because it is also easier to determine how each salesperson is performing.  Opportunities that are stalled in one stage can be identified and resolved.  Salespeople benefit from standardization because they waste less time determining what information is missing and what the next step should be in the workflow. Sales appointments become more productive because they are only conducted when qualified as part of a planned sequence of events.

The high level steps to implement a sales process are:

  1. Document your sales process
  2. Design your implementation
  3. Train your sales team
  4. Support the implementation

Some companies adopt branded systems such as Sandler, Solution Selling, Dale Carnegie or others.  Others develop their own systems with distinct terminology; perhaps a hybrid of popular systems or a mix of the techniques used by the company’s most successful sales performers.

A standard sales process allows companies to more easily analyze events and make sense of trends. As a regional sales manager at a mid-sized organization observed, “The only way to discover what’s working and what’s not is to measure the individual steps of the sales process.  If you know the percentages of prospects that proceed through each stage of the process, you accurately predict how many sales will close in the future, based upon the current pipeline.  You can also compare the performance of team members and take appropriate action, like additional coaching, in order to ensure that the team remains productive.”

Applying Best Practices to Sales

Most organizations are not strangers to processes, systems, and re-engineering.  For example, in the manufacturing industry, plants and warehouses couldn’t operate profitably without them and no business manager would let accounting and purchasing departments improvise. The more complex the task, it’s more likely that the effective principles and processeses for successfully completing that task have been defined and codified.  In other words, much of the business world is already highly process-driven, systematized, and automated.

Yet, oftentimes, the sales department hasn’t been automated.  For example, in a recent study of distributor respondents, eighty-eight percent indicated that they do not have a documented, formal sales process.  Given that sales is fundamental and represents a large expense item, it was quite surprising that written sales processes were non-existent for the majority of the study participants.  Without such a document to provide a consistent road map, executives have no choice but to depend on the creativity, work ethic and luck of individual sales reps and their managers.

Organizations without a documented sales process often exhibit several common symptoms, such as a disconnected and manual approach to selling and a lengthy cycle time to find prospects, get quotes out the door, and close orders.  This may in turn lead to irritated prospects, who expect a rapid response to their inquiries or request for a proposal. .  In addition, top sales employees may become annoyed.  They want to sell, not figure out the best way to put prospects in the pipeline, create quotes, enter orders   and track shipments delivered. Other symptoms of process deficiencies include abundant and costly errors, evidenced by expedited orders and high volumes of returns, and inadequate margin on too many quotes, resulting in deflated profitability.  This may lead to stagnant sales from the most important customers and cause engineering and other departments to be pulled into disarray when the sales team gets a request for proposal or learns about a bid opportunity.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.  Many executives voice issues similar to these, yet the remedy seems to be incredibly difficult.  Sales teams are often extremely autonomous, and management struggles to avoid “big brother” accusations and micromanaging.  Despite these legitimate concerns, it is not that difficult to successfully implement a standard sales process.

When reviewing the various sales methodologies and processes available, make sure your final selection is repeatable, predictable, and scalable.  What you want is a sales process that is simply enough that, over time, it will become second nature to the sales staff. Also, make sure that it isn’t too complicated, or the sales team will not use it.

The elements of a sales process typically include:

  • a common vocabulary for describing the activities involved in selling
  • clearly defined stages of selling
  • an agreed upon checklist of what it takes to move from one stage to the next
  • consistent guidelines for information to be gathered and given at each stage
  • clear expectations for how long each sales stage should take
  • concise definition of suggested next actions

When smart organizations are designing a sales process implementation, they focus on change management, not sales training.  By implementing a formalized sales process, businesses are fundamentally changing the way people do their jobs on a daily basis.  There will be natural resistance.  To develop a change management plan, make sure you can answer the following questions:

  • What motivation do sales people have to use the new system?
  • What potential barriers are there to implementation?
  • How can I overcome those barriers?
  • How will I know if the implementation is successful?
  • What should I expect during the transition?
  • Who can people go to if they have questions?

Follow the Leader

One of the best ways to make sure implementations “stick” is to have the management involved.  One recent study found that when sales training is reinforced by management, the sales skills taught during training produced a 15% permanent increase in productivity.

Management needs to be involved in more than a cosmetic fashion.  A senior member of the management team needs to attend the training, and this same manager should inspect the sales activities for a period of time to make sure they continuously are consistent with the new sales introduced during the training.

At the end of the day, the challenge with adopting a new sales process is getting everyone to follow it.  Sales management must lead by example in sales meetings and on sales calls.  An automated workflow reinforced by a CRM system that quickly prompts a salesperson to enter required information before moving to the next sales stage is invaluable. Standard reports and online visibility into the sales pipeline can help monitor the progress of opportunities over time so that both the salesperson and the sales manager can spot when an opportunity is stalled.

As one sales leader summed up his company’s recipe for success: “Our company can’t grow consistently unless the sales process is repeatable, not arbitrary.  For us, it is a condition of employment – you have to embrace the standards, follow the processes and use the CRM system.”

About Commence Corporation: Founded in 1988, Commence develops and delivers a diverse suite of award winning CRM software that integrates people, processes and technology.  Available on-premise or online, Commence CRM solutions are utilized by several thousand businesses to streamline sales and customer service front office business processes.  As a result, Commence clients increase workforce productivity, generate positive customer interactions and reduce operational cost.

Commence Customers Welcome New Hosting Service

-FREE Software Upgrade Offered to Existing Customers-

TINTON FALLS, N.J., (October 15, 2009) – Commence Corporation, a leading provider of customer relationship management (CRM) software solutions, today announced that it is extending its managed services offering to existing desktop customers and offering a complimentary software upgrade with its new hosting service.

“Today’s economic crisis has created an environment whereby companies are finding it difficult to upgrade and maintain their own IT infrastructure,” said Larry Caretsky, president of Commence Corporation. “Some have been forced to reduce their IT staff, making the management of their systems even more challenging. As a result, these businesses may now be working with older, fragile hardware or unsupported software and they are rightfully concerned about the impact this will have on their business.”

Commence Corporation has created a unique Managed Service designed to address this business challenge for existing customers.  The service places the role of managing and maintaining the Commence Server hardware and software with Commence Corporation.  It provides customers with the use of state-of-the-art high-speed server hardware at Commence Corporation’s data center as well as 24/7 management of the system by trained engineers. Customers are also entitled to a free software upgrade and continued upgrades for as long as they remain on the service. This ensures that they are always working with the highest quality server hardware and the latest version of the software.

Abhijit Joshi, president of White Hedge Inc., recently switched over to the service and is pleased with the outcome.  “As a small company I did not have the resources to purchase the equipment and staff necessary to manage and maintain my Commence system,” said Joshi.  “In addition, keeping up with the latest product releases became difficult.  By outsourcing this function to Commence I freed up time and resources to dedicate to growing my business while Commence manages and maintains the hardware and software.”

Joshi, is not alone, several dozen new companies are already utilizing Commence’s managed service. For more information contact Commence sales at 1-877 – COMMENCE.

More About Commence Corporation

Founded in 1988, Commence develops and delivers a diverse suite of award-winning CRM products that integrate people, processes and technology. Delivered via the popular software-as-a-service (SaaS) model or implemented as on premised licensed software, Commence CRM solutions are used by thousands of companies to streamline sales and customer service front end business processes.  As a result, Commence clients increase workforce productivity, generate positive customer interactions, and reduce cost. More information about Commence can be accessed at www.commence.com.

Commence CRM: A David and Goliath Story

TR Cutler, a leading business journalist, recently interviewedLarry Caretsky, CEO ofCommence Corporation, to learn more about the company’s significant success in the CRM space and plans for competing with the large players in this space.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is growing at a significant pace with other hosted solutions significantly surpassing traditional client server technology offerings.  This growth has allowed several smaller companies, like Commence Corporation to quickly capture marketshare in the small to mid-size business sector.

TR CUTLER: The CRM field has big players, like Salesforce.com.  Why did Commence choose to enter the space?
CARETSKY:A few years ago industry experts asked Jet Blue executives why they choose to start an airline when the industry was in turmoil and even the giants were struggling to stay alive.  Jet Blue succeeded in becoming a significant carrier.  Unlike the airline industry, the CRM space and is growing rapidly and no single vendor has more than a 5% market share. The new battlefield is the SMB market, which Commence has been servicing for almost twenty years.  This is our core competency and we know how to compete effectively.

TR CUTLER: What was missing in the CRM market that Commence addresses more effectively?
CARETSKY:Hosted solutions such as Salesforce.com addressed the difficulties associated with deploying traditional client server based CRM solutions, but utilization rates have remained low and customer renewals have been problematic. This is the direct result of a business model that does not include the proper planning and coaching required to ensure customer utilization.  Regardless of the deployment model (in-house or hosted), there is still a reasonable degree of planning and mentoring necessary for the successful implementation and utilization of CRM.

Commence has addressed this requirement with extraordinarily effectiveness through the use of a proprietary implementation methodology called STEP (Selling Tools Enablement Program).  STEP outlines the planning and responsibilities required by the customer and Commence staff to ensure a successful implementation and use of our CRM solution.  This critical training functionality has been missing in the industry and has become a significant differentiator for our business.

TR CUTLER: How does a company like Commence compete against the Goliath of Salesforce.com and other CRM giants that are publicly traded and well-financed?
CARETSKY:Well in this “pay to play industry” it is hard to rise above the noise of Microsoft CRM and Salesforce.com. The way Commence succeeds is to simply be better at one or two aspects of the business then the big guys.  Commence has been very clear in differentiation and continues to quietly and consistently earn new customers and build solid references.

The single most significant differentiator Commence possessed versus the big CRM giants is our business model.  Saleforce.com’s objective, for example, is to sell their solution to as many companies as possible regardless of size or industry. The only way to do this is to develop a generic set of features that supports the general business requirements of companies across all industries.  This one size fits all approach does not work in all industry sectors.

Salesforce.com has recognized this short-coming and created an add-on development tool that allows for the customization of their CRM solution. The problem is that the SMB space has no interest in doing custom development, nor has the infrastructure to support it.

Commence CRM, unlike Salesforce.com, is developing specific vertical industry solutions that are already tailored to the unique business requirements of the customers in each particular sector. The result…customers can achieve a rapid return on their investment (ROI) without costly development work.  Commence currently has a tailored solution for manufacturers and distributors and a construction vertical CRM is in development.

TR CUTLER: Why should a company with a general database such as ACT, jump up to a more sophisticated CRM solution?
CARETSKY:Many of SMB companies, while small, have simply outgrown their contact managers and are looking for tools to help them improve sales execution and customer service effectiveness. In order to achieve these improvements, SMB companies require an integrated CRM system that supports sales, marketing, and customer support, while providing better collaboration and disparate system integration.  In the past, this level of functionality was too expensive for small to mid-size companies and required IT support.  Hosted solutions like Commence make this level of functionality affordable, easy to use, and simple to deploy.   Additionally, Commence has developed conversion tools that make the transition of contact management databases such as ACT and Goldmine virtually seamless to Commence.

TR CUTLER: What do you see as the drawbacks for those firms that have selected the big CRM solutions, like Saleforce.com?
CARETSKY:The problem with CRM today is that companies often look at CRM as a commodity and it’s really not.  Having interviewed many customers that purchased their CRM solution based on brand recognition, they have been extremely disappointed with the end result.  All of us at Commence Corporation believe that there is more value in the domain experience a CRM technology vendor can provide to the customer than in the product itself.   The big guys specifically SalesForce.com and Microsoft are severely lacking in this aspect…  their business model does not provide them with the ability to engage the customer directly.

Instead the CRM Goliaths rely on third party companies which rarely have the industry knowledge or experience to ensure the successful implementation and use of these products. This has resulted in higher cost implementations and a low level of customer satisfaction among many SMB organizations.

TR CUTLER: Other than a price advantage, what do you see as the top reasons people should consider CRM solutions, Commence specifically?
CARETSKY:Commence’s staff recognizes that improving the customer experience is one of the few excellence differentiators.  CRM has shown to significantly impact sales execution and customer service by providing the end user with access to the vital customer information needed to perform their jobs more efficiently.  Few question the value of CRM anymore, but rather are concerned with the high failure rate and low adoption usage that has plagued the industry.

TR CUTLER:Your literature indicates that your solution is modular and priced in license packs rather then by user. Can you elaborate on this?
CARETSKY:Commence is modular in nature which allows the end user to only select the departmental applications required for their business.  Other vendors, such as Salesforce.com, force customers into more expensive solutions in order to add a minimal amount of functionality.  This means customers are paying for functionality they don’t need.

The Commence licensing program is designed for the SMB sector…these margin-conscious business owners have made it very clear that they do not want to pay additional fees every time they need to add a new user. They refer to it as “paying by the drink.” Commence has created user packs that are designed for smaller businesses.  SMB Customers can purchase a 5, 10 or 20 pack for instance at a discounted rate.  This way the customer can add users at no additional cost. The significance here is that the solution actually gets cheaper as they add users and they don’t have to call Commence to change their license.

TR CUTLER: Where do you see Commence in five years?
CARETSKY:I believe that Commence will most likely continue to focus on those industries where our product offering and domain experience make us the logical and best choice among CRM technology solutions available.

TR CUTLER: Where do you see Salesforce.com in five years?
CARETSKY:I think Salesforce.com will continue to be impacted by the increased competition in the general purpose space from players such as Microsoft and Oracle and from industry specific players that are trying to carve out a vertical niche, like Commence Corporation.  I suspect that the company would be a good acquisition target during this timeframe.

TR CUTLER:Where do you see the CRM marketplace in five years?
CARETSKY:The continued growth of CRM has attracted some of the largest software companies in the world and I suspect that the industry will go through a high level of consolidation as these companies look for strength in specific vertical sectors.  It’s fair to say that many of the companies in existence today won’t be five years from now…after twenty years, we know Commence will still be here.

Manufacturing and Distribution CRM

 

CRMForISE>

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Commence Corporation to Offer Cloud Computing Option

Commence Corporation, a leading provider of customer relationship management (CRM) software solutions designed specifically for small- to mid-size businesses, today announced details of the new cloud computing edition of its award-winning CRM software. The new offering, planned for January 2010, will initially be deployed for the Amazon Web Service’s Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) environment.

Amazon EC2 is a Web service that provides resizable computing capacity for the “cloud,” enabling users to increase or decrease capacity needed for applications within minutes. In the EC2 environment, Commence’s popular CRM software will be run on secure, shared servers; customers will not need a data center, additional office space, or a technology team. The service will be offered under a subscription model, enabling customers to pay only for the functionality they desire.

“We are excited to leverage Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing environment and take advantage of the increased scalability, high availability, reliability and disaster recovery options that it offers, ” commented Todd Pape, chief technology officer at Commence. “This approach enables us to offer a world-class solution to our customers at a fraction of the cost of implementation on their own. In addition, the service leverages Amazon’s global cloud data centers enabling Commence to further extend our service within Europe.”

Commence provides a central CRM database for capturing, managing and sharing vital customer information, while customers retain ownership of data and business processes. It can be tailored to fit different industries and business requirements and, with the cloud technology, there are no restrictions on customizability. Its adaptable, modular design allows users to select applications from a comprehensive suite of business CRM functions, including contact management, lead management, activity management, sales force automation, marketing and campaign management, quoting, project management and customer service.