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Uncovering Sales Opportunities

force, you've got to show them ?what's in it for me,'" Fitzgerald says. Binkelman showed its sales force that it could document what it has done for customers, including cost savings and getting out of bed at 2 in the morning to deliver a part. Then, if the customer is acquired, changes management or isfrustrated by one mistake you have made, the salesperson can present that customer with what he has done right. "This is a gathering tool to protect their customer base," Fitzgerald says. It is also a way to share solutions with other salespeople.

Another obstacle: If you roll out a system that does not work 100 percent, the sales force may use that as an excuse not to use it, Elphick says. "It's got to work perfectly. We did weeks of trials inside here to make sure it worked before we rolled it out. We took the excuses out."

The Knotts Co. also encourages its sales force to update regularly to save time. "If you don't take the five minutes after the account or the 15 minutes at the end of the day, it's going to be an hour at the end of the week. We don't want it to be an hour,"Elphick says.

Sharing Information
The Knotts Co. isn't keeping the benefits it has reaped to itself. Elphick has used the tool to communicate sales trends to vendors. At the end of the year, Elphick does forecasts for suppliers. The data is handy in the system, and it takes him only a couple of hours to produce a full report.

"Vendors are very pleased with this," Elphick says. "You're giving them information they never had." He sends some vendors an updated forecast every month. "Their life is being made really easy by us doing this. They appreciate it. … We're trusting our vendors will do ?good' with the information."

With the information provided by Knotts, supplier sales reps are able to focus better on joint visits with customers; that benefits both the supplier and The Knotts Co.

Before Moving Forward
Youngblood, the facilitator of the Sales Excellence Council for the Fluid Power Distributors Association – which Elphick belongs to – named four keys to consider before implementing SFA or CRM:

  • Figure out your sales process first. "Focus on the process before you spend a nickel on the technology," he says. The reason most fail is because the process is handed down from executives who say, "Use this." The sales force then doesn't understand, and considers it a waste of time.
  • Getting the sales force involved from the get-go will increase probability of success. Keep in mind you are suddenly putting restrictions on an independent sales force that may not be used to sharing customer information. Stay flexible. If something needs to change after implementation, change it. Also, training is crucial to success. You may need to spend more time with older members of your sales force. Keep the process simple
    from the start.
  • Decide whether you want to install the technology on your own system or have it hosted on an external server. Both have benefits. For example, salesforce.com will host your data on its server. This can be more economical for smaller distributors. Others, like Tour de Force, you install on your own system and customize for your needs. Or, like Binkelman, you can design your own solution.
  • Integrate with your ERP platform. Before you buy, ask whether it can be integrated with your current system. The Knotts Co. paid extra to integrate its CRM to its business systems. This allows Knotts' salespeople to get information on their laptops on what was invoiced the day before, what shipped, how much of each product line they are selling on a daily basis, and other important sales data.

More than half of distributors who try to automate their sales force fail, according to some estimates. Take the advice of the distributors profiled in this article: Develop a good sales process before adopting technology, and keep your sales force involved from the start.

For Toledo, OH-based Binkelman, Sales Force Automation was more than just arming its sales force with technology. The bearings distributor saw SFA as something that could revive its slowing sales.

Only Binkelman realized technology wasn't going to be its savior. Instead, over three to four years, the company, with the help of its sales force, analyzed and improved its sales process. And then it brought technology into the picture.

The distributor doesn't measure direct ROI, but quotes to order have gone up 7 percent and sales have grown 15 percent from last year. This increase has come despite the fact two salespeople (of a dozen) have left the company ? and weren't
replaced.

Binkelman General Manager Brad Fitzgerald says SFA has helped the company grow with fewer people.
"Sales guys have more accounts on their lists but they are in the office less," he says. The company has increased the account base per sales rep, and the sales reps have been able to handle it thanks to efficiencies gained from the new
process.

You Say Potato
Distributors who have automated their sales force say it doesn't matter what you call the process – Sales Force Automation and Customer Relationship Management are often used synonymously, though one could argue they are technically different.

What's important is how technology is used to maximize the benefits of a good sales process. Process first – technology last. And when it's time for the technology portion, fit the technology into the sales process and use what works for you. Every company's program will be different. Distributors advise never to automate a bad sales process.

Automation must be driven by well-defined goals. The Knotts Co., a fluid power distributor in Berkeley Heights, NJ, saw implementing a CRM package as a way to uncover opportunities, and not just manage contacts.

"New Jersey's not that big – we only have half of New Jersey and some of New York," says Keith Elphick, Knotts' sales manager. "We concentrate on the top 700 customers, and we grow by selling more of our product into those existing customers, not just by going out and knocking on doors. This lets us track the opportunities through the existing customers we have.

"One guy is buying Product A, B and C, but he's not buying D. We're working on opportunities to get D in there, too."

Carve Out Opportunities
In that vein, The Knotts Co. does not require its salespeople to do call reports. Instead, they use a CRM system from Tour de Force to record "opportunities" in the system. This includes the value of an opportunity (potential sales), what Knotts brings to that opportunity, the odds of winning that opportunity and other related information that will help gain that sale.

"If I go in there and there's nothing there, I can call (the salespeople) and say, ?So you're off this month ? you're not working?' We've made it clear to them that we know they are working by the opportunities they come up with," Elphick says.

If a Knotts salesman has a goal of $150,000 for the month, the company expects three times that in opportunities recorded in the system.

The Knotts Co. provided its seven outside salespeople with laptops and pays for their high-speed Internet access.

Knotts chose this particular system because it could be used offline. Salespeople can input data and opportunities throughout the day without
going online and go online and upload it from home all at once at the end of the day.

Easing the Way
Binkelman was not in a hurry when it decided to improve its sales growth. After the owner asked Fitzgerald to improve the
sales process, Fitzgerald set up quarterly meetings with each salesperson to listen to their frustrations, gripes, and what they would like to see done
better. This helped improve accountability and opened communication.

Fitzgerald found the sales force needed more information to do its job better. "We discovered that our system even though the ERP was very good was not very sales-friendly," he says. To get the information they needed, such as orders and quotes, the salespeople had had to go to multiple locations on the computers.

"They pretty much gave up," Fitzgerald says. "… They couldn't make informed decisions." So the company began a needs analysis and asked the sales force what it would like to do its job better.

Binkelman started by building an intranet to allow workers to share information. The distributor pulled data from its business system and put it on the intranet. It eventually created a sales-specific dashboard.

"We worked hard to find out what information they needed in front of them on a daily basis to give them a snapshot of what was going on in their accounts. That went from what did I get today, what orders came to me today, what are the details, what are my top 10-15 accounts, where are they performing from a margin standpoint, top 20 quotes, what's my commission in comparison to my forecasting goal … Some of these were put in by management and some by the sales force," Fitzgerald says.

"We built the tool around that information."

Mobilizing
But sales was still tied to a desk, whether they were at home or at the office. The intranet was easy and secure, however, as it just required logging onto the company's site on
the Internet.

The salespeople wanted to have the information in their hands when they needed it. So the management started testing out Blackberries and about six months later expanded to its sales force. This allowed the sales force to be out of the office and in the field longer each day.

As part of the intranet the company designed, salespeople can receive pre-set alerts based on their needs. For example, they can receive alerts on their Blackberries when a product category changes or when an order is made, or specify that they want quotes that are over $3,000 and have under a 20 percent margin, or customers who haven't bought in a certain number of days.

Binkelman's intranet was designed to be mobile-friendly text-based rather than dependent on graphics.

Convert YourSales Force

"The sales guys see it as a chore, not a
tool, so we have to keep working to show them it's a tool to help them run their territory," Knotts' Elphick says. "That's going to be the hardest part for any distributor doing this."

Todd Youngblood,managing partner and CEO of The YPS Group Inc., says this is one of the reasons CRM implementation fails.You must get buy-in from your sales force. Executives and top sales performersshould map out the sales process together. The system should not be designedsolely by the IT department.

"Then, in the end, allyou are doing is automating that process, rather than trying to reinvent itbased on the technology," Youngblood says.

"To sell it to the sales

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