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In business, as in our personal lives, it is sometimes easy to identify the problem but hard to take action to solve it. This is particularly true when the struggle is one between the heart and the mind, when your instinct is telling you something but your mind doubts the conclusion. And just as with your personal life, this probably happens more often when it comes to decisions around relationships.

I was reminded of this recently over the course of several discussions with an inside sales manager who wanted some help trying to identify why the results weren’t meeting expectations. They were selling advertising in support of a non-profit and had proven the model before, so they didn’t understand why the sales weren’t happening. On the first call they explained that they thought it was a problem with the way that they had defined the routing logic, so we went over everything and made some tweaks. On the second call they ran me through the history of their different lead sources. They explained that the first source they tried had been OK, but when they tried a second one it was a complete disaster. They were now onto their third lead source which they felt was the best. Although they had not imported the lead sources with the contacts into their VanillaSoft account they were able to give me the dates so we could insert the data after the fact. This allowed us to do some quick analysis that showed that in fact the first lead source had been the worst, and the second and current lead sources had performed about the same.

Having run through the routing logic and the data itself I was able to steer them towards looking at the actual performance of the individual sales people. It didn’t take long to see where the real problem lay. As it turns out the sales manager herself jumped on the phone once in a while and called on the same list. The pre-built stacked ranking report showed that she was one of the highest in calls per hour and the highest in close ratio – and no, she was not cherry picking. Report after report showed three clear groups of salespeople. The first group made lots of calls but was very poor at closing. The second group was pretty good at closing but made very few calls. They were obviously happy once they hit a certain number. Unfortunately for the third group they were not only a bit lazy but also not very good at closing.

With the data now front and center the manager finally admitted to me that she had felt that maybe the problem was simply her people. She had worked with many of them before, however, and was reluctant to confront them. She had a good idea of what the problem was but had been looking everywhere else for a culprit to avoid tackling the real issue. This was a clear case where the heart had a good feeling for the problem but the mind needed more data to be able to act on it.

Big data is the buzzword of the moment and will play a very important role in marketing and sales strategies in the future. Data will not come up with all of the solutions, however. It will not replace the importance of a good business sense but rather will help validate those hunches and feelings that a good sales manager has. This is just like in scientific research where you start with the hypothesis and use the data to validate it. With the SaaS solutions now available even small- and medium-size businesses can capture lots of data during the

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sales process and use it confirm and back up their decisions. And when it comes time to make those difficult decisions, it really is better to know.

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I want to give a shout-out on Administrative Professional Day to all of those people working in the background to keep sales processes running efficiently. As a company offering a hosted sales solution we perhaps have a different perspective into the functioning of sales groups through our interaction both during implementation and ongoing support. We often end up dealing with upper management, lower management and sales people within the same organisation and are exposed to their different and sometimes contrasting approaches. At the sales person level they expect their sales software to work and simply take for granted that someone must be looking after the day-to-day details. At the management level they too often think that bringing in a sales force automation or CRM package means that somehow everything will now take care of itself and that they no longer need to involved in the day-to-day. All they need to do is run reports.

Who brings these two groups together in many of the most successful sales processes that we see? The admin. This person is actively involved in managing the day to day: taking feedback from both management and the sales people to continually tweak and optimize performance. They realize that sales software is a fantastic tool that allows you to gain greater visibility into sales and greater control over the process, but that to benefit from these advantages you need to put in the work. You need to adjust the lead flow, the scripts, monitor the performance of different lead sources, etc. You don’t just turn it on and leave it run. This work doesn’t always get the appreciation that it should, however. Much of it is in the background. It is gradual and incremental, not flashy. In fact I have been on many calls where I have heard sales managers showing very little love for their admins or appreciation for what they do.

So I encourage everyone to consider the importance of the admin in successfully implementing and running a CRM or sales force automation system. And don’t forget to show them a little love, and not just today but throughout the year.

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April is kicking off in high gear for VanillaSoft! Next week we will be attending the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference on Fundraising (ICON). We look forward to meeting with attendees to learn more about the opportunities and challenges facing fundraising professionals and share how VanillaSoft can

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You may think to yourself, “why would VanillaSoft participate in a fundraising professionals events?” After all, fundraisers are about donations and volunteers—not sales.

That’s true – but the processes and productivity tools that fundraisers need are the same ones that sales & marketing pros use! They need to . . .

  • Generate and manage Contacts (donors, members, alumni, volunteers)
  • Connect with Prospects via phone and email campaigns
  • Allow Callers or Volunteers to work either onsite or remote
  • Centralize data for Contact Records
  • Record Activities (donations, pledges & gifts)
  • View Campaign results via Dashboard & Reports

If you are a fundraising professional attending ICON, we hope you will stop by our booth! Don’t forget to leave your business card to enter our draw for your chance to win Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-canceling headphones!

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telephone - greatest sales enabler ever

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to the anniversary of an important day for all of us who work in the inside sales space. On this day 137 years ago the US Patent Office granted a patent to cover “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically ….” Although he certainly didn’t know it then, Alexander Graham Bell was on his way to creating perhaps the greatest sales enabler of all time: the telephone.

Described as a toy at the time by the president of the Western Union company, no one today would dispute its importance for individuals and businesses. I am not sure when the first household received a call about the benefits of the latest spinning wheel or the great deals available on real-estate in Wyoming, but the phone has become an integral part of B2C and B2B sales. With the advent of Do Not Call (DNC) regulations many people started predicting the death of the sales call – and particularly cold calling – and the talk was all about social media and social selling. The new technology was going to replace the old, and the sales call would soon be extinct.

This simply isn’t a case of the typewriter and the computer, or the telegraph and the phone, however. Social media and other new technologies will have a profound impact on how we use the telephone in sales, but they will not replace it. I believe that they will, in fact, become important enablers for our use of the telephone by allowing companies to better target their calling and give their inside sales teams more information to make a quality call. Much as with DNC regulations this may decrease the number of leads to be called but it will increase the quality of the leads and thus increase the value of the sales call.

Traditional cold calling may indeed be on the decrease but the importance of the phone is not. Inside sales and telesales managers will simply need to adapt to this changing environment and recognize the increased value and importance of each call. As I have written about before I believe this will be done through a greater adoption of lead management and CRM solutions that are designed specifically for higher-quality sales calls with features such as next-best-lead routing, progressive dialing and logical-branch scripting. I don’t think it will mean putting down the phone, but rather enabling the sales people with new technology to make better calls while maintaining productivity. Alexander Graham Bell’s invention remains as relevant today as it has ever been.

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sales coachingInternational Coaching Week came and went without a lot of fanfare last week. Unfortunately I think that coaching does actually get short changed in many companies. I don’t believe that this is usually a conscious decision in that the manager has decided that coaching is not worthwhile. The problem is that coaching takes time, and time is something that managers have very little of.

I would argue however that coaching and training is even more important in sales than in other jobs, and perhaps even more important in telephone sales. It is a job where you put yourself on the line with every call, and that is not an easy thing to do. We talk about someone being a born salesperson, but the best salespeople have a lot of mileage under their belt and have had the opportunity to learn from others. We shouldn’t forget that when we put together a sales team and give them the ultimate responsibility of all – to bring in money.

So what can be done? The right software solution can certainly be a good place to start. When you are coaching and training salespeople you need to give them the tools to standardise best practices. Functionality such as call scripting with logical branches gives salespeople the opportunity to work on tried-and-true messages, and the feedback from calling can easily be fed back into improvements to the script for everyone. The ability to intelligently record calls that are attached to the actual contact record can be a crucial component of the coaching process. Not only does it give you an opportunity to evaluate calling skills at times that work for you, it also allows you to easily go over problem areas with employees or share great calls with everyone. Managers rarely have that time and focus available in the heat of the action.

These are just a few system features that can make a real difference in introducing better coaching and training practices in a sales group without causing a lot of additional work for management. Sales software can improve many areas of the sales process but many managers don’t even think about the positive impact it can have on their ability to coach and train employees.

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Today is Data Privacy Day led by the National Cyber Security Alliance, a non-profit focused on cyber security education for all online citizens. Data security is a major issue for all businesses. As a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company we not only look after our own data but that of our customers as well, and it is a job that we take seriously. I think all SaaS companies face questions from potential customers about data security on the Web. Even as the model gains popularity there are still many people who worry that they are losing control of their data and that it will, therefore, be less secure. What I find interesting in my conversations with business managers is that they often overlook some of the major data privacy concerns that originate right in their own office. I would like to address two issues that should come up more often.

Physical security

Many people feel safer having their data stored in their office on a computer that they can keep an eye on. In the majority of cases this means that the data is only a smashed window away from belonging to someone else. Compare the physical security at your office to a top-tier hosting centre that has 24-hour security guards, surveillance cameras, multiple checkpoints with access limited through biometric scans, etc. I find that people rarely think of this.

Employee Theft

Disgruntled or overly-entrepreneurial employees can be a concern for every company. If your data is stored locally on a machine not only could they simply walk out with the machine but unless their data access is limited, they could easily copy and leave with it. This is probably worse with companies that still use Excel and print out sheets to give their employees, but is an issue with all systems that allows any user to view data in large batches.

It is important for your software solution to address this issue. In VanillaSoft, for example, there are different levels of access and there is a distinct division between managers and salespeople. All data is centrally stored, so you can’t lose it. In addition, salespeople only have access to the data that they are working on and cannot easily copy the database and leave with it. You can also create fields that are only viewable by management, thus hiding sensitive information. Although nothing can prevent all data theft, it is important to limit the chances of it occurring.

You can easily find information about the many different security measures that SaaS companies, including VanillaSoft, deploy on behalf of their customers – 128-bit SSL technology, user authentication, dynamic data and encoded sessions IDs, entry controls, SSAE 16 audits, and more.

I would strongly encourage everybody to take advantage of Data Privacy Day to examine their own practices – both personal and business – to see how they can be improved. As pointed out by the Ponemon Institute in their 2012 “Cost of Cyber Crime Study,” the costs associated with cyber crime are on the rise. Some of these result from outright malicious behavior. Others result from carelessness.

Cyber crime’s annual costs have reached over $8.9 million–a 6% increase over 2011, and a 38% increase over 2012.

Information theft accounts for over 44% of external costs.

The most expensive cyber crimes are caused by malicious code, web-based incidents, stolen or hijacked devices, and malevolent insiders.

Remember that just as with driving most accidents occur close to home.

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Let’s look at another issue that I have run into surprisingly often when looking at Inside Sales processes: death by a thousand calls. In fact, I was on the phone with a sales manager about a week ago who had decided to try out some new, more expensive lead sources in the sales mix. The leads were coming in from Web forms on a real-time basis and were being sold to up to four providers, so they were very time-sensitive.

The sales manager understandably wanted to put a real priority on reaching these leads, so had started by using the VanillaSoft feature that allows Web leads to be routed as a priority. This placed them at the top of the queue as they came in and ensured that they could be called within minutes of arrival. This was the right approach, as studies have shown that the value of a Web lead decreases very quickly with time. Given the cost of the leads, the manager decided that it was important to work them hard and made the seemingly logical decision to keep calling every two hours if they didn’t reach them. Makes sense, right? And it does, until you take yourself out of the sales manager role and put yourself into the lead’s shoes.

Let’s do just that. Last night my daughter managed to back into the neighbor’s car, and the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning was car insurance. I immediately jumped on my computer to do some research, filled out a form to get more information, then took my shower. By the time I got to my office the first call had come in, but I had meetings all day so couldn’t look after it right away. I was impressed by the follow-up, though. By the time I had time to get back and take a look at my messages late in the afternoon, I saw that I had already received five calls. This was starting to feel more like stalking than good service!

Does this sound exaggerated? I recently spent a day with a colleague whose number had landed in someone’s call list. We were in a meeting when his cell phone rang and he didn’t answer. An hour later it rang again. And it just kept ringing all day. By this time he didn’t want to answer it, and would certainly be in no frame of mind to listen to a sales pitch when he did. Would you if your recent call history looked like this?

sales calls

They say that familiarity can breed contempt, and it is true in calling as well. You can kill your leads and destroy their value by trying too hard just as surely as not trying hard enough. It is important to hit an acceptable balance. The system you use to ensure quick and constant follow-up with your leads also needs to allow you to moderate it. In the case of the sales manager above we decided to implement a more complex rule-based routing in the case where the lead was not reached. The leads were tried again one hour after the first call. The next two attempts were made at four hour intervals, and after that it went to daily calls. This ensured a quick, consistent follow-up that placed importance on the freshness of the lead without getting into overkill. No one would come home from a long weekend to find your number 15 times on their missed calls list.

Intelligent routing is essential to maximizing the value of leads. But this applies not only to making sure leads get called promptly, but also to making sure they don’t get called too often.

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lead management perfection paradoxIn part two of the blog series on common mistakes, I would like to talk about what I see as a fairly common error when designing sales processes: the desire for perfection from the start. These managers often have a fairly complex sales process in mind. They have flow charts, complex routing rules, and elaborate scripts that they wish to implement. They will spend hours discussing the pro’s and con’s of a particular phrase. They will endlessly debate whether it is better to call back contacts once a day or twice a day, and will spend weeks creating mock reports that they feel will give them real insight into their process. And they will often do all of this at the expense of actually starting to make calls and see what the reaction of prospects is.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that you need to do some careful planning when you implement new sales software. I have seen enough setups where it is obvious at a glance that they took the wrong direction from the start, which will now lead to many hours of work attempting to correct the mistakes of the past. I do not believe, however, that you know what the perfect process is before you have even made your first call. Trying to guess everything ahead of time often simply delays the process of trial and error that is really needed to fine-tune the process, and can often lead to great frustration for both the managers and the salespeople.

In this area I think that sales departments can learn a lot from the evolution in software development methodologies. One of the first ‘coded’ methodologies for software development was the Waterfall method, where development went through a number of steps – requirement, design, implementation, testing, etc – and only proceeded to the next phase after the completion of the previous one. End users came last. As development processes evolved they became more and more iterative – learn and refine at each step with constant feedback loops. The latest buzzword in software development – I can’t count the number of conferences we have been invited to in the last few months – is Agile development. This is another iterative-based development model but which encourages a more people-centric viewpoint using feedback, rather than planning, as the primary control mechanism?

Does that ring any bells? Sales is by definition people-centric, and with the scripting and information gathering tools of solutions such as VanillaSoft you can quickly gather centralized feedback that is then used to adjust the sales process in real time. This Agile sales process development model is getting more ink lately. When speaking with new clients, I highly recommend that they do a good basic implementation and then start calling to validate and revise their initial assumptions. There is no quicker way to learn, and no more valuable feedback than that which comes from actual contact with prospects. Paradoxically, aiming for perfection from the start often distances us from that goal.

Read the first posts in the series:

Lead Management: Am I Chasing My Own Tail, or Too Many Leads, Too Little Time”

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Lead Management Software for Creating Efficiencies“CRM, in my opinion, is no more of a sales productivity tool than using Excel and Word are.” So states Nancy Nardin in a recent post where she outlines what she calls the “Efficiency Paradox” as related to CRM technology. This is obviously a statement designed to shock many. I am not one of them.

We have been writing about the importance of leveraging new sales technologies for quite some time. As a technology company we are obviously a big fan of using technology to increase the quality and productivity of interactions with prospects and customers. We have also highlighted some of the new challenges that these technologies can raise in your sales process. In fact reading this made me think of a post I made back in September called “Don’t Get Paper Cuts From Your CRM.” I actually think that there are a number of solutions out there that are essentially glorified versions of Excel and Word. Don’t get me wrong, I think that they are much better organized for storing information and logging interactions in a simpler, easy-to-read fashion. They are much better than using Excel and Word, but that doesn’t mean that they are more productive.

As with everything in life the best product is the one that meets your specific needs. There is no one size fits all. For many companies they simply want to centralize data and make it available to everyone in a user-friendly format. Others are really just looking to be able to more easily report out on activity, so they are increasing management productivity but not necessarily that of the sales floor.

At VanillaSoft we have always been very focused on what we do and who we do it for. Our solution is designed to drive productivity as much as we believe is possible in Inside Sales and outbound calling activity while still maintaining a high quality contact. We do this by offering advanced next-best-lead routing combined with progressive dialing that greatly increases the number of calls made while still ensuring a higher quality, more personalized call. As Nancy points out there is usually some type of trade-off between driving productivity and keeping a personal touch, so each sales manager must evaluate the crucial elements in their own sales process before making a decision.

With every feature we roll out we ask an important question: does this contribute a net value to the sales process taking into account possible productivity losses? In fact I really enjoyed Nancy’s examples of the efficiency paradox as it reflects the type of analysis we must do on a constant basis and allows me to see where VanillaSoft can actually help attenuate the paradox created by other technologies, such as dealing with the higher volume of potential unqualified prospects, allowing the automatic gathering of contact dispositions and responding quickly to hot leads driving through tools like Marketo. Perhaps that is the greatest paradox and the driving force behind the industry: technology is the best solution to the productivity challenges posed by technology.

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Join the VanillaSoft Kiva Giving TeamAs many of you may already know November is National Entrepreneur Month in the US, giving us all an opportunity to talk about the importance of entrepreneurship to the economy. Entrepreneurs have changed the way we live and small business continues to contribute a large number of jobs to the economy. Here at VanillaSoft we have dedicated ourselves to helping small- and medium-sized businesses with their inside sales process and outbound calling activities, so we would be remiss to not give a shout out to the entrepreneurs that make up our customer base.

New technologies make this a great time to be an entrepreneur. A few dollars can get you powerful systems with functionality that was only available to large businesses not that many years ago. From complex hosted PBX systems to sales tools like VanillaSoft’s lead management system, even brand new start-ups can act like multinationals. I believe the SaaS model can really shake up the business landscape.

I would also like to take advantage of the fact that the week of November 12th to November 18th has been named Global Entrepreneur Week to promote a cause close to our heart here – entrepreneurship in the developing world. For years VanillaSoft has supported Kiva, a micro lending site that promotes entrepreneurship and fights poverty by making small loans to borrowers around the world. By offering affordable, small loans, Kiva ( gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to improve the lives of their family and their community. Every year VanillaSoft runs a campaign where we match all Kiva loans made by our customers, and we will be doing so again this year. On the Kiva site you are able to decide how much money you wish to lend and you can select the actual entrepreneurs that you would like to support. As the loans are paid back you can chose more entrepreneurs to help.

In addition to being a Kiva lender myself I have turned it into a family activity. Last year I opened a Kiva account for each of my children and put a credit into the account. They have spent this year handling their own portfolio, choosing which countries and types of industries to support and then selecting the individuals. It has been a wonderful opportunity for them to learn more about the developing world while at the same time gaining financial experience and contributing to development. I feel good seeing them log in at night to check which loans are being paid back so that they can make more loans. So as we celebrate the hard work of entrepreneurs this month, give a special thought to those who are trying to build small businesses in the developing world and check out to see how you can help.

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