Here's What Happens When You Ask Sales Reps What They Want from Their Sales Tech

October 22, 2020 | 7 minute read
Kayleigh Halko
Principal Product Manager
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Hint: Sales reps want better sales tech – so much so that 66% would rather clean their bathroom than update their customer relationship management (CRM) system, which is supposed to make their life easier. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Let’s start here, and for full disclosure, I’ve never had a job in sales. 

However, when I started my career in marketing, I worked in media relations. I spent all day, every day, calling and emailing reporters trying to sell them on something newsworthy my clients had done to earn coverage. Back then, I had a media database application that was supposed to keep track of the most current email address and phone number for each journalist which helped me keep them organized in different lists based on their geography or the types of news they covered. Phone numbers were often wrong, and emails often bounced. We also had newswire services that could tell us who we had emailed press releases to, but there was no way to tell who had opened them or read them.

The one thing that always failed: "Hi Joe, I was just calling to see if you got my email...." Click.

To successfully sell the news, I had to build personal connections with reporters and media outlets - and that required legwork. Researching recent articles, following journalists on Twitter (I'm talking early Twitter!), and if you were lucky, you'd occasionally get someone on the phone for five minutes to ask them what they and their readers cared about. But mostly, it was a lot of guesswork and intuition. Even just deciding which person on my list to call first required a Jedi master level of awareness.

It was a tough job. Mainly because reporters are incredibly busy, and to get their attention, I had to develop the skills to build common ground with them in a matter of seconds (assuming I was speaking to the correct person in the first place, of course).

Here's What Happens When You Ask Sales Reps What They Want from Their Sales Tech

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

After speaking with and learning from a lot of sales reps across different industries this past year, I believe my experience in media relations is similar to what sellers experience while prospecting. Especially for the reps we call digital sellers - the individuals with titles like SDR (sales development rep), BDR (business development rep), inside sales, telesales, and so on. With many sales organizations switching to remote sales models, it’s a challenge that's relatable even for one-time field reps turned virtual sellers. It's their job to find a common interest and build common ground with potential customers, despite being just one voice in a crowd of many vying for a prospect's attention.

Our job as a sales technology vendor is to make it easier for them to build those connections with customers. Luckily, we have direct access to customers using our CRM and sales force automation (SFA) applications - so we don't have to rely on intuition to guess what technology they need to be effective at digital sales. We can just ask them.

So we did. And we spent hundreds of hours observing how they work. We learned that digital sellers need a sales application that works on their behalf and works how they work. What they don’t need is a clunky CRM designed for field sellers of decades past. And they don’t need a cumbersome SFA solution that they’ve figured out how to work around instead of selling better.

In addition to asking and observing our customers, we also partnered with a well-known CRM analyst and founder of Beagle Research, Denis Pombriant, to survey more than 500 inside sellers to understand their perspective of modern sales technology. We learned again just how frustrated sellers are with certain elements of their jobs (86%!) and we reaffirmed that our fresh approach to the selling experience is the right direction.

Here are a few interesting findings (and check out the full report here):

  • 90% of sellers complain parts of their job take longer than they should. The top areas listed were entering notes in the CRM system (35%) and updating or working in multiple systems (34%).
  • Less than half (47%) use their CRM system regularly, and only 40% use it as intended. In fact, sellers rely on an average of eight tools to do their daily jobs, and the CRM isn’t in the top five.
  • 85% of sellers have made potentially embarrassing mistakes due to faulty CRM data. The top mistakes identified by sellers include calling the prospect by the wrong name (33%) and having the opposite idea of what a prospect wanted (29%).
  • The CRM system has become such a burden that 66% would rather clean the bathroom, stand in line at the DMV, or be nagged by their significant other than update their CRM system.
  • Finally, inefficiencies of CRM systems are hurting sellers’ productivity, and their work-life balance is suffering. Sellers are taking calls on vacation (50%), at the dinner table (40%), in the bathroom (30%), and on a date (16%).

So, I’ll say it again – sellers need an application that works on their behalf, and works how they work. Here’s what they need:

  1. They want help remembering what needs to be done but not to be distracted. Notifications are only great if they can help a digital seller quickly assess what needs action now and what can wait until later (and there's a mechanism for reminding them about those things to do later.) Notifications are next level if they can actually help a rep pinpoint the exact right timing for sales follow-up. It's up to us to provide context-aware notifications.
  2. They hate wasting time building to-do lists, but they need to know how to work on leads and opportunities and avoid wasting time on the duds. Almost every rep we talk to spends the first part of their day constructing a to-do list - even those that like and rely on their SFA to manage their day. Something’s missing that's forcing them to do extra admin work when they could be building relationships with prospects. It's up to us to build those lists for them and take them step-by-step through a prioritized workflow.
  3. They’re frequently interrupted; they’re rarely able to finish every step in the sales outreach process and document the next steps before they must quickly pivot to the next thing. The reps we speak to know how important it is to finish call logs and schedule follow-ups. The problem is that these processes are really tedious to complete in the CRM, and oftentimes an email or call from a prospect they've been waiting to hear from comes in that deserves their attention instead. But they need to document everything so they have the right context for their next conversation. It's up to us to automate follow ups, appointment setting, and capturing notes.
  4. They don't have time to do the CRM's work in addition to their own. This one takes me back to my old media relations days. I used to send requests to our media database vendor to update phone numbers and email addresses once I had found the correct info on my own. Digital sales reps don't have time to validate account details or regularly update contact info, and they certainly don't have time to do this on everyone else's behalf. It should be automatically and continuously verified, and updates should automatically filter out to their entire selling organization. It's up to us to provide connected account intelligence.
  5. They wish they could know what emails have been opened, what links have been clicked, the latest company news, and what products their prospect wants information on. Trying to guess is the fastest way to waste their time and the customer's time. Knowing what a prospect actually cares about means they'll always be armed with a relevant conversation starter. It's up to us to put all that information in their sales tool - not leave it buried in their inbox.
  6. They often spend more time searching for contact information, previous interactions, past emails, and doing online research than actually speaking with a prospect. It's nearly impossible to make every sales engagement personalized - which they know it should be if they want to be successful - and still get hit their high-volume sales metrics. They need their sales technology to help them be highly relevant, responsive, and personal. It's up to us put everything they could want to know about a lead or opportunity on a single screen in a chronological timeline.
  7. They're sick of managing multiple windows, multiple monitors, multiple applications, and multiple communications channels. Is it really so hard to put everything in one system or at least into a single user interface? It's up to us to build communication channels into their sales technology so that phone, email, and video chat live inside the process and not separately.
  8. They need useful guidance on what outreach is working, and what's not. It’s really easy to get caught up in thinking you're successful when you’re hitting metrics like emails sent, calls made, and appointments set. Those metrics are useful indicators, but they don't necessarily translate into sales results. Digital sellers need better insight into the strategies that are working for their peers and fresh ideas for making sure their daily tasks are actually advancing deals. It's up to us to provide performance intelligence that's useful and easy to interpret.

Armed with this direct feedback, we've been asking ourselves some questions about creating a purpose-built application specifically for digital sellers. What if we designed sales technology with digital sales models in mind instead of adapting the standard CRM to fit their processes? What if we helped digital sellers fulfill their purpose instead of just hitting their metrics? What if we could help them operate at both a speed and scale previously unheard of?

There would be no more "Just checking in" or "Is now a good time?" They would always know when the time was right for sales outreach and exactly what to say. Process and data entry for the sake of process and data entry would never slow them down again, yet the right information would always be there when they returned to a lead or opportunity. They wouldn't have to struggle to build common ground with customers amidst so much noise.

We recently announced this new approach to digital selling and will continue to refine it in the months to come. Be sure to subscribe to the blog for the latest updates on our Digital Sales solution.

For more insight into the challenges and frustrations facing inside sales teams today, download the Beagle Research report, "Getting Past the Breaking Point of Yesterday’s CRM.

Kayleigh Halko

Principal Product Manager

Kayleigh Halko is a Principal Product Manager at Oracle.

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