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Guest blog by Joe Rodden, Sales Systems Manager at Catalant Technologies

In my recent blog post, “The Three Levers of Sales Operations” I discussed the three strings sales operators can tug and influence to get results: Systems, Training and Management. In this post I’ll detail some of the common traps to avoid when using the Systems Lever.

A systems issue can come in a few forms ranging from large scale projects to smaller one-off tasks. These could be anything from implementing an Opportunity Qualification process in Salesforce to something as small as a bug causing issues in the system. Systems are where sales operators have the most control, and so they should be the easiest issues to solve provided we avoid some common traps.

Trap 1: Putting the System before the Process

Companies often buy a CRM and think it will fix all their issues, standardize their selling process, and skyrocket productivity. Then they implement it. Reps become frustrated because the system doesn’t match up with the reality of their selling world. Management gets frustrated because they’re spending thousands of dollars and not seeing an ROI. And sales operators get frustrated because although we did what they asked, it just isn’t working.

How to avoid this trap:

Before implementing any new workflow in a system, ensure that there is a process in place or design one to support it. Otherwise you end up with a gap in reality between what the system wants and what the process should actually be. Conduct some interviews with your reps, draw out the actual sales process, and figure out what the company wants to be able to report on. Only when you’ve done all this should you start to build. All too often it happens the other way around, don’t contribute to the problem.

Trap 2: Collecting Data for the Sake of Data

I am admittedly a minimalist when it comes to data entry in Salesforce so take my suggestions with that in mind. If it were up to me, an opportunity would have an amount, a close date, a stage, some win loss info, and information required to bill. I’m sure we’ve all gotten requests for new fields that the organization thinks are critical to the success of our business with the assumption that sales will happily fill it in and fill it in correctly. We then implement these fields and never hear from the requester again, or never see it reported. Like it or not, a major part of our jobs is to also keep the sales team focused on selling which means limiting their data entry. There is a portion of information that only sales knows, but there’s a larger portion where anyone could figure it out. If it’s the latter put the requirement on a different team whenever possible.

How to avoid this trap?

When I receive new requests like this, I always ask, “If this information is good or bad, what action are you going to take on it?” and “Who will be responsible for completing this?” and “Have you told that team?” and “How does someone know this information?” The idea isn’t to say we’ll never collect more information but it’s to make sure any new requirements have actual, actionable output and aren’t just “neat learnings.” It’s also useful to fully explain the impact and level of effort involved in collecting this information, sometimes the requester will come to the conclusion themselves and retract the request.

Trap 3: Considering Your Time First

Ever been in a meeting and received a new ask for your system that you know is a good idea but it will be a massive lift on your end? Or, have you ever wanted to take a shortcut to get the job done even if it isn’t an ideal workflow from a UI perspective? In a sales systems role, the amount of effort on our end should be the last thing we consider.

How to avoid this trap?

Whenever I receive new requests or build new functionality, I try to consider the following questions in this order:

  1. Is this good for the business?
  2. Is this good for the users?
  3. Is this hard for me?

Note the last question. Think about that last, use the answer to provide a timeline but don’t take shortcuts just because the answer is yes.

Trap 4: The Big One: Trying to Solve Management Issues with Systems

This one will lead to the most painful processes and the worst outcomes. This is when we are accounting for a lack of proper management for a team and trying to enforce it via a system. You’ll end up with a rat’s nest of validation rules, janky workarounds, and confusing processes.

For example, qualification is a great methodology for helping your reps maximize their time and improving their forecasts. Typically, it’s implemented on an opportunity and can range from 20 free text fields to a series of pick lists (protip: go with this option). It’s not something that should ever be required by a system. It should be available and tracked by one but the requirement to complete should be coming from their managers using it as a coaching tool. The goal isn’t to have them fill it out, the goal is (or should be) for them to find value in its use. Once we start beating them over the head with a validation rule it instantly turns into a box to check to get it out of the way rather than a powerful tool in their toolbox. When we start trying to account for a lack of proper management by building a system we’re simply wasting our time and hurting our company.

How to avoid this trap?

It takes practice to identify them, but step one is simply identifying when this is happening. I’d suggest figuring out the goal of the process at a high level first and then work from there. What is the actual problem we’re trying to solve? Make validation rules your last resort in all cases. I’ve found it often helps to walk people through how you see it working properly.

Erin Rohr
Director, marketing communications
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