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Choosing tools for your sales strategy plan can be challenging

Don't let your sales reps be victims of 'paralysis of analysis' -- know what to look for when shopping for sales tools and applications.

It turns out that, in sales, there can still be too much of a good thing -- especially when selecting tools to support a sales strategy plan. With an abundance of options, it's becoming more important for sales departments to invest in and implement only the sales tools that serve specific functions.

And it's not just the implementation that companies should worry about. With implementation should come significant training and support, or else users will discard the tools, resulting in sunken costs.

When developing a sales strategy plan, sales departments need to assess several things to decide whether to purchase new software or applications. Factors to consider include the climate of your sales teams, what your end goal is and whether the tools can integrate with your existing software.

"There are so many tools and data, but you need the people skills to implement them, as well," said Karl Becker, president of The Carruthers Group, an Arvada, Colo.-based marketing and sales programs consultancy. "If you're not intentionally designing what your department will use, you're going to get this paralysis of analysis. Employees won't know what tool to use, so they [won't] use any."

According to a recent survey by Accenture PLC, 55% of sales reps found using their company's sales tools to be more challenging than useful for sales performance. In addition, 59% of sales reps surveyed said they had too many sales tools.

This abundance of choices has led to an "Age of Distraction," as Accenture calls it, and this has negatively affected the output of sales departments. How can you make sense of the data at your fingertips when you don't know where to start?

'It's important to work backwards'

Every sales tool on the market will tout itself as a "game-changer" for your business, but it's important for sales managers to see through the sugar coating and figure out how the software or application will help with its sales strategy plan.

"It's important to work backwards with what you want to accomplish and what you want to do with your data," Becker said. "That influences everything."

For sales reps, the goal is typically to figure out which leads or existing customers to contact first, and how to contact them.

"You have all these new tools, but they are very narrow for the most part," said Michael Fauscette, chief research officer for Chicago-based G2 Crowd, a peer-to-peer business software review company. "You're trying to be in all these social channels and use more sophisticated tools and get to that contact earlier, but most don't have that intelligence. You're starting to see that shift, but it's still early."

While AI in sales tools is becoming more widespread, many tools on the market help with automation and banal tasks, which is useful, but only if there's integration with your current systems.

One common example is email tracking tools, which can provide insight to who read your email, how long they were perusing it and whether it's a convenient way to reach an individual prospective customer. Yet, all of that insight is nearly useless if it's not integrated with the CRM that houses the rest of that customer's information.

"Each of these tools [is] separate and independent of each other, and doesn't allow for the tradeoff of 'What am I going to do now?'" said Manny Medina, CEO of Seattle-based Outreach, a sales communication platform.

While automation tools can help with efficiency within a sales strategy plan, a combination of automation and insight is the sweet spot, according to Fauscette.

"Finding a single tool that lets you manage your activity and give insight and has a certain amount of automation that gets rid of time-consuming tasks, that's the contest," he said. "How can I get all these things in one tool that is connected and in my mobile device and email and calendar? You're already seeing a lot of consolidation in the front end of sales automation tools."

'Don't buy a marketing tool for a sales activity'

Finding the right tool is just one part of making sure it fits with your sales strategy plan. No matter how great a sales tool is, it will still require department training and support to become a go-to application for sales reps.

"Companies need to provide education on how to use the tools they implement," Becker said. "[They should] provide resources and training on how to use the tool for marketing and sales. Once the actual tool has been implemented, the challenging part is the adoption by your team."

Finding the right tools for your sales strategy plan also requires the knowledge of which format with which your employees prefer to work. If you're looking into a tool that integrates with an email platform, be sure it integrates well with the platform of choice.

"A lot of these tools -- Yesware is an example -- integrate beautifully with Gmail, but not with Outlook," Becker said. "Think about a younger person in sales; Gmail is like learning to walk. By integrating Yesware, you're enabling them to be more efficient and work in an environment native to them. If you walk into an organization that uses Outlook, getting them to now use Gmail will be tough.

Companies need to provide education on how to use the tools they implement.
Karl Beckerpresident, The Carruthers Group

"It's about putting in the tools that work not only in the technical environment, but also [within] the culture and demographic of your team," Becker continued.

It's also paramount to know if the tools you're looking at are built for sales operations -- which can be easier said than done, according to Becker.

"Don't buy a marketing tool for a sales activity. Sometimes, people don't really know the difference," he said. "Define who is going to use the tool and what they are going to use it for -- is that a sales activity or a marketing activity? The best thing to do is look at the platform you currently have and check the app store to find some case studies that feel like your company."

Too many tools from which to choose

This abundance of sales tools has negatively affected sales departments, according to the Accenture study, with sales productivity dropping from 41% to 36% during the past five years -- the same time during which the market has been flooded with tools that are supposed to increase sales productivity.

"You can have all kinds of automation, but if all the tools are disconnected, it will still be a problem," Fauscette said. "Sometimes, the idea that you're trying to integrate with your system doesn't mean the functions come together the way you want them to."

And without that connectivity and integration, what more is the tool than just another distraction for a sales rep?

"Information on a buyer is growing, while the time I have to do something for you is shrinking," Medina said. "Companies are looking for what actions will make its reps more streamlined and really leverage technology rather than make it a distraction."

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