Why sales leaders need to be paying attention to Digital Process Automation

Automation is not just an IT buzzword, but rather a staple across the entire business. So exactly how much can your sales team gain from it?

64% of your sales team's time is being sunk into administrative tasks, taking them away from what they should be doing - what they enjoy doing.

As a sales leader, you’re focused on finding ways to drive growth, retention and to generally move the business forward. When you hear terms like automation, or even specifically digital process automation, your first thought likely is that these are areas for your IT leader, or even operations. But, on average, about half of your processes can be automated, freeing up your team to focus on what you all share as a common goal - growth.

The reality is you’re likely already using some automation tools, whether you realize it or not, and “automation”, broadly speaking, is touching nearly every facet of business today. Every business is a technology business. I am spending more and more time with sales leaders who have identified key challenges or opportunities and are driving these initiatives forward as a primary method of reaching their goals, and faster. It’s not coming from operations, and it’s not coming from IT.

As digital transformation has crossed over so many aspects of business, sales leaders are becoming more aware and better equipped to consider the administrative aspects of their operations, the opportunities for data and the need to consistently ensure they are being competitive in their offerings - and how they are delivered.

For anyone that thinks that the digital economy has had little impact on the B2B sales process, think again. An average of 8 people are now involved in the typical B2B buying process, up by 40% in the last three years - and prospects are typically 60% of the way through the buying process before they connect with a salesperson. Added to that, nearly half of all B2B buyers are now tech-savvy millennials who expect digital interaction to be central to any business transaction.

On the internal side of the equation, these changing buyer dynamics are pressuring current sales processes. Sales productivity is the #1 challenge for almost two-thirds of B2B companies, compounded by the fact that 40% of these organizations cannot find meaningful information from data that’s scattered around different systems. Over half of sales managers say they’re not given the data-driven insights they need to meet their targets.

Faced with these challenges, internally and externally, sales leaders need to look beyond current ways of working and make some fundamental changes. For organizations that sell through dealers or agents, there are added complexities arising that are putting the focus on the need for real-time, centralized tools and processes.

The data-driven salesforce

The digitized sales process is replacing traditional sales activities that are manual, slow and error-prone. Companies are using inbound marketing to generate better quality leads at a lower cost and with a much higher chance of conversion by inside or field sales teams. Cold calling might not be dead, but it’s breathing its last.

And underpinning digitization is the move to data-driven sales models, where decisions are made based on analysis of empirical evidence and not on intuition or experience.

Traditional companies either don’t collect data from digital channels or, if they do, it’s often siloed, lost or ignored. Data-driven sales organizations do the opposite: they gather data from as many customer touchpoints as possible and use analytics for intelligent targeting to find new customers, explore upsell and cross-sell sales opportunities with existing customers, reduce customer attrition and, overall, deliver better ROI for their sales and marketing dollars.

Being data-driven also helps crack the productivity problem. Based on a survey by BCG of over 700 European and global companies, digitized channels improve productivity by up to 70% and help deliver higher profits. Sales professionals at all levels are recognizing this, and demanding greater access to data - with 80% of employees, in general, wanting more business performance information, and 25% leaving their employment (or knowing someone that has) directly as a result of not being able to access key data.

Different companies will achieve these outcomes in different ways, but winners share common characteristics in how they collect and use data:

  • Data is gathered by every opportunity to build an ever-evolving picture of prospects and customers and convert it into actionable insights for sales and marketing teams. They feed real-time data to sales teams to improve the quality of customer meetings and increase the chances of a sale.
  • An inside sales team complements field sales. For smaller and simpler deals, their close rate can be ten times faster.
  • They develop digitized propensity models to predict buyer behaviour and identify those most likely to respond to an offer.
  • Sales managers use data-driven dashboards to manage team performance. Low achievers get special attention, priorities are easy to spot, and they have at-a-glance view of their pipeline.
  • High volume, low-value activities are automated. Smart organizations let e-commerce or self-service portals take care of small deals that don't merit the attention of a sales executive but, cumulatively, are valuable to the company.
  • They use sales and marketing analytics to find opportunities for continuous improvement.

Data and reporting drive immense value in all businesses, in all areas of operation - but are more tangibly valuable in sales and marketing. Using legacy systems, multiple fragmented systems, spreadsheets or other manual processes may be accomplishing the general required workflows – but are almost certainly missing data opportunities – both predictive and historical. These data sets can be used to forecast sales, inventory, track performance, commissions and countless additional metrics.

The needs and benefits are clear, but the path forward isn’t always. With a market flooded by SaaS tools, business intelligence platforms, e-commerce options and more - making a decision that will be impactful, and adopted by the sales team, can be a cumbersome process. Later in this article, we’ll take a look at a few key steps that can be taken first.

The channel-driven organization

I’ve spoken to many sales leaders who have prematurely dismissed e-commerce, or online self-service portals, as not being a fit for their business due to the complexities in their specific operations and processes. 

Often, they acknowledge that incredible amounts of time are being spent in spreadsheets, manual processes or legacy systems - but the perception is that their workflows are too complex to be automated. In channel-driven organizations, this can be a huge barrier to growth as not only will such solutions enable efficient scaling, fewer errors and faster turnaround times - but customers and partners alike are demanding the ability to work how they want, when they want and from where. 

Some examples of areas that are viewed as highly complex, that we actually see incredibly commonly, are areas like tiered or account-specific pricing, product visibility restrictions, subsidies and mark-up logic, commission factors and reporting, and the list goes on. While some out-of-the-box e-commerce or order management systems may not, or may not easily, handle such requirements - custom dealer portals or tailored e-commerce solutions can absolutely handle such workflows.

By putting assumptions of complexity aside and reflecting on the most manual, time-consuming, and error-prone aspects of your sales operations - you can begin to evaluate how automating and optimizing these aspects can be beneficial. 

Aside from reducing time spent, reducing or eliminating errors and increasing turnaround times, which are all global benefits of process automation - specific benefits of implementing self-service solutions to your channel come into play.

Data-driven growth

By implementing digital tools to manage your channel, you gain access to real-time, centralized data. You can use this data to empower your channel with instant access to vital information (pricing, inventory, etc) and empower your sales team to make better decisions with access to real-time quoting or access insights. Acquiring data on usability trends, like common searches, top-performing products and other insights again becomes centralized and doesn’t reside in multiple systems or spreadsheets enabling you, and your channel partners, to make better decisions.


Self-service tools and key sales processes absolutely come into play as competitive differentiators. As a standalone, they could affect your retention positively, or negatively, based on your response to growing demands for digital sales processes. We previously explored how that looks within your organization and it translates externally to partners who are at arms-length and who have other vendors vying for their attention. 

Implementing real-time solutions that offer real value to the channel opens the door to easier implementation of performance-based programs, SPIFFs, sales performance tracking and other data-based programs that can be cumbersome in manual solutions, or fragmented using multiple systems.

General access to data, easier selling (time reduction for the partner) and access to “sticky solutions” like branded accounts, quoting tools, etc. - all play into engagement and retention and can enable channel growth.

Smarter use of time

In a recent case, a central web-based portal reduced the time associated with order processing for The UPS Store by 70%. Considering their network spans in excess of 350 locations, this not only enabled real-time insight and a plethora of reporting capabilities but the pure impact of time savings offers a very tangible ROI.

By dramatically reducing time spent in areas like order management, order entry, returns management (as a few quick examples), your team can focus on more impactful areas like building on channel programs, iterating and reflecting on new features and functions to bring into digital solutions, fostering new relationships and increasing human touch points contributing further to engagement and retention.

Standardization & streamlining

From agent networks to resellers, dealers, franchises - and everything in between, you’re dealing with individuals, or individual entities, with their own processes, approaches and workflows. 

Aside from experiencing the same challenges in manual processes, this also means your product or service may be delivered in a variety of ways - which can be positive or negative.

While many channel-based organizations tout the benefits of local, unique experiences associated with their channel members - key aspects of the offering must be protected.

Documented processes and standards, minimum market pricing, contract terms and conditions, geographical restrictions - these are just a few examples of areas that could be easily digitized and help with standardization in your channel. By enabling remote access, in a single system, to things like these - it makes it easier for your channel to conform and also enables them to benefit from automated workflows.


Generally speaking, prospects are using marketplaces, user reviews and web-based research for information gathering, supplier evaluation and product shortlisting, and expect companies to provide good quality, easy to access information to help.

Implementing digital solutions for your channel can assist them in much the same way. From knowledge bases to channel groups, events, competitive information, surveys - information from each member in the channel can be contributed to a centralized system which over time builds value for all members of the “community”.

Where to go from here

Whether looking at your sales team, your channel, or both - the need to implement digital solutions in your sales process is increasingly vital. Outside of leadership, sales professionals, administrative professionals and virtually everyone within the organization is increasingly interfacing with digital solutions that automate key tasks and provide valuable data - it’s setting a new standard - internally and with your customers.

In large operations, the role of the CIO has shifted to leveraging technology as a contribution to the business - in all aspects. To shift it from a line item expense to an investment in growth. More businesses are also introducing leaders in “continuous improvement” to lead initiatives like the ones we’re exploring here. For the SMB, it can be up to each leader to drive change for their individual area of the business - and both small and large, we’re increasingly hearing from sales leaders.

For those that don’t have the benefit of CIO or a manager of continuous improvement, I offer some suggestions for first steps.

Don't wait

Time-pressed sales leaders don’t need to wait for large scale digital initiatives that span the whole organization. Local, self-managed initiatives produce quick wins. Marketing teams are increasingly adopting marketing automation platforms like HubSpot, Pardot, etc. - and sales teams should be no different.

Start small and build value

Focus on delivering small, credible benefits - financial and otherwise. You want to show any senior team members what’s possible and gain support for bigger change and bigger impact.

Reflect on key areas within your process that range from complex to seemingly “simple” and compare that to processes that you feel may be highly specific to your organization, versus more commonplace. 

For example, moving away from Microsoft Word based quotes and into an online document management solution (I’ll use PandaDoc as an example here) can reduce the time associated with building quotes by using saved snippets and pricing banks, reduce the time associated with publishing changes, emailing versions, etc. - and accelerate closing with electronic signatures. A simple solution like this is inexpensive, quick to implement and reduces admin work by 65% while increasing close rates by 28%. 

Simple, quick wins like this illustrate to your team, your senior leadership and yourself the power of automating sales processes - and enables you to move upwards in conquering some of your most complex processes and workflows.

Listen to feedback

Speak to your team, your customers, your channel partner. Use their knowledge to work out where better data can have a bigger impact. Their involvement will also add credibility to what you’re doing and help pitch the leadership team.

Explore all options & think future

It’s easy to get carried away implementing quick spreadsheet solutions, adopting a bunch of SaaS products and so on - but you’ll quickly find yourself spinning your wheels accessing a ton of solutions, and wasting money as your team or customers fail to adopt them. Think smart and think of the future. Find key processes that can be automated with simple tools, but consider the big picture and evaluate integrations and even custom solutions.

Custom solutions come into focus when looking at bringing all of your processes together, or tackling your most complex. The process of buying, implementing and integrating packaged solutions and with legacy systems is complicated, and the time needed seems to get longer and longer. Compared with custom software, it can allow for rapid delivery. These solutions are built to focus on the pain points and avoid non-essential features, release in priority sequence and evolve with data. Additionally, they support unique business needs - they are built for you, in response to your specific needs and challenges. They come with less friction, less workarounds and increased adoption rates based on their tailored experiences.

Last but not least, custom software can find a fast way through the data maze. 50% to 80% of any data project is spent on data discovery and data prep and a custom software expert will reduce that time by finding the data, cleaning it and organizing it better for use and expansion.

Ask for help

At the end of the day, it’s all about helping you sell smarter, faster and more often.

Sales leaders left to drive these initiatives can be left overwhelmed and finding that such things consistently get deprioritized. 

3merge is an embedded partner focused on building impactful solutions for businesses just like yours. We uniquely insert ourselves into your business to identify key areas that could best be aided by technology, to assist with building a case and identifying return opportunities and then to build a plan of action for implementation, adoption and evolution. To learn more about we help sales leaders with digital process automation and self-service solutions, reach out and start the conversation.

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