CEO, Invisible Solutions
Vlad Voskresensky is one of the original founders of Invisible.io. Prior to that he was co-founder and CEO of Afortio, software development company (acquired by NYSE:EPAM). Experienced in executive management and new business development, Vlad is responsible for the company’s overall strategy and key management direction.
Eric Dreshfield is the founder of Midwest Dreamin’. From the beginning of Spring ’13, he’s the 4-time Salesforce MVP. With over 20 years experience in business analytics, accounting, governmental grant & contract administration, data mining, six sigma methodologies, and a wide array of other business-related fields, Eric’s a top leader of Southern Indiana Salesforce User Group and Advocacy Manager at Apttus.
Before we start, I’d like to a little bit of brainstorm about the reason why we even have CRM automation in this world. In this case, we’re gonna talk about how to make it better but before we talk about that let’s try to figure out why do we even have it.
So, I am a CEO of a company and we do use a CRM for our own needs as well, just like all of you guys. And I know for sure that my biggest problem which I believe is a challenge for all companies and one of the main reasons why we even need a CRM is forecasting accuracy. We are really struggling with poor forecasting and we implement CRM to control this situation better, to have our pipeline up and running and then keep going with the pipeline and everything.
And of course, we wanna make sure that all of the customer information we work with is “in the system”, so we control it and it’s in sync with reality. And often it happens that “I know more than there is in my CRM,” so therefore we push people to kind of be very accurate with the data. And then, what I know for sure, is it starts to conflict with “me pushing my sales reps to work with CRM vs going to close opportunities”. Cause I want my pipeline be very accurate and clear for me, I want all details in CRM, I literally say to my sales reps: “You know what, I want you guys to be very accurate with all the CRM data, enter everything you’re doing.” Once we’re doing this, I believe, this is a very common problem.
I’m really passionate about the ideas about how to resolve this problem. So, if we’re pushing our sales reps to enter CRM, what we’re actually doing is stealing their time for CRM administration from the real sales process and this is where the problem starts to evolve. ‘Cause it increases the sales cycle, it pushes badly and is hard on sales reps because they are spending time on something in-house vs going and selling things outside, going and hunting for new customers. And there is a very nice report from Gartner which they did on that topic and in this report they have mentioned some of things which are really frightening for me. They said that after the calculations and the studies they did, on average, sales reps are spending only 35% on actual selling and then the amount of the time we are eating from them by something else – we either send them to trainings or we grab them for internal meetings, or we do something else, or we force them to work with CRM, etc-etc. So, our intent was to try to resolve this problem.
Once I said to myself, “If we would, like, if we can minimize this administrative time which we typically steal from sales reps, we steal their time from selling. If we can give them back that time, they will be definitely selling more. And their sales effectiveness would increase.” So, this as the background for all of our thoughts and why we even started to develop our products which we have developed so far. Now, if we realize, if we kind of agree on that topic, that we use CRM because of this, because we want to control those things because we want them very visible but at the same time, as we introduce a CRM we literally put more work on our sales reps and very often CRM doesn’t really help them. It may help top managers (you know, guys like me) cause I can control the company situation, look into the pipeline and manage the things but it’s actually additional work on sales reps. And then, if I would analyze the typical reasons we have seen why CRM implementation fails, I would say that the very first reason is poor user adoption. We saw a ton of situations when companies are picking different CRMs, they’re investing hard into the tool itself, they’re investing hard into trainings, they’re rolling out the CRM, they customize it and then still people are not using them. Managers, sales managers, c-level managers, they are in the situation when they know more data which seeds in CRM. So, literally people are not filling out the CRM. And filling out and conducting a CRM was always a big problem. And this is where the problem starts to evolve, this is where poor adoption starts.
Our answer to that, my personal view on that, it’s because often CRM lacks on integration. I tend to be on the end-user side, I’m trying to wear, you know, sales reps shoes, and I clearly see them being in the market training sales staff and then at the end of the day they’re back to office with something hunted and then they either have the choice to come back home and celebrate what they’ve sold or sit in the office, and fill out and report everything back into the CRM. So, the answer to that was if we can kind of integrate CRM into the tools those guys are already using, so we can get that information out of whatever tools they’re using and at least prepopulate or maybe even, like, you know, fully populate CRM with the data which is, you know, happening somewhere else. That would be a big help for users of CRM and hopefully it will help us to go to the next level. ‘Cause the very last level I’d like to achieve with CRM automation in my company is to make CRM actionable and I’ll come to that.
So, the very beginning was the following: I really would like the CRM we’re rolling out in our company to not be an additional task or a burden on my sales reps. We wanted to help them vs to force them into doing something extra on top of what they were already doing. The answer to that was, like, OK, we need to train them well, we need to, kind of, explain to them how to use the tool but more importantly, we need to bring the tool into the environments where they are. You may feel that this is where the integration of calendar and inbox pops up but it’s not only this. That integration could be pretty much anywhere. A very important topic is mobility. It means that it’s not like a mobile phone but just realizing that sales guys are mobile in this world, they may be in the office on the phone, they can easily travel with their laptop somewhere else, from where they do not have access to their corporate system or they just cannot connect to a VPN or something like this and they are mobile in all meanings.
*We would be really keen to know how would you consider a CRM reload for your company. If you have it, and believe you do and you would tell us if you are happy with your CRM rollout, and if you think it’s successful or could be better. That would definitely help us after the webinar to analyze the results.
But going back to my topic, as I’ve mentioned, the ultimate goal with CRM rollout for me was to have CRM actionable in the meaning that if sales rep can login into CRM and instead of using this as a reporting tool to me as a c-level manager or to his VP of sales. If he can or she can have CRM as a tool which would hint at what to do next: “Here is my opportunity that I’m working on, here is the next step I need to do on this/that opportunity, here are a couple of follow-ups that I should make to fulfill my quota at the end of the quarter. For me that would be the best result of a CRM rollout. And the ultimate goal was like this.
With this I would probably hand over to Eric and let him talk about the next topic which is potential challenges, risks on that journey and how to avoid them.
The big challenges with CRM are getting people to use the system. So, as Vlad was saying the bigger challenges really lie in getting your CRM users to use a CRM. And the easiest solutions, I mean, the ways to avoid that risks and to make it easier to get the productivity you want, the ROI that you want in using a CRM is to put the power of the tool into the hands of the users, in the form that they are used to use it. Sure you can train them on how to use a CRM in their browser and how to do that but if they’re used to using it in Excel, for example, figure out how to connect Excel to your CRM, so they continue using Excel. If they’re used to doing all their work through Outlook: communicating with clients, scheduling meetings, get Outlook connected to your CRM, so they can continue to do all of that in Outlook, where it doesn’t add extra work for them, where the tools are right in their inbox, right in their Gmail (if they’re using Gmail) where they can still continue to do all their work and have everything they need in the right place with the tools they most familiar with. There are a lot of opportunities out there, there are plenty of tools available today that allow for that type of integration. SmartCloud Connect is one of those tools. And we’ll walk you through the demonstration of that in a little while so you can see how it works.
So, the biggest part of how to avoid risks and raise your productivity again is keeping people utilizing tools they’re most familiar with. Another thing that can be done to help increase productivity is to guide those sales reps, guide your users on the right path, trying to build the systems, so they utilize automation and utilize AI to figure out what’s happening, like, build up AI so that your emails will be scanned and read and try to recognize within the email that this particular client wants to purchase products. So, that means you need to prompt your sales rep, you need to set up for a meeting with them, to call them, to talk to them about the products they’re interested in, you need to create an opportunity, you need to do follow up tasks to make sure they’re getting what they need and that all things and tools that SmartCloud Connect can handle, and like I said, we’ll show you a demonstration of that in just a little while.
To continue the topic, when we are talking about, like, helping people to use CRM in all the meanings, my slogan here, my point here is that we should not change people, we should change the software. And this is what I understand under those words. We clearly see people using some tools they’re kind of used to, so they may use Excel, as Eric’s mentioned, and they may use their Inbox or schedule meetings on their calendars, they are doing a ton of things, they are in Slack today, sometimes they could even sell things from Facebook, why not, it’s all OK. And suddenly we’ve introduced a CRM automation and we want all of this data to reside in CRM and we have two ways of doing this. The first way is that we kind of make this conditional employment. We tell to our sales reps: you know what guys, we’ve bought this perfect CRM, you need to reflect everything you’re doing here, whatever you’re using. And this is what we call admin tasks, and this is what kills productivity. So, if we choose the second path which is do not force people to use something new but try to connect this new, which is a CRM to the environments where they are, that could be a big gain in productivity. ‘Cause a CRM suddenly becomes fruitful in terms of information and then people are not overloaded with these admin tasks and they have time to sell. The next value would come when a CRM would advise them on what to do but the very first one is to do not steal the time from selling. That’s why when we’re talking about different kinds of integrations, for us Inbox and calendar was the very first, very evident choice and one of the first products we’ve developed in our company was the Connector for Office 365 and Exchange ‘cause people really live there and one of those products we’re gonna be showing you today.
And then the second step is we clearly understand that even though we resolve this problem of simplifying for sales reps entering the information in the system, so that managers would see that. This is still not the goal of a CRM automation ‘cause we truly believe that CRM should not be a reporting tool where “people are entering data for managers to see this”, it should be helpful to sell, as I’ve mentioned in the beginning. That should be something which advises me as a sales rep what to do in the next step. So, here we come, there are tons of smart things to pop-up. Some of them are very, kind of, statistical or pretty simple automation. When we talk about computing, some of those things are very robust and very intelligent and this is where we have AI coming but between those two corner cases there are tons of things which could be done. And within all of the integrations, when we do those integration projects using our product or just doing this as a project for some companies, we often sit with managers in the company trying to understand their use cases, how do they use their CRM, how do they live in the real world, and this is what I’m encouraging you to think of, like try to think about yourself: what kind of signals you guys are listening to in your real life, what are you sensitive to, ‘cause just some real-life examples. Some people would tell us that: “Well, for us, it’s a load where all of the incoming inquiries should be responded to in one hour maximum and we really force our sales reps to be very accurate with that.” But guess what: automation can track that and can help sales reps to do not miss this and can also signal to managers if someone is doing bad, things like that. The other customers would say like, “We don’t really care about the time of the response but what we really about is that we do as many touches as possible so we prefer to be in constant touch with our prospects, with our leads, otherwise we’re not going to close the deal.” And here also automation can help, ‘cause we can very clearly scan and analyze the inbox and outbox of our company, we can understand how we, as a company, communicate with our prospects, and how often we touch these prospects, etc.
I’m throwing you three examples: just to give you a feeling of how automation can help, what it can calculate, watch, notice and then give you as an observation or maybe even as a recommendation. To conduct one thing, I truly believe that in the sales process there is definitely a ton of art but even more than art there is repeatable actions which you know much better than anyone else about yourself and about your company, so if you figure out those repeatable actions for yourself, most of all these repeatable actions could be automated. Either as a custom work and you may do this custom project with anyone and your internal developers or you may find a tool on the market which would automate those yet simple but very time consuming things ‘cause you guys are doing it often and if it’s not automated then there is a risk of losing, dropping the ball at some point. If you automate this then this would be automatic and people will not forget to do this. Software sometimes doesn’t work as expected but often it does, so not come to bugs and everything but it would definitely help. With this mindset when we’re building our products including SmartCloud Connect, that’s not about only synchronizing data or embedding a CRM into the inbox. It’s all about figuring out those maybe simple, maybe more complex action items which are repeatable and trying to automate those action items. And you’ll see it during the demo.
Things like: when I create a new contact, can you prepopulate for me the form of this new contact based on what is in the email. It’s a very simple use-case but it has saved me a few seconds.
A more robust use-case is scheduling meetings. And again, you’ll see this during the demo. When I’m scheduling a meeting can I share my free slots, so we would shorten that cycles of email ping-pongs of figuring out when do we meet and how do we meet. It’s a more complicated use-case.
And then coming to AI-based scenarios, when potential use-cases like the following could be automated: say, your sales rep is putting your opportunity with 90% probability telling you that in your forecast we’re going to close it very soon (let’s say August 1st).
But then the system notices that there is only outcoming communication from that sales rep to the prospect and the prospect is not responding, so then as a manager you can notice that signal and then you may ask a few reasonable questions like: how do you think we’re going to close it August 1st if for the last three weeks you were only pinging the guy and there is no response. This is already an AI-driven signal. So, those things, this is what I call actionable things and this is what I’m calling, like, trying to/attempting to take those repeatable actions from the sales plate and try to automate this with the software.
So, what we’re really talking about here is why integration between a CRM and Outlook is so important. And it goes right back from where we’ve started, where it’s the most useful sales tool that people use all of the time is their Inbox and it’s their Calendar. But it goes beyond just sitting at your desk, obviously. Sales reps have access to the calendar and their inbox on their phone/ on their tablet, even through a web interface, so even if they don’t have their own computer they can still access their calendar and do everything they need to, so the integration between a CRM and Outlook needs to be more than just sitting at your desk. It should be with the same experience across all devices, across all platforms, so that sales reps know: ‘I’ve talked to this person today, I’ve created these accounts,” so they can track everything and they can make sure what they’re doing within their email is in sync with their CRM, and to do that it really has to be a two-way street. The communication can’t just go from CRM into your Outlook because obviously you respond back to things in your email, those obviously go to your customers or clients, but you want that same communication to go back into your CRM. So the bidirectional communication and the same thing between both “needs to happen” and “that’s really important”. So, like I’ve said it’s really important that both: that the availability is there for mobile because sales reps spend most of their time in the field, at least we hope they do, and that’s partly the reason that a tool like this one will give them more time to actually sell and less time spending behind the scenes, doing the data administration. And with everything available in the cloud it’s accessible from anywhere.
So, when we talk about that like ultimate automation and action items suggestion it’s like evolution of this, I would say simple but I would say basic need of connecting different environments where people are and then really, kind of, build the whole environment around this and provide the, as we say, ultimate automation. So, it starts with tracking of the emails and events, synchronizing them between your inbox and calendar and CRM. Then it goes to more, kind of, sophisticated use-cases, so as I’ve mentioned before, an attempt to prefill the data when we create the record, in attempt to suggest to move the opportunity to the next stage, maybe a notification that there is something that you have committed to someone via email and didn’t do and AI these days can track those things, it can catch those things and it may do it automatically for you or it may hint for you to create a follow-up on this, so you would not forget. But this is the evolution of the workflow process, so to say. From very basic things like synchronizing the data to very robust things like: “Can you do something for me?”, “Remind me not to forget some things,” etc, etc. And then, of course, there is within CRM,‘cause we all are investing a lot in CRM automation, we come up with workflows which are typically tuned in a CRM, and here are the templates which our marketing have presented. Here, the workflows which you would like to use, number of touches we’re doing during our deals, etc etc, and again I know you guys have very specific use-cases for yourself and it’s fair enough because everybody does that and when you roll out a CRM, when we roll out a CRM we always try to kind of tune CRM for our internal needs. But guess what, when you try to integrate a CRM in very different areas, very often the right tool would be able to expose those items of workflow into itself. So, for example, if my workflow is to respond within an hour and then do a reminder if there is no answer for three days and this is set in my CRM. Why the hell my email client doesn’t tell me about this. Because it can, it literally can, get the email and if I didn’t respond in one hour – here’s the alarm for this. If I’ve sent this email based on a CRM template, then in three days I didn’t have any response, I should not be remembering those myself, I’m a human being, I can forget things, but software can track it and again CRM will notice this. But there is no reason why the tool I’m living in, it may be my messenger or my Inbox, or my tasks in Outlook would not remind me about that and notify me like: “hey, the customer XYZ was interested and he’s not responded to your email for three days. So, why don’t you do that?”
And with this very smooth transition here is to the AI topic, which of course, very popular right now on the market, everybody is talking about that, like whatever vendor you see in terms of CRM and not only CRM. They are all about AI, very passionate about this, a kind of new hype these days. My personal take on this is clearly we’re gonna be seeing more and more AI use-cases implemented here or there. All of the vendors are investing into AI heavily and it could not just disappear. Those guys are building something including us by the way. We are as a software vendor are also doing a lot of AI. Though, being a realistic person, I don’t believe in miracles, I don’t think it’s gonna like magically change the landscape tomorrow, landscape of CRM automation, landscape of sales or how we sell. But I truly believe that it can help us to sell. Here, in our company, we follow the approach of “let’s walk before we run, so to say.” So, we start with those things which are repeatable, could be noticed, and could be automated and then instead of doing something for human beings, for sales reps, we are trying to suggest to people what we think you need to be doing and then we learn out of that process. As I’ve already mentioned, if there is a rule that if no response for three days – you need to send a follow up, then AI can track it, can connect it to the opportunity and can even prepopulate your outbox with the template of that email, as a sales rep. Because typically we have that workflow set up in your CRM, so we would catch the moment, if there is no response, we would get the necessary template for a second touch, we would compile the email to the person with whom we are communicating, by ‘we’ here I mean software and then we would give it to human being with the suggestions: here is the template, here is the email, if you wanna send it, go ahead and it’s just one click.. If we are wrong with our attempt – just delete this and we will learn that it was wrong and try to do better. So, these are the very first things which I truly believe AI can do it right now. There are more robust things. In our company we are already trying to use AI and trying to roll out a ton of tools already. I also know a lot of companies which are saying: “Hey, it’s not up to us, we’re going to leave and wait until 3 years would pass and then we would pick the tools which are already successful on the market. I’m not like voting and pushing for any of those things, just trying to explain how AI could be already useful and we will show you in the demo a few of the AI, you know, let’s say, tricks and functionality. And we’re really keen to know if you guys are already using some AI functionality within your landscape, not necessarily in CRM, maybe chat bots, or something, that is truly interesting for us to know and would help us to provide, you know, better detailed feedback after the demo.
But back to the topic. So, my personal take and that’s what we invest in the software is we’ll be for a run. Let’s try to look into simple use-cases, automate those and then look at the more complicated things, which are: best practices in different environments. I truly believe that there are tons of different approaches how people sell and if you would see how huge manufacturing sell their stuff versus how software companies sell their software, these are the two total different sales processes. You cannot learn on what process and push those things to the other. It’s always learned within the company, there are a lot of things which need to be done in meeting rooms literally by people talking to people trying to figure out what signals we actually value, what signals we need to listen to and then we automate those signals. So called, like, line of business, specifics and things like that. And then when I’m thinking about what I would like my AI to helpful with in the first meeting, for me personally it’s forecasting, it’s pipeline. I’d like to trust my pipeline. And essentially it’s one of the reasons why I’m having pipeline meetings in the company and I believe everybody is doing that. We do have those pipeline meetings to validate the pipeline in CRM. We talk to our sales reps trying to make sure that the forecast is accurate. Guess what: AI can do a lot, AI can literally analyze the data we choose in your CRM already in the past, your pipeline which was either lost or won and then compare it with the communications which were happening when that pipeline was alive. And then learning based on all of that is that there is a ton of information. Then, AI can take a look at a currently open pipeline, at currently open opportunities and then AI can hint at you like: “Hey, guess what, in this opportunity you move to 80% probability but you do not have a legal person in the opportunity, which does now correlate with the previous opps, typically at that stage, you would already have a legal contact. So, either you’re just not entering this legal contact, dear sales rep, you know him but you’re not entering it to your CRM, so please do that, or you are over promising. So, for me, this is the area, where AI can really help. And if we can get the right signals, people would react to that, this is what makes CRM actionable and not really static, this is what helps CRM to kind of hint to people what to do, hint at sales reps what to do and hint at managers to control what sales reps are doing or not doing. Eric?
Thanks, Vlad. So, the big issue here really is to make sure that you’re utilizing the right tools and that they have the proper amount of AI built into them to help your sales reps accomplish the tasks they need to in a smarter and a faster way. SmartCloud Connect is one of those tools that offers the availability to do that and obviously connects your Outlook or your Gmail to your CRM to Salesforce. And it is an application that can run across, like we’ve said later, a web version of your email or your desktop or your even directly on your phone. So, it offers functionality that is mobile, which is very important in today’s world. And, of course, you know, it’s all stored in the cloud, the data is all safe and secure in the cloud as well. With that, one of the things that SmartCloud did is they did some surveys of their customers, who have already implemented the tool to talk to them about what kind of results they’re seeing and if they’re gaining benefits with utilizing the tool. So, we’re going to take a quick look at some of those statistics now and some of the real-life impact that takes in some of their customers already.
So, we’re going to talk about the results from using SmartCloud Connect: we did see about a 25% increase in deal closing time, so deals are closing much faster. Sales productivity increased by 18% which obviously means that sales reps are spending more time selling, talking to more people and all of their ultimate efforts leads to better sales faster, more revenue. In that, with the connection between your Outlook and your CRM being hidden, almost invisible to your sales reps. They are utilizing your CRM and they may not realize it because of the tools that you’ve given them and that boosts the CRM usage by almost 25%. And all of this combined obviously gets you better opportunity to win deals.