The expression “penny wise and pound foolish” is perhaps a bit harsh, but mid-sized businesses are often the living embodiment of the idea. Caught between two distinct worlds — one oriented toward saving money, the other attuned to making the right investments with significant resources — medium-sized companies can end up a mishmash of the two. The need for sales and marketing software is clear, but so is the need to save every possible cent.

It’s an impossible quandary for managers: when is the right time to pull the trigger? And how much longer can we continue doing things through manual processes?

The real question should be this: how much money is lost monthly because we're too cheap to pull the trigger? Depending on manual processes for marketing, sales enablement and customer relationship management (CRM) after the business has outgrown them will turn sales funnels into leaky sieves. And the dollars that should be helping take the business to the next level will instead flow to competitors.

The default for most companies is the dreaded spreadsheet. As one CRM vendor puts it, “our real top competitor is Excel.” But according to a recent white paper (pdf) by Domo, Excel is a fairly poor performer. A whopping 88 percent of spreadsheets have errors in them. Reading them for context is hard, and unifying multiple spreadsheets in a coherent way is nearly impossible. Employees at a small business may be able to look at multiple spreadsheets to see correlating information about customers, but as the number of customers and the amount of customer data increases, employees don’t have the time to use the data to its fullest.

So before we keep limping along with manual modes of tracking sales and marketing data, consider these five areas where doing so probably no longer makes any sense:

Lead Management

Cutting down on the time between lead generation and sales’ acting on those leads is proven to increase sales conversion times. It's vital to strike while the iron is hot, especially in an era of ruthless competition for attention. Without an automated method for moving leads from marketing to sales, there’s no way to match the speed of customers.

Manual methods move at the speed of processes: someone in marketing organizes a list of leads, examines them to see which ones are qualified and walks them over to sales. That happens as quickly as it fits into marketing’s daily processes — which are probably not synchronized with customer behaviors.

Marketing automation includes lead scoring and allows customer behaviors to drive the timing of leads being passed to sales. It puts sales teams in optimal position to reach customers when they’re most likely to buy, and it also defuses tensions within marketing teams. That alone is valuable, but the increase in sales is what will make the investment pay for itself.

Sales Enablement

Content is king, the saying goes, and delivering the right content to the right customer when it will have the most impact can pay off royally. But businesses have been very busy creating content the last few years, and without some kind of automation to organize and deliver that content, it falls on sales staff to do double-duty as librarians. In most cases, they’ll only deliver the content they know — not always the best fit for the situation, and perhaps sometimes content that’s out of date or which failed to do the job in the past.

Sales enablement software can eliminate this gap in a sales staff’s ability to quickly access and deliver the right content. It can correlate sales success to content delivered and rank content so the best content is delivered to customer first. When it’s set up well, it can provide a collection of content specifically attuned to the customer — different customers are served up different content, even when they’re in the same vertical. It allows sales teams to appear completely in command of content, and it enables them to deliver material completely in sync with customer needs.

So the choice is: continue to count on the sales staff to keep track of the content in their heads, or get realistic and provide them with the tools to track the content.

Quotes and Proposals

When starting a business, a simple quote generation process is the best: there are a few products, in a few configurations, and they’re easy to understand and explain. But over time, as product mixes become bigger and more complex, manual quote generation bogs down. Once again, it's unrealistic to depend on sales staff's brains to function as a complete and up-to-date repository of pricing and configuration data. When caught in this situation, sales reps usually resort to selling the fraction of product mix that they know best. This may not be the right mix for their customers, resulting in lost sales. It also often results in errors on quotes, meaning inaccurate prices or even unworkable product configurations. Neither of these leads to a happy customer — although they often lead to deals lost at the very end of the funnel.

Software like CPQ (configure price quote) takes the process of assembling quotes out of the spreadsheet and turns it into a point-and-click process. Doing so dramatically decreases the time it takes to create proposals, and enables margin protection, institutes automate approvals and eliminates the possibility of unworkable configurations. It’s great for the business and for the customer.

Sticking with a manual approach guarantees error-prone proposals, slow approvals, the occasional discount that makes a deal unprofitable, and a drawn-out sales cycle that leaves plenty of time for buyers to go elsewhere.

Customer Relationships

CRM comes in many flavors and a host of price points — and still many businesses shy away from using it. That’s a shame, because it puts businesses in the position of treating every sale, including those to repeat customers, as if it’s the first one ever made. It doesn’t allow businesses to capitalize on goodwill generated in the past. It doesn’t tell if a customer is a good up-selling candidate or if he’s had service problems in the past. It doesn’t tell if he’s made a similar purchase in the past while buying for another company. In short, not using CRM — or using spreadsheets as a substitute — is like willfully disabling the company’s recent-term memory.

This is the most basic of sales and marketing automation. It’s the system of record that can help multiple organizations within the company, and can make it possible to share data among everyone who needs it. While a spreadsheet or even a set of index cards may have worked when the sales department had one or a few people, any amount of growth will stretch that system to the breaking point.

CRM is mature enough that every company should feel comfortable in investing in it. Take the big first step and get it.

Customer Experience

Ask most businesses how good of a customer experience they’re providing and they’ll say they’re doing pretty well. Ask them whether they’re actually measuring customer satisfaction and it will be a different story. Most companies operate on a hunch or a feeling — as long as no one’s yelling at them, all is well. But only a few people actually complain about a bad customer experience. According to a study from First Financial Training Services, only 4 percent complain, while about 91 percent simply never come back. Operating in manual mode creates a massive blind spot through which customers can flee to a competitor.

Luckily, technologies to monitor customer experience exist that go well beyond the win/loss questionnaire. Those technologies can be used throughout the buying process and can help companies understand the customer experience in progress rather than post-mortem. Some are sophisticated, like social media sentiment monitoring; some are simple, like customer surveys. Without employing them, businesses operate in the dark.

Making the change from the manual processes that got the business this far to the automated processes that will take the business to the next level can be daunting: no one likes change. But growth means change, and the pathway to profitable, sustainable business growth leads directly through sales and marketing automation.

Title image by D Coetzee under Public Domain