When asked to identify their most valuable business asset, a majority of business owners point to their sales force because without them business would likely cease to exist. Yet many companies persistently struggle with how to manage and guide their sales teams for optimal success. That's where Blueprint SMS offers assistance, believing that by using real-time, sales resource management tools, managers can create standardized blueprints to enhance field sales performance.
Sales management consultant Karin Bellantoni formed Blueprint SMS in 2010 to deliver what she describes as a highly effective, yet simple to use, sales force communication tool that drives sales performance. "I get involved in a lot of things that are ahead of their time, and you really have to then find people who are the early adopters," she said.
Bellantoni realized most systems on the market could track sales results, but not sales activities. "At the end of the month, if somebody had two deals or five deals, that's how we measured them," she said. "But if we measure the activities with what happens on calls where they don't get a deal, then we might see some trends. We might be able help the sellers who aren't closing as many deals close more." She added that the Blueprint system will provide insight and valuable data into the company's customer relationship management (CRM) that's "actionable and can be used for follow up."
She also witnessed Fortune 500 companies operating with limited quantifiable data on field sales activities. Measuring cash flow and production volume was not a problem, but few captured important information within the sales structure. She felt it could remedy these substantial information gaps by addressing such factors as low adoption of customer relationship management tools, manual sales reporting, information lag time and inadequate analysis.
Armed with effective sales resource management tools, external sales force activities can be measured against key performance metrics relative to the sales process, according to Bellantoni. An integrated system can give sales teams high-level visibility at all levels. From the insights gained, managers and executives can then make informed decisions and provide pointed guidance.
In the end Blueprint's sales management solutions (SMSs) were designed to combine sales management frameworks and intelligent sales software into a statistical hub of vital field sales activities that can be used to produce dramatic results. "Your art is better when you add science," she noted.
The way it works: when a merchant level salesperson (MLS) exits a merchant's premise, the individual sends a simple coded text message via a mobile device. In the text, the agent enters a code to describe the outcome of the visit. The entire process averages about 20 seconds.
The system automatically captures basic information about the salesperson and sales division through cell phone number identification, and records date and time of visit based on the agent's text message entries.
Blueprint SMS captures key performance indicators pertaining to sales performance through the agent's mobile phone as well. The format of the message codes can be customized to meet the unique objectives of each client.
All codes, including business structure metadata and performance data, are entered through a secure server. Examples where coding may apply include: customer name, call type, call reason and call outcome.
When information is reported to the sales organization, a "trigger" text message can be issued to key personnel for immediate recognition of a salesperson's achievements or to route a problem. "If there's a service issue, someone can get on it right away," Bellantoni said.
"If there is sales follow up that needs to be happening and you have internal reps supporting the external reps, they can get that information. Salespeople love that aspect."
Bellantoni reported that one client remarked, "We literally had people in here all day Friday trying to piece their week together and do follow up, but now it gets handled by this 20-second text message. Some of those messages trigger information to go to internal sales folks to start working on the follow up before Friday, and it's like we get a whole other day out of our sellers. So it's like a 20 percent increase in our productivity."
The system's software also interprets individual code and message details and organizes the information into an online database, which can be used to generate reports. Report information can be tiered and shared by management or accessed by authorized individuals and teams.
In all, 26 different reports can be produced and downloaded through the system's web portal.
"We call them push reports or general management reports," Bellantoni said. "Typically, these would go to the sales manager once a week, and he or she would be able to have a quick overview. You actually log into our system and get a report that says, by salesperson, any of the KPIs [key performance indicators] you want to track, such as number of calls, number of conversions and calls per deal.
"This gives you a blueprint of each seller, so you're not making major across the board decisions and blanket marketing. With our system, we feed your CRM, so you finally get a true pipeline, which is one of the top five reasons companies purchase CRMs in the first place."
She added that research by Forrester and Gartner indicates only 40 percent of sales agents use their company's CRM systems. "You can't have a true pipeline without 100 percent of the data," she noted.
According to Bellantoni, the adoption rate among Blueprint SMS users hovers between 95 to 98 percent. She considers the system's real-time capability, coupled with immediate access to information that enables companies to make continuous, rapid improvement of sales force activities, to be integral to adoption in the field.
Bellantoni described the system's core i-snapshot program as a user friendly, web-based application that significantly reduces upfront administrative activities and allows for 25 percent or more selling opportunities with resulting revenue enhancements. Additionally, i-snapshot, which is part of Profile Analysis Ltd., interfaces directly with existing CRM and sales force automation systems to optimize existing ISO programs.
Strategically, sales managers and other executives who analyze incoming data can enhance field sales results by establishing training and coaching around best practices.
"By sending in codes that represent data than can be aggregated and validated and turned into maps and charts, the managers have a much clearer roadmap and blueprint on each rep," Bellantoni said. "It's not about micro managing. It's about macro data around micro activities that gives a company the power to say, 'We've noticed that if we call on restaurants before 11:00 a.m., we get a close in two visits instead of six.'"
Bellantoni added that the program has proven to be "extremely effective" in field sales management, providing managers with real-time, actionable information from the sales team. Managers can identify underperforming agents and offer recommendations for improving sales results before they lag.
Equally valuable are the real-time data capture and data sharing capabilities, which allow managers and sales teams to react immediately and make necessary adjustments while operating in the field, she noted. Lessons learned and helpful hints can be shared and acted upon in a dynamic and timely manner.
"We can identify 'master practitioners' on the team and understand what they are doing well so that we can coach our average performers and improve the overall effectiveness of their calls," said Shira Zucker, Sales Operations Manager, Financial Services at Symetra Financial Corp.
"We have 95 percent adoption in the field and a happy sales team, and i-snapshot is integrated into our coaching and performance assessment program. Our total implementation effort was less than 10 weeks, a small and powerful victory, and we are driving behavior."
Bellantoni said very little has changed in field sales practices over the past 50 years. "Push management doesn't work in an economy like this," she said. "Make more calls, make more calls. It's a numbers game. We know pull sales management is the only way to manage."
With pull tactics, instead of directing MLSs to make more calls, she said managers can tell them, "Here's your mission out in the field. I'm going to measure how you do that and be able to influence your results and performance from the data." Another example she offered of pull management using the system is to survey merchants briefly over several visits and to present a contract only when certain facts have been gleaned and a relationship established. Bellantoni also pointed out that Blueprint SMS also collects mission critical data that identifies and highlights unconscious behavior leading to poor sales and helps managers determine whether the right people are engaged in the right activities. The data connects field sales teams to broader business strategies and closes communication gaps between sellers and managers, sellers and CRM and sellers and marketers.
To motivate agents, the system keeps a consolidated performance scorecard. Bellantoni revealed when agents performing in the lowest 25 percentile were shown the data, 80 percent made marked improvements in their sales performance moving forward. She added that within six months of implementing the system, most organizations see an average of 20 percent sales growth.
"We systematically and continuously find revenue that you are leaving on the table," she said. "Our system typically shows an ROI in weeks." She added that clients using leading indicators and i-snapshot have exposed critical information and trends in as little as 10 days.
The Blueprint SMS system is available to ISOs as a software-as-a-service, web-hosted product. "They basically have a setup fee and then a monthly subscription fee per rep," Bellantoni said. "We work with companies of 50 or more."
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