As winter starts to fade into spring, brokerage leaders often find themselves focused on production.

This is the time for questions and projects centered on sales automation systems. These systems can be as simple as a weekly phone call or as complex as a fully integrated CRM with data mining, analytics and system-prompted prospecting. The key to success with a sales automation system is really no different from any other system:

• Know where you are
• Know where you want to go
• And make a plan

No software system can make up for a lack of a well-defined sales process... We can automate and organize nearly anything, including the sales process, but we need a solid base to start from.

What are you doing today? Regardless of the system you are trying to put into operation, this is the step that nearly everyone skips. Surely we already know where we are, right? Why would we waste time talking about where we are when we are trying to plot a course aimed in the direction we want to go? The problem with self-analysis is that it’s based on a tremendous amount of assumption.

Are your producers having trouble converting prospects? Why? Are they overwhelmed by unfocused activity? Are they inaccurate when assessing hit probability and timing? Are they considering both fit and profitability when prospecting? Or are they shoveling anything they can get into your front door? These scenarios require a very specific sales automation strategy.

Are producers doubling up on prospects or prospecting existing clients? Does your firm want to assign prospecting pools to producers or develop teams based on specific expertise? These scenarios produce a different set of requirements and change the equation when reviewing systems.

This process of self-analysis and understanding also helps to set expectations. No software system can make up for a lack of a well-defined sales process. As much as we in the technology world enjoy being perceived as wizards and miracle workers, we can’t create push-button solutions from thin air. We can automate and organize nearly anything, including the sales process, but we need a solid base to start from.

Technology alone cannot solve your problems.

Dream Time

Now that you truly know where you are, it’s time to define the direction of the future. It’s vitally important to clearly define your goals. This is the part where you get to dream. Don’t hinder yourself with “what if” and “yes, but.” Now that you really know how your production works, how do you want it to work at your firm?

You will likely uncover some areas that will require a culture shift rather than a technology shift. This is a good thing. Technology works best when the underlying model is correct. Once the culture is set, the technology can be brought to bear.

Visit the Dealer

Once you’ve laid out your dream, it’s time to turn it into a workable plan. When completed, the pre-work will make the software selection process smooth and simple. Remember, technology alone cannot solve your problems (contrary to wishful thinking and the claims of the vendor). With a solid understanding of where you are and where you want to go, the selection process is reduced to validating functionality and comparing cost.

Sales automation can make a huge difference at your firm if you take the right approach. Consider the following when sizing up your production automation goals. Is your sales model “Navy Seals” or “The Last Action Hero”? Do your producers work together inside a strategic campaign, or do they individually gear up and attempt to take over the world?

Do you organize producers into groups based on specialized expertise or industry verticals? By gathering information in one place, a sales automation system can exponentially increase collaboration and visibility. Your producers will either view this as a benefit or a threat. Be sure to define a strategic sales approach before you look for systems. Applying automation to chaos creates automated chaos.

What Producers Need

Seasoned producers maintain a solid network of connections and relationships. A sales automation system can help organize and provide insight into these relationships that can lead to increased sales. Emerging producers (including the next generation of tech-savvy employees) tend to view technology as a tool to create and foster these relationships. The key is to provide tools that help both sets of producers. At the end of the day, your sales automation system is only as good as the information that is entered by your producers. If any segment sees the system as a hindrance or busy-work, they’ll stop using it, and your return on investment will plummet dramatically.

The Management Angle

Sales automation systems serve two goals: helping producers produce and providing management with insight into production activity and win probability. These two outcomes, while both important, are actually quite different animals. When producers feel they are entering information for the purpose of being monitored, the system will fail. As agency leaders, you should keep this in mind. With effective usage, a sales automation system will create the visibility you want by default. If you create your system with the primary goal of helping producers produce, you will ensure full adoption and achieve both goals.