It’s OK to admit it.  You have been holding off on empowering your Inside Sales effort with the latest and greatest software offerings.  Sure, they all look sexy and do some really cool things, but at the end of the day do they really get you the lift you need to justify the cost?  Do they make up for the effort of changing and pain of the sad good-bye to your existing platform, or dare I say, your paper and pencilIf you have not taken a look lately at the offerings in the marketplace, you are missing out.  Today, Inside Sales teams are maximizing their performance by deploying powerful SaaS based platforms that enable their sales people to call more, do more and, most importantly, sell more.  Gone are the days of complex installations, huge upfront costs, long term contracts and disappointing results.

Today’s providers of Lead Management Software, Sales CRM Software, Telemarketing Software and Inside Sales Software platforms make it easy and painless to try their platform.  Many have free trials, do not require a contract and cost less than 50 cents per hour per salesperson to deploy.  Many allow you to select the features you want and need, such as dialing and recording.  Some work with your existing phone system, PBX or VoIP provider and can dial over traditional phone/headset or soft-phones.  Best of all, there is no shortage of providers, which means there is a near-perfect fit for most companies and a wide range of price points to select from.

So how do you proceed? 

How do you select a platform to try?  Well, my easy answer is, try VanillaSoft since I serve as its president  However, I would be cheating you and us by suggesting that.  One of the things we have learned as a company is that certain organizations are a great fit for us and us for them.  When it’s not  a perfect fit, we often recommend our competition.  Trying to fit a square customer into our round offering is costly to both parties.  As a company, we would rather help you become a good fit somewhere else than a poor fit with us.  We only want happy shiny customers.

So, how do you rule in or rule out what companies are a good fit for your selling efforts?  Here is a tactical list to help you think through the process.  You can also refer to some past blog posts that address certain specific functionality such as dialing and recording.

Determine what is important to your sales effort.  What is the weakest link that you desire to fix, increase or replace? 

With so many offerings and no shortage of feature sets it is imperative that you drive the ship instead of letting the salesman on the other end of the phone tell you what is important.  If an increase in productivity is important, then look for those features that drive productivity and enhance your sales team’s ability to make more calls, better calls, master lead routing, tracking and follow-up.  If it’s reporting that floats your boat, then focus on the reports that you want and ensure that the platform you select can deliver each report in the format you need.   

Know your budget. 

Lead Management Software has gotten cheaper, but not free.  Establish a budget for the monthly cost per agent and a possible set up cost if you are considering some of the more complex CRM platforms.  Today, you would be hard pressed not to find a solution from a SaaS vendor under $100 per month per user.  The going rate is about $65 per month, and, after an add-on or two, most companies end up in the $100 range.  If you have 10 sales people you need to budget $1,000 per month. Got sticker shock?  No worries, a slight lift in productivity more than offsets the monthly cost.

 Know your bandwidth to implement a new platform.  Let Sales lead the charge.

If you are a small or medium sized company without an IT department, then simpler is better.  CRM can be a bear to implement, especially if you are going to have several departments making multiple touches.  Find out from the service providers the “time-to-implement” related cost and be sure to ask if they have a consulting group.  If they do, they have it for a reason and it’s usually not cheap.  With today’s choices, there are platforms that can do amazingly complex tasks and provide real selling power, including dialing,  and be up and running in hours — not weeks or days.

If you do have an IT department, then work closely with them.  Often times, if IT leads the charge you will end up with a highly integrated and complex system, but with a platform that does little for the people doing the selling.  Ensure that Sales leads the way on choice and functionality and let IT do the due diligence and implementation if needed.  

Pick three platforms that look like they have what you want; then get product demos. 

Don’t get distracted during product demos by all of the other cool stuff you see.  Make your tactical list of “Must Haves” and request that the salesperson shows you those features on the front end.  This way, you drive the demo.  It’s helpful to have a checklist standing by to ensure that you have seen exactly what you need to before moving on to the super cool stuff. If the platform is missing a key “must have,” move on  Don’t settle unless you have ruled out that what you need just isn’t out there.

Do a free trial if applicable. 

Most companies offer a free trial period.  If they do, try to take advantage of it.  Select one or two of your salespeople and pilot a small campaign. The best way to understand exactly what a platform can really offer is to get your data in, your sales people on it, and reports coming from it.

Pull The Trigger!  2011 is the right year.

Once you have found your fit and pulled the proverbial trigger, be realistic about the change you are making.  Change is always hard, even when it means an increase in productivity.   Sales people by nature will avoid change and complain in abundance when it shows up on their door step.  Stay the course, keep them involved through the process and share the positive impact the new platform is having on their productivity and paycheck.

Additionally, make sure you stay true to your original ideas on why you wanted a new lead management platform.  Software and SaaS offerings, as good as they have become, can’t serve as a substitute for good management and good salespeople.  I have seen software assist a good sales person in becoming a great one.  I have never seen software take a bad salesperson and make them a good one.  Be smart; know what you want and go get it.

Good Selling,