Recently I was talking to a sales rep and as we strolled along I did what I normally do and I made small talk. Usually this means I just ask a bunch of questions because I love hearing people talk. It's an amazing feeling when that moment occurs in a conversation when the slightly-distancing wall of formality falls and you break through to the actual person.

If there's one thing I've been working hard to learn more it's this idea of active listening. My definition of active listening is simple: Active listening is hearing plus thinking. That thinking part seems to be fairly consistent in my writing and speaking! Anyway, listening to her talk I began to learn. I learned what she liked and what she didn't like in her job. I began to realize I had a firsthand opportunity to experience the pain of being a sales rep. Of course, this led to me asking some questions about what tools she used in her job. (Again, I'm doing the listening so she's happily unaware of what I spend 21 of every 24 hours a day doing!) Here are 3 things I learned from my 30 minute conversation with a sales rep.

Sales requires lots of data entry

Okay, now I am going to imagine many of you rolled your eyes when you read that headline, just as I paused my keystroke as I typed the words. This one seems almost too obvious to mention. And yet, this is an important point to consider because of the many implications held in the reality of this phrase. Data entry. Those two words strike fear in the hearts of sales reps (and pretty much everyone else as well...yes, I'm ignoring the data nerds in the room for a minute). Why does the concept of data entry cause us such angst? I'd suggest there are a few reasons for this deep-seated disgust.

  • Data entry is unpleasant because it requires thought about the format of the information entered. Our wildly creative brains struggle with clear constraints and stringent requirements. We love free-form entry, we hate forced and perceived unnecessary restrictions.
  • Data entry is unpleasant because it takes so much time to complete. The tedious point-and-click from input box to input box leaves our non-linear brains bored and easily distracted.
  • Data entry is unpleasant because many current systems are redundant, complicated, or in some cases completely and totally broken!

When this process takes an unnecessarily long time or when there is a feeling that the purpose is unclear or the tool incomplete there is a greater propensity to underperform the task of data entry. In the end the data suffers, the individual's success suffers and ultimately the business suffers! Bottom line: Sales must utilize proper data entry!

Sales requires lots of research

As I listened to Kathryn discuss her job details there was a moment of realization which hit her just as much as it did me. At one point we were talking about the information she was gathering to put into her reporting tools and she made the following comment.

"This information is hard to gather and difficult to enter, but the entire business is built on gathering this research. Without my data entry, the company doesn't know where to build their next product."
- Kathryn, my sales rep

When she said it out loud I saw the realization spread and she understood at least to a little extent the importance of all that seemingly meaningless data entry. Sales reps do tons of research. Of course, sometimes that research is to help them sell better and sometimes it's used somewhere else in the business. But every great sales rep understands the importance of doing their homework before a call. They know the more they know the better they can be in building a relationship and hopefully making a sale.

This research also implies another important point. Sales reps spend a disproportionate amount of their time doing research instead of talking to customers and potential customers. In Kathryn's case the ratio was on the scale of hours to minutes.

Sales requires better tools

Yep, you knew I was ending here. I mean, this is Saelos Sunday after all! As Kathryn and I walked and talked we finally came around to the all-important discussion of software tools. Because I'm a process guy I really got excited at this point. I wanted to hear how she went about her job and more importantly why she did things the way she did them. Several interesting points came out of this particular part of our conversation. I've done my best to remember them and write them down for you here:

  • Sales reps need software that works. I feel almost stupid for saying that, but the reality is that in many cases the software doesn't work. Either the software doesn't work the way it was designed, or far worse, the software doesn't work the way the sales rep does. This idea of a software tool fitting the business instead of the reverse is surprisingly uncommon. SaaS tools are designed for the masses, but by doing this, the unique aspects of each individual company are lost in a sea of vague generic functions which fit the broadest possible audience...because that is how the SaaS company makes their money!
  • Sales reps need software that works well with others. Make no mistake, this is a very different point from the previous point. Working and working well with others are two very distinct features. Software that lives in a silo simply means the sales rep has to do more work themselves and more duplicate work. The practice of duplicate work is the anathema of sales reps the world over. The best software systems are those which interact silently, instantly, and consistently; syncing data across various platforms.
  • Sales reps need software that works ahead. This always makes me think back to those times in school when I was really feeling the "groove" and worked ahead in my homework lessons (Don't give me too much credit, those moments were few and far between!). For software to "work ahead" it needs to be intelligent. Intelligent software follows self-determining processes and pre-defined workflows to move customers and deals successfully through the sales process. Software needs to utilize those computational resources which humans don't have to do this. By taking advantage of the strengths found in modern technology the best sales reps are able to maximize their time and increase their efficiency.

My important takeaways

I offer this title a bit impishly since I wouldn't necessarily consider my takeaways to be of utmost importance to you, but in an effort to offer you insight into my thinking and to summarize these lessons I'll proffer my thoughts for your reflection.

Sales reps are unique and each have different challenges and responsibilities based on their particular job, vertical market, or industry. But in spite of these differences there are some common, shared, requirements which make them able to perform at their peak. Software is involved in almost all of those requirements. Outstanding sales reps need outstanding software. I believe what the open source community forming around Saelos is creating accomplishes lofty goals. We're intent on solving problems, meeting needs, and fulfilling these requirements. We believe we can do this through cutting-edge sales software.

We seek to make data entry effortless and simple. We organize and return data efficiently and automatically to minimize wasted research time. We write intelligent software which works ahead and takes advantage of modern technology and empowers people to do what they do best...communicate with others.

Interested in the future of Saelos? Want to be a part of this growing community of passionate people? See for yourself why we believe software can save the world.