Automated workflow. Even if you don’t know it, you use it. It’s been around, in rudimentary forms, for longer than most people realize. Remember your old two-cassette answering machine, which after four rings played your greeting from one tape and then recorded the caller’s message to the other? That was an early example of automated workflow.

In plain speak, automated workflow is when a specific condition or trigger event makes something else happen, ultimately designed to simplify your workload by automating certain processes. In that case, an unanswered phone triggered a series of events that ultimately provided you with a playable log of messages, one after the other, eliminating the need for a human to do the job.

In today’s era of PCs, smartphones and constant connectivity, automated workflows are much more sophisticated, involving a series of software-driven, automated actions that mimic how business processes should occur. When scripted and implemented well, they can help workers get more from point A to point B more efficiently…or in best case scenarios, all the way from A to Z. There are entire software packages designed to automate different areas of business workflow – from contact management, to lead generation and nurturing, to sales quoting, billing, service scheduling, inventory management and much more.

Automating Workflow for Sales Functions

For sales professionals, whose success is primarily measured by their ability to close deals, workflow automation can deliver powerful results. Forbes.com cites a recent survey of 721 sales professionals who indicated that they spent only one third of their time selling. The balance was spent on a wide range of other responsibilities – many of which could be handled by workflow automation software tools. The types of tasks best suited for workflow automation are those that are redundant and predictable – processes that can be cleanly defined by a workflow chart. That certainly describes the majority of non-selling tasks that sales professionals are burdened with, including lead generation, data entry, email communications, pipeline status updates and proposal/contract generation.

Workflow Automation for Security Sales

Here are a few concrete examples of how automated workflow can be particularly beneficial in a security sales environment:

Pulling Parts for a Quote:

Security sales typically involve selecting parts from a very lengthy catalog of options. In addition, systems are often custom configured and include many devices, most of which come in a variety of “flavors.” For example, a single camera may be available in 15 different ways, depending on lens, housing and special features like night vision or built-in heater. In addition, parts require other parts; that same camera may require a separate mount or power supply.

The “Old” Way: Most companies have replaced paper catalogs with electronic version, but spreadsheets still require a lot of work for salespeople compiling a quote. There’s no guarantee that prices in the spreadsheet are the most current…or that the “right” prices are being provided to customers with negotiated contracts. Sales people also often have to spend time tracking down less common parts on their own that are not on the spreadsheet. And once they find them, there’s no vetting process to confirm that they’re actually the right parts for the job. Bottom line…there’s lots of wasted time, dead ends and the opportunity for mistakes to be made.

Using Workflow Automation: A salesperson opens quoting software on his or her laptop of tablet. He or she identifies the type of customer they’re quoting and pulls up the corresponding catalog of parts and pricing. For example, a customer who qualifies for GSA or state contract pricing will be presented with a different catalog than a customer in the private sector.

The software allows the salesperson to search its database by product description or part number. Once the needed part is found, a menu of its options are displayed, allowing the salesperson to further drill down and select the specific model needed, along with the corresponding price.

If the part is often bundled with other parts, the salesperson will automatically be presented with options to include those within the quote. If the part requires licensing, or associated labor for installation, those will also be presented as options.
Best of all, the salesperson knows with 100% confidence that the catalog they’re using for the quote is completely current and accurate. It’s linked to the company’s operations and accounting software, so when changes to parts or pricing are made at the management level, those changes are immediately reflected within the quoting software.

Automated workflows help move the quoting process along by reliably providing salespeople with all the information
they need at their fingertips, making sure its accurate, compiling it correctly, and ensuring that nothing is overlooked.

Generating Proposals:

Most salespeople dread the time-consuming task of creating proposals. It’s not just a matter of putting together a quote; it’s everything else that goes with it.

The “Old” Way: Salespeople are often left to their own devices, which can be very stressful. They are unsure how to best represent the company. What should the proposal look like? What should be included? They can spend hours on a single proposal, and then they need to get it approved. If changes are required, it’s back to the drawing board, spending a lot more time updating information that may been creating using a bunch of different software in a bunch of different files.

From the company’s perspective, the process poses additional problems. Proposal documents lack any consistency in branding, or quality-control, for that matter. Poor choices for images, pixelated or distorted logos and unprofessional looking fonts can make a terrible impression on a customer, even if your price is right.

As for the review and approvals process, even companies with stringent policies in place face plenty of opportunity for mistakes to slip through the cracks and to get presented to customers. If sections of proposals are cut-and-pasted from prior documents, typos and wrong information may not get caught.

Using Workflow Automation: Templates can be pre-established for different types of customers, which include the typical scopes of work. These might include long and short-form proposals, residential and commercial, and templates designed for customers in specific verticals. When a salesperson opens up a template within their sales management software, they know immediately what needs to go into the proposal and the right documents are automatically populated.

The “look” of those documents has been predefined, taking branding and style into account. As the salesperson customizes the contents as needed, the choice of fonts, page layouts, placement of images and use of logos are all taken care of.

Documents can be pre-populated with data from the customer’s project file, eliminating duplicate data entry and making sure everything is accurate. Legal and contract documents can only be edited by individuals with permission to do so, preventing changes in Terms & Conditions, warranties, service policies and other areas that could open up the company to liability.

Finally, once the proposal is complete, the approvals process can also be automated. Those responsible for reviewing the documents are notified through the software, and only upon their approval, can the proposal can be sent.

Automating workflows can shave hours off the time salespeople spend generating proposals each month,
while at the same time, helping to make sure that the proposals represent the company in the best light.

Salespeople are incentivized to reach their quota. Every minute they spend doing something other than selling is frustrating to them and can be costly to both them and to your company’s bottom line. We’ve just illustrated two ways that automated workflow can be a huge benefit for security organizations struggling with how to best manage their complex sales model. These are just the tip of the iceberg of what automated workflow can do. Make sure you’re putting its power to work for you!