The buying process for a tech investment may be painless or long and drawn out depending on your organization and internal processes. By now you have confirmed there is a budget for your investment, and the internal stakeholders are aware that a vendor has been identified. Before the implementation can begin, it is important to note that the internal approval process may take an extended amount of time. You can stay ahead of this process by familiarizing yourself with it ahead of time. For those who may be newer to the buying process, begin with your superior or individuals in your finance or procurement departments. They should be able to connect the dots or at least point you in the right direction. Depending on the maturity of your organization there may be an outlined process to follow or a buying committee you may need to meet with as well. Once you have the right team aligned and alerted to the pending purchase, here are some considerations:
You’re Paying Money; Nothing Is Off The Table
It’s a bold claim, but it’s true. One of the biggest mistakes after an investment has been made is when the buyers let the vendor dictate the flow of the implementation. As the initial meetings begin, do not hesitate to ask for timelines, project trackers, weekly updates you, name it. Especially if you do not have the dedicated resources to run an implementation. You’ve decided to invest your company’s budget into a solution, so maximizing your resources from a vendor is a great way to ensure a successful launch.
This includes the level of communication you need from the vendor. Have you ever felt like you need to ask a dumb question? Well, those don’t exist in this situation. When you need clarification, have product or process related questions, don’t hesitate to ask. There are frankly too many moving parts to leave anything up to chance, so when you have a question. Just ask. The whole process will be better for it.
Have A Plan
Once things are live and teams are aligned, it is time for the first major implementation milestone, the project plan! This may seem obvious, but I’ve heard horror stories of vendors with a “set it and forget it” approach to implementation. As I stated above this is a major investment, nothing is off the table, the vendor should come prepared with at the very least high-level milestones to track the implementation progress and give you an idea of how the project is coming along.
Along with a plan, the more detailed, the better, the vendor should be able to provide you with estimates of the resources needed. Specifically, how much development, testing, QA, UAT, etc. will be needed, and how much time and human capital is involved. These plans should be clear, have work streams with owners, stakeholders, and deliverable timelines. In other words, the vendor should help figure out the blueprint to success. Asking your vendor for a detailed project plan and implementation guide is well within your rights as the buyer. As the project is finally kicking off, teams will then need to be introduced and aligned.
Establish A Communication Plan
Communication is key for a successful integration, period. Without an established plan for the meeting, communications, and stakeholders or recipients, the project may be off to a rocky start. Depending on who is the point person or project manager, a simple plan should be constructed that covers the email or reporting cadence, established meeting schedules (to the best of the team’s availabilities) and the names of those responsible for the communications. This may sound like overkill but defining a clear strategy to communicate progress is a necessary step in the implementation process, one that could be argued as fundamental.
If the vendor is the point person, don’t hesitate to ask for communication elements you are familiar or comfortable with. A standardized weekly report in a particular format, weekly calls with present agendas that are solicited earlier, etc. Be conscious of the amount of time you may be asking for or taking up but establish the level of communication you feel you need to stay on top of the progress of the project, after all, there is no such thing as being too informed. Now that the communication plan is aligned, and a plan is finalized, it is time to set the initial criteria for success.
Benchmark As Much As Possible
The allure of sales tech is the promised improvements that can be had to productivity, revenue and everything in between. The claims some vendors make, and the realities lie somewhere in between, but we will never truly know the level of success of a tech investment if we don’t benchmark our key success metrics. Depending on the platform you purchased and the desired goal, you should already have done a form of analysis in your diligence phase to have an idea, but for implementation, it should be taken a step further. At this point, you should have been working close enough with your vendor to share your initial benchmarking of the metrics, and they can provide additional areas you may want to pay attention to as well. The goal here is to align on the current state.
The next step is to define the ideal outcomes based on your benchmarks. This is another area where your vendor can play a key role. If they have had previous successful engagements and installations, they can give you an idea based on the size of your org and the complexity of the installation as to the average uplift or impact you could see from the platform. Keep in mind, every situation is different, but if your vendors have done post-deployment homework with a few clients, you could possibly get a glimpse of the future. Once the benchmarks are shared and agreed upon, both teams now have the proverbial goal in sight. It is important to establish “what good looks like” before launch, so both you and your vendor know if you are making progress or making things worse.
Select The Beta Testers And Get Started
As we approach the launch of the platform, it is paramount that it gets tested by a group of individuals before it goes live. A mix of the best and worst, tech-savvy and not, or whatever mix you decide. The idea is to get a good representation of your sales organization. As part of your implementation plan, you should factor in a period of time for a group to pilot the software or platform, and not for just an hour, but a significant amount of time. This time is needed to see how it will impact their day until they are comfortable with it. This group should be hand selected and as previously mentioned should be a representation of your most tech savvy and your least, your best sellers and your lowest performers. We can’t simply throw out top performers at a platform and assume it will work for everyone.
A good representation is important because the typical assumption is that the tech will make our good sellers better, and it will easily be adopted into their routine, and it will make our less talented sellers more productive. These are dangerous assumptions to have, as although we mean well, a good tech investment may derail your best seller, push out a less tech-savvy seller, and ultimately impact your process negatively. As part of the pilot selection, these sellers should be trained and educated on the platform, the intention and the goals of implementation. Implicit direction should be given to literally “put it through the wringer” and find reasons why the platform or software may not be a good fit, and if it negatively impacts their role. Furthermore, be sure to share the key metrics and benchmarked performance, so they know what “good” looks like. This will help them determine if the product is indeed helping or hurting.
It is the job of the enablement or operations professional leading the implementation to sift through the pilot group feedback to see if it is true or based on misunderstanding or user error. Be sure to solicit feedback constantly and to document it all to the best of your (or your sellers) ability.
This will help the vendor address the issue the seller is facing, keep a log of impacts to implementation and possibly prevent similar challenges from arising. Be sure to meet or at least communicate with your beta testers weekly, and preferably before your weekly meetings with the vendor. Carve out a small part of your meeting to share the feedback, and if possible invite the beta testers to the meeting or call to share their account of how it is going. Depending on your testing or beta phase, collect as much feedback and information as needed. Once you have reached the end of the trial the next step should be clear; go or no go.
Draw A Line In The Sand
At a certain point a seller will maximize the use of a platform, they will explore or experience a majority of the features and functionality. Depending on the complexity of the software or platform it could take days or weeks, but eventually, each person will reach the literal “point of diminishing returns,” or a point where they know if it will do the job or not. If you are following along and holding regular meetings and touching base with your sellers, you should have a pretty good indication if the platform is working or not. At this point, hold a final meeting and have them do a recap or share their experience from the beta. This will be a good way for all ideas to get out in the open. Each can be discussed as need. What worked, what didn’t, what could be better, etc. All these topics should be approached and allowed to breathe. Capture all the feedback and share it with the vendor, as this may be the last chance to make major changes to the platform before launch is planned.
The final portion of the meeting should ideally address two key topics; Will this help you and your peers in your current role and a vote of yes or no to invest in the platform as a full rollout. Allow each person to talk fully about their view on the platform and if it will help make them successful. If there is disagreement, discuss it, maybe some users were more successful, or leveraged the software differently. User error is very common with new platforms, but it should be brought out and discussed, as it could sway the final vote of a seller.
As mentioned the second key theme is a vote. Allow your sellers to have a say in the purchasing process. This will not only boost trust and morale but also drive adoption if they do choose to support the investment. There’s no greater way to get a sales force on board with a new platform, than if they know a group of peers tested it and agreed it was a benefit. Seller buy-in is key to a successful tech investment and will only help further your goal of improving your sales team’s production.
By now we have carefully aligned your teams, communication plans, baselines, and trial goals and we have at the very least a high-level plan for the implementation and beta testing phase. All this work will help drive a successful pilot, not one that results in an investment, but one that helps to determine if your organization should make that investment. The infrastructure you build during the implementation, the cadence of communication, and the granularity and “in the weeds” level of attention you give your investment will only further prepare you for the next phase: Launch!