In the midst of a slowdown in demand and extreme caution amongst buyers, is it still possible to keep sales on track? Obviously that depends what sector you work in, but workflow automation vendor Workato has an encouraging story of what can be achieved. In a call last week, its Head of Growth Bhaskar Roy gave me the details.
At the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, the privately held, venture-funded company had revised down its Q2 sales plan by more than a quarter. But having refined its sales processes, it ended up achieving 135% of that revised plan, taking it within 2% of its original target. In addition, it entered the new quarter on 1st May with pipeline cover at a record high, more than a third higher than its usual level.
The key to this success was through focussing on RevOps. The term has come into vogue in the past year or so and stands for Revenue Operations — all of those customer-facing processes that generate and collect revenue, across sales, marketing, customer services, order processing and billing. Of course, Workato is telling this story because it shows off how its own workflow automation tools can be used to optimize RevOps. But all of the techniques it adopted were first developed by customers, says Roy. The company has seen a big jump in the use of the tools for revenue-related workflows in the past few months among its customer base, which includes digital standard-bearers such as Slack, HubSpot and Box.
Automating key processes
As a cloud-based software vendor whose product is primarily used to connect between cloud applications, Workato itself is in a fortunate position given that this is a sector where demand has remained relatively bouyant. As Roy admits:
We are seeing a need around automation going up. COVID-19 has not really damped anything that we had predicted earlier on.
While some of its customers and prospects have cut back on spending, others are finding a new need for its products. Alongside the greater demand for automation across RevOps, HR teams are looking to improve employee engagement and keep on top of wellbeing, while project teams are adapting to remote work by bringing daily standup meetings into Slack or Microsoft Teams. With these uses in mind, Workato just announced a package of automations that plug into Slack, Teams and Facebook Workplace, which it's offering free-of-charge for the first six months.
In improving its sales processes, the company has focused on three main areas, says Roy. First of all, it has become vitally important to focus more narrowly on those who are serious buyers rather than simply researching:
People are not buying that much, so how can I be more intentful? We need to be identifying those who are shopping.
Secondly, as a SaaS business, it's crucial to identify when its existing customers become likely prospects to cross-sell or upsell.
Finally, with in-person events and sales meetings no longer available, online webinars have moved beyond their traditional role as a means of nurturing opportunities. They are now much more of a demand generation tool. What could be done to improve their effectiveness in this new role?
Improving inbound conversion
Improving the inbound conversion rate was the most important focus area. Workato has automated lead routing so that its sales development reps (SDRs) get a message in Slack within seconds of a visitor submitting a demo request on its website. An automation called LeadBot collects a summary of background information from internal and external sources, including the Salesforce record if it's an active account, and presents a summary to the SDR along with an automated lead rating. The rep can either reject or action the lead right there in Slack.
Being able to call within minutes has led to a fourfold increase in the conversion rate for booking demos, says Roy.
We are now able to reach out to people requesting a demo within five minutes. They are still on the website when we call them.
Other actions are helping the reps close deals. All sales calls at Workato are monitored in real-time using a service called Gong, which automatically transcribes the conversations and searches for key phrases and other useful metrics. Through analysis of calls during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, Workato noticed several trends.
One change was that, whereas resource constraints had been a major objection in the past, budget and timing are now top of mind for prospects, says Roy. In response, Workato reps have been encouraged to offer flexible payment terms and to highlight their turnkey go-live packages and fair use policy. Another interesting feature of COVID-era sales calls is a rise in empathy. Customers never used to take the time to ask sales people how things are going — now they do, for the moment at least.
The Gong service triggers another bot if a competitor is mentioned during a call. This then posts a Slack message to alert the deal team and provides links to useful resources. This used to be information that people found out through conversations in the office, says Roy. Now that sales teams are working remotely, it was important to find a way to take it into Slack.
Other bots include one that notifies the sales team when someone who previously championed Workato at an account gets a new job at a different employer. That often opens up an opportunity to quickly close a new deal. When a deal is closed, another bot automates the approval process for any non-standard terms and then passes the contract to the finance and billing system.
Sharing data and putting on webinars
The second area Roy mentioned was the need to for more timely information on existing customers to identify opportunities for cross- and upselling. The source of this information at Workato is the cloud-based Snowflake data warehouse. Instead of expecting people to run reports to look at usage data, a bot now automatically collects the relevant data and presents it on demand to account executives, customer success managers and other customer service functions. Bringing the data to the apps people use every day has saved each rep around four hours each week, says Roy:
We have pretty much changed our model. We'll enable all our frontline people with all the data they need, so they can have more intelligent conversations that will lead to cross-sells and upsells.
The final area is the automation of workflows around webinars. This automates various elements of webinar creation, scheduling and follow-up. As people register and attend, the data is passed into Salesforce, enriched with background information from services such as Clearbit and Zoominfo, and then passed into a sales engagement platform for sales to follow up. Overall this has saved the events team 10 hours per week, which means they're able to do more webinars, says Roy.
One customer set up a similar process that connected ServiceNow, Slack, Adobe Experience Manager, Salesforce and Marketo. Because Workato extracted the Salesforce data via APIs into Slack, there was no need to buy Salesforce licenses for a number of marketing and events team members, a significant savings.
Pretty much all of the automations Roy describes would have been useful even before the privations of the COVID-19 lockdown. I've written before about the rise of business systems specialists, who focus on automating processes across best-of-breed cloud applications. But the pandemic has had a way of bringing urgency to changes that previously sat on the back burner. At a time when business is slow, resources are under pressure and everyone is working remotely, it's become essential to squeeze more efficiency into processes across the organization, in particular those that optimize revenue and spending.