By Tony Rodoni

What’s the best way to optimize sales productivity to help your company grow? If you ask your own sales team, they’d probably tell you, “Give us more time to do what we do best.”

That answer is right on the money. But in a growing company, extra time is near impossible to come by. So if you’re going to tackle the challenge effectively, you need to break it down into separate steps.

Start by looking at the sales role with fresh eyes to make sure it’s designed to give customers a great experience. Next, determine which activities sidetrack your sales team from their optimized role, and reassign those responsibilities to other teams. Finally, make use of technology to automate as many repetitive tasks as possible – not just for your sales team, but for everyone.

Let’s take a closer look at all four steps.

1. Rethink the Sales Role

Modern customers are different. So your sales reps need to be different, too. It used to be that customers started their research by calling a salesperson for information about a product. But today’s customers are usually 60-70 percent through the buying cycle when they make first contact with sales. At that point, the customer has done extensive research on your company and your competition, so they’re not asking for basic information, much less a sales pitch.

What those customers are looking for are smart answers and personalized solutions. In other words, they want help solving a problem. That means your sales reps need to be expert consultants who have the time, expertise and resources to give a thorough, thoughtful and honest answer to the question, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?”

2. Let Everyone Be Great at Their Job

If you want your sales reps to be great at solving customer problems, you have to give them the time to do it. That means enabling them to wear fewer hats so they can be as productive as possible doing what they do best — consulting with customers. It’s better for your salespeople, and it’s better for your customers.

As a case in point, one of the companies I work with is a large mortgage company. The moment one of their sales reps closes a deal, they pass the customer to a mortgage specialist. The specialists are trained to walk customers through all the paperwork and answer any questions in detail. The customers are happy because they get close personal attention at every step. The sales reps are happy because they’re immediately free to work on the next deal.

Don’t just guess which activities are diverting your sales team from core sales activities. Instead, have the team carefully document how they spend their time until you have a clear and accurate picture.

Then set up an efficient process to pass off non-core activities.

Use Sales Development Reps (SDRs) to qualify leads and start moving them through the pipeline. Send customer service or billing questions to those respective teams. You can even create new positions or job roles if necessary. The goal is to make sure everyone has the time, training and resources to be great at whatever job you’re asking them to do.

3. Take Advantage of Technology

SMBs today have access to the same technology as the largest enterprises. And that technology can automate and improve your most tedious and time-sucking work processes.

For your sales team, the right customer relationship management (CRM) product can cut hours of busywork per person every week by automatically capturing and organizing data, prioritizing tasks, simplifying collaboration, and allowing reps to work efficiently from mobile devices.

What should you look for in your CRM? Most importantly, make sure it’s intuitive and easy to learn so your sales team actually uses it. Choose a product that integrates sales, service, and other business processes so any employee can provide your customers with smooth, personalized experiences. Make certain your CRM is designed to scale as you grow. And I’ve saved the best for last – be sure it has the power of artificial intelligence (AI) built in.

I call AI the “time machine” for SMBs because there’s no better technology for saving you time. AI looks at all your data, makes predictions and recommends the most productive step you can take next. And it all happens with the click of your mouse.

For example, let’s say your sales team has 1,000 leads. AI can score those leads and tell you which 200 are most likely to convert. Instead of poring over emails and spreadsheets trying to conjure up a likely prospect, your sales team can start making calls. And instead of wasting time talking to 800 leads that are likely to fizzle, they can focus their time on the 200 hottest opportunities right from the start.

4. Innovate, Delegate, Automate

In business, change is the only constant. So optimizing your sales team needs to be an ongoing process. To simplify the advice of this article for daily usage, just remember these three words: innovate, delegate, automate.

Continuously innovate the sales role to create better experiences for customers. Delegate non-core responsibilities to other teams. And constantly look for opportunities to automate next-step recommendations and repetitive tasks so your sales team can spend more time with your most valuable customers.