Supporting the planned interactions that improve sales representatives understanding of customers and their business needs

Person with laptop on lap working on an interaction plan

Date Completed

November, 2023

Overview

Sherwin Williams paint stores sales force is as fundamental to the companies success as the products they sell.

As a part of the larger effort to modernize the internal tools used by Sherwin Williams sales force, I redesigned the experience for sales representatives to plan their meetings and sales calls with Sherwin Williams professional customers.

To drive up the number of plans being created I produced a workspace for sales representatives to reference customer business information and sales methodology resources, and write their plan in text areas on the same page.

Hired into an internal team of business owners, directors and Deloitte UIUX design contractors, I worked closely with the team to organize, conduct, and analyse research that informed final design directions.

Feature Goals

  1. Structured and Efficient Pre-Call Preparation
  2. Data-Driven and Informed Selling
  3. Customer-Centric and Value-Driven Selling
  4. Continuous Growth and Adaptability

Research Plan

  1. Discovery workshop
  2. Synthesis
  3. Conceptual design
  4. Workshop / feedback
  5. Final UX
  6. Final UI
  7. Co-design Workshop

Process

learn

Leaning about about the stage based planner began with attending sales rep training, analysing the current application and conducting interviews with Sherwin Williams sales VPs, district managers and sales leads.

Call Preparation Timeline: Brett lead UX, Deloitte

  1. 10/9: Call Preparation Focus Group Functional Synthesis (Brett/Deloitte)
  2. 10/16: Kick Off Call Preparation UX wires
  3. 10/26: Call Preparation Conceptual Wires final feedback
  4. Week of 10/30: Conceptual Wires used during in person workshops in FL
  5. Week of 11/6: Conceptual Wires Focus Group Workshop Synthesize feedback, develop deck
  6. 11/13: Call Preparation complete readout
  7. 11/14-11/20: Update wires
  8. 11/21: Call Preparation Wires Review with Archie
  9. 11/22: Call Preparation Wires final feedback
  10. 11/27: UI Design final changes
  11. 12/13: Workshop Prep.
  12. 12/15: Call Preparation Virtual Workshop Sessions
  13. 12/15: File Prep, all iterations, for hand off to dev

Sales Representative Training

Sherwin Williams trains all of its sales representatives from around the country at the corporate offices. Attending rep training was a great way to research the applications context of use, the sales methodology it delivers, and meet the people who use it to prepare for their meetings with business owners. See the material covered.

Man wearing Sherwin Williams shirt at a work event talking with someone

Understanding The Existing Stage Based Planner

The stage based planner is used by Sherwin store managers and sales reps. You can see from this Reddit thread that preparing for sales interactions is important for advancement in the company.

The sticky monster

To understand the application we needed to begin by understanding the sales methodology and how the application supports it's deployment as plans for meetings with customers. We formulated a plan to research the app that could be completed quickly.

  1. Interview the VP of sales who wrote the sales methodology and the training methodology provided for the Sherwin sales force.
  2. Collect screenshots of the current application and it's associated literature into a witeboard.

The first step in the process is a choice between stages in a dropdown menu

The existing stage based planner is a series of web pages accessed from a tools dashboard. It is a tool that is designed to assist in the work of preparing for sales interactions by organizing customer and sales methodology  literature. The methodology breaks up sales interactions into four groups which represent the stage of the sales relationship with the customer. These stages are paired with a phrase that characterizes the strategy for success.

  1. Engage customer in the discover stage
  2. Advise customers in the buy stage
  3. Support customers in the use stage
  4. Deepen the relationship when in the validate stage

It's a ton of information linked into a wizzardy step by step

The planner stages each begin with an overview section and a list of the steps in the process of creating a plan for the stage. This is followed by functionality for selecting a contact for the account and calendering the plan. These are the steps given for the "Discover" stage.

  1. Develop a business/personal relationship and establish your credibility.
  2. Create an open-ended dialogue to encourage the customer to discuss their business.
  3. Uncover goals, challenges, and needs to identify opportunities to provide value.
  4. Explore how the challenge, goal, or a solution to the problem fully impacts their business.
  5. Ask for the opportunity to follow-up and present a proposal/solution.

The rest of the page is a series of directions and methodology informing the writing of a plan as a step by step process.

Links to sales methodology in the form of guides are provided in context and open in new tabs in the browser. Users are being guided through mix of sales methodology and writing strategy adapted for the interaction between a rep and a business operator.

The discovery phase encompassed a conversational exploration of planning objectives, alongside an "anchors and sails" workshop. During this workshop, we collaboratively generated a wealth of insights, captured on sticky notes and organized on a whiteboard. This phase also included a swift ideation session, where we brainstormed and speculated on potential solutions.

One of the advantages of conducting research with the pain store's group at Sherwin is the access we have to great people who have been working for Sherwin for decades.

The sticky monster
Train the reps to be able to have interactions organically without a stage based planner — because they’ve done it so much!

Our Participants

We interviewed business leaders working manage the business operations of Sherwin Williams at every level from VPs making executive decisions about training and policy to district managers responsible for the state of business of regions of the US market, their sales leads and sales representatives, who are the users of the stage based planner.

  1. Vice presidents of sales
  2. District managers
  3. Sales leads
  4. Sales Representatives (two groups)

Our discover research methods

Our research participants are highly skilled users, many of whom bring decades of experience to the table. Consequently, we've discovered that discussions around the effectiveness of applications are most productive when we steer conversations to uncover the deep insights of our most seasoned and accomplished individuals.

  1. We started off our recorded teams meetings by discussing the purpose of the stage based planner and call planning.
  2. This led into a sails and anchors workshop in which we discussed what is working well and what is holding us back in the process and practices of the sales force today.
  3. With a whiteboard filled with insights in front of the group we seamlessly move the conversation over into rapid ideation. We speculated with experts on potential solutions and what they might look like.
understand

With the first round of formative research complete we began synthesizing research and establishing themes.

The grouping and definition work we did with our collected insights had us feeling like we had a clear understanding of the existing planner.

To identify themes in the insights gathered we looked through our insights and grouped similar sentiments together. Once grouped we wrote themes that captured the insight of the groupings.

When finished with our first round of summarization we started a second. We created a set of slides and refined our insights until they were both succinct and clear

Having spent time summarizing and re-summarizing the feedback from our experts, including rapid ideation discussions, we felt ready to begin our own. Before we could, we needed to systematically consider the system of the larger application of which the planner is a part.

define

To begin defining our design directions we needed to map the entire platform that was under development

The two sections labeled "In discovery" represent the initial concept of the information architecture and user flow.

The calendaring functionality built for other aspects of the sales platform was considered the entry point to plan creation by members of the team

At the point where we assembled a flow of the other existing wireframes of the application and the location of the screens we needed to create it became clear that the entry point would need additional consideration.

ideate

Our ideation process began with my scheduling a meeting with Sherwin's Salesforce experts to conduct competitive analysis.

We looked at anything anyone had found that fit the characterization of a competing product.

In the board below you can see the hubspot pages I had collected and reviewed for the meeting. Several attending the meeting had experience with other tools for sales teams that were build in Salesforce.

Having quickly established that we were building a custom platform, we move on to considering patterns for navigation of a guide material catalog, and potential tagging systems for common objections to lines of inquiry.

I was also initially drawn to the idea of organizing a distraction free step by step similar to typeform.  You can see the Typeform UI pasted in the board.

We had a number of open questions to ask the Sherwin Sales business experts

  1. What customer based metrics would we want to include to support the research that precedes the writing of a plan?
  2. Could be build additions to the existing relational database that would allow for displaying guide information that is matched to the customer?
  3. How much of the work that would need to be done to write a plan can be done in advance through training?

The initial ideation effort lead to a presentation of proposed design solutions to be developed for testing.

We decided to move forward with three potential solutions.

1: Simple, open-ended planning

  1. Extend scheduling functionality to ask fewer, but most critical, questions
  2. Encourage value-oriented thinking based on unique customer
  3. Shift toward guidance that is universally accessible

Value levers

  1. Promotes rep autonomy and growth towards expertise
  2. Speaks to speed to plan
  3. Reduces cognitive load to keep interaction on target

2: Robust, tap-based planning

  1. Leverage step-by-step process to build a plan
  2. Use taxonomic hierarchies to simplify preparation
  3. Brings more of current-state planning questions into the future

Value levers

  1. Moves away from open-text fields
  2. Provides flexibility in planning
  3. Speaks to speed to plan

3: Customer based, full page guide, library planner

  1. Supports user sense of autonomy with freedom to plan without referencing literature
  2. Fast navigation of guide information
  3. Clear conceptual model supporting user sense of competence

Value levers

  1. Improved engagement
  2. Three to five minute plans
  3. Top level navigation
prototype

Our prototypes were developed for in person user research workshops with Store managers, Sales leads, Sales Representatives, and District Managers

Option three used a top level navigation and full page IA.

  1. By including the planner as top level navigation there is a page to open from the calendar modal for event creation. Without a top level page the calendar modal opens a modal from a modal. A modal is a dialog that covers the primary content on a screen and forces a user to take an action and return to the page. Modals are not used for steps in a process.
  2. This design presents the customer data that an expert user can reference to write a plan as its default state. This simplifies the experience by employing a common navigation structure.
  3. Users who need to reference the guide information have fast access with a tree taxonomy that loads the guide information in the center panel.
  4. One of the most significant experience discoveries that would be discovered in the upcoming research is that reps do not actually schedule their customer interactions in advance as appointments. These interactions are better represented by a day planner that changes often adn often at the last minute. While reps do need to provide a calendar of planned work to their sales leads, it is understood that these are only tentative plans for customer interactions.
Test

With our prototypes complete and printed out in color as large posters we were ready to plan and conduct an in-person user research workshop

We collected a number of insights from discussions about our proposed designs with users of different kinds. Having proposed designs of different kinds enriched the conversations we were having by adding context.

  1. We asked what would be useful to see in the customer account info section. Notes about the account, recent purchases, stage of the customer, customer type, YTD sales, and more.
  2. We learned that we had overlooked the ability to carry a plan forward to other interactions. We had not designed a solution for reusing a plan or copying the content of a plan.
  3. A saved plan view with note taking and order taking is everything we need when conducting the sales call and logging it, and creating an order all at once.
  4. Call plans are not appointments and therefore don't have a day that is meaningful to use to calendar them. We work more like bike messengers and try to meet with who we can on any given day. We have an idea of who we need to try to talk with on a Sunday before the week and share that with our sales lead, but our leads know these plans are more of a plan for the week.

A final round of iteration informed by our co-design workshop and deign theory lead to a powerful final design

We decided to move forward with the page based solution. I was able to show the larger team that panel based step by step experiences are an incorrect use of modals.

Modals are a component that opens to display information in the context of it's parent page. Modals close and the user is returned to the parent page in the scroll position left on open. Panels, which are modals, cannot be use to leave a page, or open a subsequent modal.

The use of panels in the calendar experience cannot open a planer experience. Modals can only return the their parent page. Ths mean that the planning experience needed it's own top level navigation and full page.

We decided to move forward with the page based solution. I was able to show the larger team that panel based step by step experiences are an incorrect use of modals.

The final design solution is informed by psychological concepts borrowed from BJ Frogg and Frontiers in Psychology.  

Sherwin sales reps told us that the current planner was not being used. Low engagement was attributed to the complexity of the current experience and the amount of time it takes to create a plan. We also heard that Sherwin has users with more than forty years of experience, and some with only months. Experienced users did not use the planner, and saw it as a time wasting exercise. Reps with fewer years of experience told us that the planner was overwhelming to use and that they had so much work to do that was more important that there just wasn't time.

The final design is conceived of as a solution that provides clear and understandable prompts within an interface with few elements. Its meets users where they are as  a set of tasks well within their abilities as it employs common navigation and action patterns from experiences across ecommerce. The simplicity and ease of use of the new experience makes good use of sales reps extrinsic motivation.

  1. Motivation
  2. Ability
  3. Prompts

It's great that Sherwin's reps are motivated by their sales leads to meet sales goals, but great relationships develop between Sherwin's salesforce and business owners are a natural outcome of intrinsically motivated behavior.

  1. Autonomy
  2. Competence
  3. Relatedness

The design supports these foundational aspects of intrinsic motivation. It is designed to offer options for use. The user is free to skip right to writing if they have no need for sales methodology. For those who do a familiar navigation enables fast browsing of guide material that informs and prompts the writing they do. This improves outcomes and contributes to a sense of competence.  Lastly, the more the planners are used successfully, the greater sense of relatedness. Greater usefulness to business owners born from more organized and purposeful communication builds a sense of common purpose and relatedness.

Reflections & takeaways

The sales force at Sherwin-Williams plays a pivotal role in the company's success and growth. As the face of the brand, they are instrumental in fostering strong relationships with customers, from contractors to individual consumers, by providing expert guidance and personalized service. They not only drive sales through effective product knowledge and persuasive selling techniques but also serve as valuable sources of feedback, helping Sherwin-Williams understand market trends and customer needs.

Their efforts in expanding the company's reach, securing contracts, and ensuring customer satisfaction contribute significantly to Sherwin-Williams' position as a leader in the paint and coatings industry. In essence, the sales force embodies the company's commitment to excellence and plays an indispensable role in driving its continued success.

The strategic coordination of interactions between the Sherwin-Williams salesforce and the business owner operators they support presents a valuable opportunity for enhancing the impact and value delivered to customers.

The effort to produce this design was enriched by the shear number of hours spent working with the Sherwin Williams salesforce. In the end the body of insights collected allowed us to confirm rather than speculate on the appropriateness of our solution for its intended users and their context of use.