CLOSEclose-x-icon

  • Resources
  • Investor Relations

Book a meeting with our sales consultants

CTA Button

Do you still feel that you need more software features? Drop your contact and area of interest and we’ll send you a tailored solution.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Sales Efficiency – a systematic approach to sales growth

Discover the Shocking Truth About What Keeps Sales Teams Thriving

By: Jeroen Minnee and Angelique Toorians, published 12 November 2023/updated 13 January 2024

Sales efficiency & growth is essential for any company’s existence. So the main question is how do you drive your sales efficiency and growth? How do we bring the sales system together with our salespeople? Is sales efficiency necessary? Or are just a few tweaks enough?

Both people and systems are important to be able to grow sustainably as a company. What can you do yourself to make sure that your salespeople are happy and can focus on closing deals which leads to a higher sales efficiency. Do your systems support your salespeople? Or do they create frustration and irritation?

Let’s first look at the 50/50 rule of Sales Efficiency and Growth. What can you do right now for and with your sales team without having to invest right now a lot of time and money in new sales efficiency systems? After that we go deeper into the impact of systems on your sales efficiency? How can your sales system increase the morale of your sales team, bus also increase 20% of your sales forecasts and eliminate 80% of sales process bottlenecks.

How do you drive sales efficiency with your team and system, and create lasting sales growth?


The 50/50 Rule of Sales Efficiency

We all know that sales is fundamentally a people-oriented activity. It involves building relationships, understanding customer needs, and persuading individuals to buy products and/or services from your company. The success of sales often depends on the skills, charisma, and adaptability of your salespeople. But they need a robust and innovative sales system to create sales efficiency. Without it growth of your company will be an illusion.

Sales processes are often quite complicated and consist of multiple stages from lead generation to post-sales support. Well-defined and efficient processes are essential to guide the sales team through these stages and ensure consistency and quality in customer interactions. Your salespeople depend on and need actual and up-to-date data and information which they in general find in the system and technology, like CRM tools, which help them to organize, analyze, and leverage the data for better forecasting, decision-making and customer relationship management.

Both your salespeople and an innovative system are essential to create your sales efficiency, growth and success. You have to make sure that all aspects are in place, so you are able to adjust to any change internally and externally. Make sure you have a robust, scalable, innovative sales efficiency software system and an Agile workforce with salespeople who do what they love to do best: CLOSE DEALS!


Keep your salespeople happy and focused

Salespeople are the front-line representatives of your company. They interact with your customers, address their concerns, and ultimately close deals. Without skilled and motivated salespeople, it can be challenging to generate sales efficiency and revenue.


We all know that salespeople only want 1 thing and that is closing deals and as soon as something gets in the way of closing deals, they will find some way to still get their deals. If they don’t get the right tools to work with, their might be consequences you don’t want, like:

1. Your salespeople are unhappy, and might even leave;

2. Negativity that will spread itself in your Sales Team or your company;

3. Or even customers might feel the negative impact of it.


What causes low morale?

The morale in sales operations is usually associated with intangibles, such as culture, leadership, coaching and rewards. But besides all these variables, there is one important thing that most organizations overlook: the systems.


We discussed earlier that selling has as much to do with having the right systems as it does with people. While most people will say that selling is a game of people or numbers, we need to look at the systems behind our sales teams that define:


  • The actual level of output;

  • The automation of various stages in the funnel;

  • The marketing presence across various channels;

  • The quality of the relationships;

  • The handover from sales to operations;

  • The onboarding process of new clients.


High morale is essential

However, high morale of your Sales Team is like a catalyst for increased motivation, resilience, teamwork, customer relationships, innovation, and employee retention within your sales team, the sales efficiency and your company in general. If Sales are up and running, the so called Sales Efficiency, it contributes significantly to achieving and exceeding sales targets, making it an essential factor in your team’s and company’s success.

Sales Efficiency Systems to scale and boost productivity

Sales is a people’s game at its very core. Without people, no business. But to efficiently scale the volume of sales depends on the systems. After all, a sales person only has 8 hours in a day. 


The statistics about sales systems back this up. In fact, a whopping 79% of sales leaders claim that a leading driver of hitting new targets is improving the productivity of existing sales agents. If you want to increase productivity with the person itself, you can only go so far. It’s the systems that will help you to scale up.


At the same time high-performing sales teams use almost 3 times the amount of sales technology than teams that are not performing up to scratch. So having the right systems in place will boost your sales efficiency and productivity.  


So, what systems should you have in place:


  • Outreach and automations – Outreach and automations in Sales are important  to reach companies and start talks with new prospects. Tedious tasks, such as emailing or making contact, can all be automated and personalized at scale. Platforms like Apollo.io and Zoominfo.com can assist your sales efficiency in collecting and segmenting relevant leads and establishing the first contact moment.

  • Sales enablement solutions – Coaching and guiding your sales team in approaching prospects and closing deals. Platforms such as Gong.io and Aircall.com use smart technologies to guide salespeople or account managers through sales calls.

  • Sales presentation technology – Salespeople often get lost in the volume of sales content that is created by marketing. A systematic sales efficiency platform, such as Showpad.com, where sellers can pick up the right content at the right time, will make their lives much easier.

  • Managing relationships – Retaining and growing customer spendings is easier than attracting new customers. Both are important, but getting more out of a customer or increasing so-called lifetime value can make all the difference in your sales efficiency and growth. Use sales efficiency CRM systems like Spire Essentials (SMEs) and Hubspot (Midsize & Enterprise) be the driving force to scale up relationships.

  • Sales handover and after sales – A major frustration of customers is not being properly onboarded. This is often due to frictions in the system. From the moment the deal is closed until your operational team members (i.e. engineers) can pick up where sales left off is often where the friction occurs. ERP systems such as SAP (enterprises) and Spire Essentials (SMEs) offer a constant engagement from Sales till Production, but also accounting and logistics.


Once your systems and processes are in place, you can start working on other sales efficiency measures of boosting the team’s morale. Below are 5 tips on how you can boost the morale of your salespeople.

Leadership tips to Boost the morale of your Sales Team

  1. Recognize and reward achievements

Acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of your sales team members. Whether they are hitting sales targets, securing a big deal, or consistently meet quotas, recognition boosts morale. Implement a rewards system such as bonuses, incentives, or public recognition to motivate and incentivize your team, which ultimately will boost your sales efficiency.

  1. Foster a Positive Work Environment

Create a positive and supportive workplace culture. Encourage peer support and collaboration. A friendly and inclusive atmosphere promotes trust and teamwork, contributing to a higher morale. Organize team-building activities and social events to strengthen team bonds. When salespeople feel a sense of belonging and support from their colleagues, it can boost morale and motivation, and in the end sales efficiency.

  1. Clear Realistic Goals and Expectations

Ensure that sales targets and quotas are achievable and realistic. Unrealistic expectations can lead to stress and decreased morale and sales efficiency. Keep them informed about company goals, strategies and how their individual efforts contribute to the bigger picture. Collaborate with your sales team to set achievable goals, and provide the necessary resources and tools to help them succeed. Regularly review and adjust goals when needed.

  1. Empower and Involve Team Members

Encourage open and transparent communication within the team. Encourage them to ask questions, share feedback and be part of the decision-making process and seek their input on strategies and policies that affect their work and the sales efficiency. When employees feel that their opinions are valued and that they have a say in their own success, they are more engaged and motivated. Make sure the threshold to you and other sales managers is low.

  1. Transparent Communication

Encourage a healthy work-life balance by respecting personal time and boundaries. Burnouts can have a severe impact on morale, so ensure your team members have the opportunity to recharge and maintain a balance between work and personal life.

Boosting the morale of your salespeople is an ongoing effort that requires consistent attention and care. By implementing these tips, you can create a more positive and motivated sales team, leading to improved performance, job satisfaction and ultimately more sales efficiency and growth.


Your sales team needs the right tools to make sales efficiency and growth possible. Implement a sales system that makes closing deals, client contacts and getting up-to-date information for your salespeople easy and sales forecasting a piece of cake.

What should a Sales Efficiency System provide you with?

A Sales Efficiency System should provide:

  1. Realistic and accurate Sales Forecasting;

  2. Streamlining the Sales Process;

  3. Identifying bottlenecks;

  4. Solutions and strategies to prevent bottlenecks;

  5. Customization.

1. Realistic Sales Forecasting

Realistic and accurate sales forecasting is crucial and fundamental because it has a huge impact on your resources and how you allocate them, it influences your sales efficiency, financial planning, the strategic decision making, risk mitigation, supplier management, the relationships with your customers and suppliers. It is an indispensable tool for organizations to thrive in any dynamic and competitive business environment.

Sales Efficiency Systems for accurate forecasting

When you have the right sales system in place, the system will provide you with strategies and techniques to improve your sales forecasting. An innovative, scalable and robust system will support your sales forecasting strategies and automates and brings all business processes together.

Data Management – The system stores, organizes, and maintains historical data and relevant external data sources. Your sales efficiency system will analyze past sales data to identify trends, seasonal patterns, and historical sales cycles. It uses this information as a foundation for future forecasts. Qualitative and accurate data ensure that all your data is up-to-date. Regular data validation and cleansing will keep your data up-to-date and reliable, which is essential for accurate forecasting and increased sales efficiency.

Collaborative Forecasting– Involve your sales team, product managers, engineers and other relevant departments in the forecasting process. Their insights and expertise will provide a much more comprehensive view of the market and what is happening. Create a holistic approach with qualitative insights from customer feedback, surveys, and expert opinions. It will improve the reliability of your sales forecasts and improve your sales efficiency.

Advanced Forecasting Software– With advanced forecasting software that leverages AI and machine learning algorithms you will have access to process and analyze vast amounts of data quickly and accurately which will scale your sales efficiency.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems  – The integration of your CRM system with forecasting tools will provide you real-time insights into sales activities and customer interactions, which will impact the sales efficiency of your sales team.

Business Intelligence Tools – Business intelligence tools can create dashboards and reports that visualize key performance indicators and sales trends, making it easier to monitor and adjust forecasts, which ultimately will increase your sales efficiency.

Inventory and Supply Chain Integration – The integration of inventory and supply chain management into your forecasting systems ensures that products are available when needed. Accurate forecasts reduce stockouts and excessive inventory costs. A key element for increased sales efficiency.

By applying these strategies and putting the right system in place, you can significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of your sales forecasts, leading to better decision-making, resource allocation, overall business performance and sales efficiency.

The trick of Sales Efficiency: the sales velocity formula to boost sales forecasts with 20% or more today!

At Spiresolutions we often get the question: “What can I do today to boost our sales efficiency and productivity?”.

The answer is simpler than you might think. For salespeople, achieving their goals consists of a lot of activities which leads the prospect to a certain outcome. For salespeople, this means closing the deal. If you ask a salesperson about what their job consists of, you will get answers ranging from building relationships, providing solutions to simply ‘closing deals’.


But for sales managers, sales efficiency is about tackling these 4 main factors:

  • The amount of opportunities created: these could be meetings booked, or presentations provided.

  • The number of closed deals. In other words, the conversion rate.

  • Deal size: what is the average deal size?

  • The closing time: how long does the average sales process take.

Let’s put these 4 sales efficiency factors into the Sales Velocity formula:



This formula shows that people and systems need to come together and create:

  • Increased opportunities – A salesperson has only eight working hours a day. Systems can scale-up tedious work, like making initial contacts or doing any outreach activities. If you have a sales efficiency system that clones the salesperson, you will increase the amount of opportunities.

  • Increased deal value – This is primarily related to sales confidence. Salespeople who are confident will upsell or cross-sell more easily, increasing their overall sales efficiency without generating more volume. However, if a salesperson knows that they are supported by an efficient operational system (production process) which runs smoothly and is reliable, salespeople will close more deals without any hesitation.

  • Higher win rate – If you can provide your sales reps with the right training, coaching and materials to close more deals, you will be able to increase the sales volume quicker. But one sales manager coaching all the reps is not scalable. Sales efficiency systems can assist with this.

  • Shorter length of the sales cycle -This basically goes hand in hand with how reliable the business systems are. If a salesperson cannot follow up correctly because internal communication is slow or the planning and task management is not well coordinated, sales cycles take much longer. Salespeople supported by a good ERP or other business management system will be able to close deals much faster.

The Sales Velocity Formula and the 10% rule

Imagine what you can do with the right sales efficiency systems in place.


Let’s put this to the test:


Define the period over which you want to measure the difference. For the majority of our clients, this is a full year. Our clients deal with larger projects that involve many suppliers and a lot of project planning.


  • Measured period: 365 days

  • Opportunities realized: 100

  • Average deal size: € 250k

  • Win or conversion rate: 20%

  • Length of sales cycle: 6 months

For ACME Corp the formula would look like this:


The 10% rule was created to help managers to communicate important sales forecasts without putting too much pressure on the sales team. This way, you keep morale high and still increase sales reps’ productivity and thus sales efficiency.

Adding 10% across the board sounds acceptable in most cases. However, when this 10% is applied to each of the factors that make up the sales velocity formula.


This is what adding 10% will look like in the above example:

  • Measured period: again 365 days

  • Opportunities realized: from 100 up to 110

  • Average deal size: from € 250k up to € 275k

  • Win or conversion rate: from 20% up to 22%

  • Length of sales cycle: down from 180 days to 162 days

Now see how the magic happens in the Sales Velocity Formula:


Adding 10% across the board will increase the realistic sales forecast by 48%.

Isn’t that incredible. And it is easily accessible with the right sales efficiency systems in place.

2. Streamlining the Sales Process

Outdated systems slow down the momentum of your sales and inaccurate data will create delayed follow-ups to customers and suppliers, and/or incorrect information. Your salespeople might get frustrated, demotivated and negative which might overflow to your customers.


Streamlining the processes and tasks in the sales process is crucial. With a modern, innovative and scalable system you will have all of this in one place. All departments work with the same data and information. The processes and tasks will be clear for everyone and you will be ahead of some of the common bottlenecks in the Sales Process.


On a daily basis, we speak with entrepreneurs and business leaders about how to address, assess and change outdated systems. We will always recommend talking to someone that is outside the organization and knows about these systems. This can be a consultant but also peers in the industry can help you here. Tackling this on your own is in general not a good idea and won’t lead to more sales efficiency.


3. Identifying common bottlenecks


There are many different reasons why your sales process is inefficient and is slowing down or even gets to a FULL STOP. Identifying the bottleneck(s) is the first step in the process and improving your sales efficiency:

  1. Poor Lead Generation and Nurturing: insufficient or poor-quality leads can slow down the sales process. Generating high-quality leads is essential for the rest of the sales funnel to function effectively and increase the sales efficiency. Not nurturing leads adequately or at the right time can lead to missed opportunities. Effective lead nurturing can help maintain interest and guide prospects toward a buying decision and boosts your sales efficiency.

  1. Lead Qualification: sales teams can get stuck if they spend too much time on leads that are not a good fit for the product or service. Effective lead qualification is necessary to focus efforts on prospects with a genuine interest.

  1. Post-Sale Support: neglecting post-sale support can lead to customer dissatisfaction, lost repeat business and reduced sales efficiency. Ensuring that customer support is readily available can prevent this bottleneck.

  1. Lack of Collaboration: poor communication and collaboration between sales and marketing or production teams can lead to misaligned strategies and wasted efforts. Effective coordination between all the teams is essential.

  1. Inaccurate or incomplete data: the implementation of efficient data management practices and tools is vital. Inaccurate data will cause issues throughout the whole sales process and decrease the sales efficiency.

There are other bottlenecks like lost opportunities because of delays in communication with leads and customers, complex sales cycles which get stuck at various stages, often due to the need for multiple approvals or extensive negotiations, insufficient training and skills that hinder salespeople in effectively engaging with customers and closing deals, and then administrative procedures where delays in paperwork, contracts, and approvals can slow down the final stages of the sales process.

Identifying your bottlenecks and tackling them is essential for increased sales efficiency.

4. Solutions and strategies to eliminate bottlenecks

You can eliminate 80% of the bottlenecks in your sales process just through the system you are working with. Educating and motivating your sales team is one part of the solution. Implementing a scalable, robust software system will support your sales team and all the other departments, but also solve most of the common bottlenecks in the sales process and thus improve your sales efficiency.

Outdated systems and missing automations are causing bottlenecks in your sales and order management processes, leading to delayed follow-ups and incorrect information and updates for your customers. 

To prevent these errors the implementation of a modern, innovative, scalable and flexible software system with integrated solutions will provide you with accurate and real-time information.


Your system needs:

  1. Centralized and automated CRM:  a modern system integrates a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system where all the customer information is in one place and all teams and stakeholders have access to up-to-date customer data. Think about implementation of automated communication workflows for order updates, confirmations, and shipping notifications. Ensure customers receive accurate and timely information about their orders.

  2. Automated order processing: with an automated order processing system that streamlines the entire order-to-fulfillment process will prevent and decrease errors, and order delivery will be much faster.

  3. Workflow Automation Tools: implement a system where workflow automation to connect various apps and automate repetitive tasks is integrated. This way you can create custom workflows that trigger actions based on specific events and can be reached anywhere all the time.

    Other strategies you could apply or implement are:

  4. Agile Management: facilitate Agile change management to ensure a smooth transition to new systems and processes. Listen to and collaborate with stakeholders and employees. Make sure that they are part of the process. Address their concerns and possible resistance of change with effective communication and training.

  5. Regular System Updates and Maintenance: updating and maintaining the systems is essential. Regular updates and preventive maintenance prevent slowdowns and ensure data accuracy and security.

  6. Customer Feedback: continues communications with customers and stakeholders and using this feedback feedback to improve the processes will keep you on top of the process and all happy.

  7. Data Security: data security is crucial. Protecting the customer information and complying with relevant data protection regulations is a must.

By implementing these solutions and strategies, you can mitigate the impact of outdated systems, streamline order management, and improve the customer experience by providing accurate and timely information. The key is to focus on automation, real-time data, and efficient communication to eliminate bottlenecks and raise your sales efficiency.

5. Customization: the Living Systems Approach

Your system isn’t just a tool you implement and then leave it doing what it’s doing. Your software system needs to be dynamic, evolving, and adaptable to any change on the market or for example in the products or services you are offering or what your customers demand from you. 

Your systems should be like a living organism that needs to be managed, nurtured, and allowed to evolve in response to any changes in your business environment. 

Viewing sales efficiency and growth systems as living entities that you customize to whatever is needed, helps you to adopt a holistic and dynamic approach to managing and optimizing the critical aspects of your business operations. Acknowledging and recognizing the need for adaptability, resilience, feedback loops, and the ability to evolve, you can foster healthy and thriving systems that drive sustainable sales efficiency, growth and success.


Your system should be:


Scalable – It should be designed to expand and improve when your business scales up (or down). It should support increased sales, customer acquisition, and revenue generation, evolving to meet the demands of a growing company.


Innovative – Your system should integrate new technologies, strategies, and methodologies to stay relevant. Sales efficiency and growth systems should interconnect between various departments, teams, and functions within your company. A change in one part of the system will always have effects on the entire process, so coordination and alignment is crucial.


Customized Sales Efficiency Systems for SMEs


In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape, the ability to adapt quickly and effectively is crucial for any SME. Adaptable systems empower your company to thrive, remain competitive, and seize opportunities in a dynamic market, ultimately leading to long-term success and growth. Let us explain a bit more how adaptable systems will benefit your company.

Some of the benefits of systems that are adaptable are:

Resilient – When you have an adaptable system your company will be able to weather unexpected challenges and disruptions. Whether it’s a sudden shift in customer demand, economic downturns, or unexpected industry changes, adaptable systems help you to stay operational in many situations, while in the past you would have struggled.

Efficient and productive – With an adaptable system routine tasks and processes are automated. Which will reduce manual labor and the risk of errors. The result will be increased sales efficiency and productivity, which is particularly valuable for resource-constrained companies.

Customization and scalability – An adaptable system can be customized to the specific needs and processes of your company. As your company grows, the system can scale-up to accommodate increased workloads and adapt to evolving requirements without the need for a complete overhaul. If you are looking for scalable growth, an adaptable system can more easily scale your operations and reach new markets. With this kind of scalability you minimize the risk associated with expansion and provide a foundation for sustainable growth.

Customer-Centric Operations – When you implement an adaptable system you will be able to collect and analyze customer data, so you can offer personalized services and products, enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.  You will better understand and serve your customers.

Innovation – Innovation is the key of adaptable systems they thrive on the integration of new technologies and tools. You will be able to use these tools like mobile apps to streamline your sales processes and more.


Tailored Solutions for project-based sales

Tailored solutions for companies with project-based sales are necessary to effectively address the unique demands and challenges associated with this business model.

5 reasons why tailored solutions for companies with project-based sales are important. Some of them we mentioned before, but they are nonetheless important.

  1. Complex Sales Cycles
    One of the main reasons why customized solutions are crucial for project based sales is that project based sales involve intricate and often protracted sales cycles. Tailored solutions streamline these processes, making them more efficient and manageable.

  1. Customized Offerings
    Each project has its distinct requirements, necessitating tailored solutions rather than off-the-shelf products. Tailored solutions enable companies to meet the specific needs of their customers and create sales efficiency.

  1. Resource Optimization 

Efficient allocation of resources is critical in project-based sales, where the availability of resources can significantly impact project success. Tailored solutions help optimize resource management.

  1. Competitive Advantage 

Tailored solutions enable companies to meet clients’ unique needs more effectively than competitors, providing a significant competitive edge in the market.

  1. Risk Mitigation
    Project-based sales inherently involve risks. Tailored solutions can incorporate risk assessment and management features to protect the company’s interests. With the revolutionizing innovative AI solutions risks can be automatically taken into account when creating possible scenarios and quotes to customers.

The 4 key actions to improve your Sales Efficiency

1. Igniting the morale of your sales team is paramount A motivated and engaged sales force is more likely to go the extra mile, close deals, and build lasting relationships with clients. By fostering a positive and supportive work environment, you can ensure that your team is fired up and ready to tackle any challenge that comes their way.

2. Realizing a 20% increase in sales forecastsThis is not just a lofty goal but is a tangible benefit of optimizing your sales processes. With the right strategies in place, such as improved lead generation, targeted marketing, and efficient pipeline management, you can unlock the full potential of your sales team and watch your revenue projections soar.

3. Elimination of 80% of sales process bottlenecks is a game-changerThese bottlenecks often lead to wasted time and resources, hindering your team’s ability to focus on what matters most—closing deals. By streamlining workflows, automating repetitive tasks, and providing the necessary tools and training, you can free your sales team from the shackles of inefficiency, allowing them to concentrate on selling and building valuable customer relationships.

4. Implementing the right business system The right system is a strategic imperative for sales efficiency and growth. It streamlines operations, enhances productivity, and empowers your organization to adapt and thrive in a rapidly evolving business landscape. With the right system in place, you can unlock sales efficiency, drive growth, and position your company for long-term prosperity. It’s not just an investment; it’s a key to unlocking your full potential and achieving your business goals.

We believe that improving sales efficiency isn’t just about optimizing processes; it’s about igniting the passion of your sales team, driving revenue growth, and removing obstacles that hinder the progress. By focusing on these four critical points, you can set your business on a path to success and watch as your sales performance reaches new heights.


Don’t wait! Start today!


Make sure that your salespeople can do what they do best: close deals by creating a high morale in your sales team and implementing the right system for your company. When your salespeople are happy, this will increase your sales efficiency, growth and the overall happiness in your company.

Spiresolutions developed it’s tailored Spire eX Digital Transformation Program where they will take you on an incremental transformation journey: from delivery of their Spire Essentials ERP System, to Data Migration, Optimization of your business processes to the final step, Evolution with i.e. Agile Management and other strategies and tools.


Are you ready for the next step or are you sure that something has to change, but don’t know exactly what or how? Is it your system? Or is it something else? Take a look at our website for more in-depth information, detailed resources, case stories and our solutions.

If you have any questions or would like more information, or just wanna have a chat, don’t hesitate to contact us or schedule a free consultation/call. We are happy to help you!


SpireSolutions – Digital Transformation Made Easy

Additional Resources around Sales Efficiency

Here are some links to articles that might help you:


[1] CIO10 signs outdated IT systems are killing your business

[2] The Science TimeFactors affecting Sales Performance

[3] Spiresolutions Blogspot – Spiresolutions Blogger – Software Chaos: when systems fail, users suffer

[4] Spiresolutions BlogspotDon’t waste too much time on drafting contracts, offers and invoices

[5] Spiresolutions BlogspotDisastrous Inefficiency: Departments drown in procedureal chaos & systems

[6] Spiresolutions BlogspotERP: What is it? What are the benefits, and how do you implement it in your company?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *