CSO Insights published an interesting research report – Leveraging Sales Intelligence to Advance Relationships. One particularly telling finding was – 17% of the companies in the study had sales force information systems with advanced applications like web crawling techniques and trigger event capabilities that provided their sales team with in-depth information about their customers.
If you are a company engaged in major B2B sales and you are in that 83% that have not made such a commitment, you might want to revisit that decision.
Let’s examine why a company might not want to be in the 83% and then explore some considerations related to how to join the 17%. Let’s look at the “why” by stepping through a Hierarchy of Misperception.
- Bottom Level – Sales reps don’t really need in-depth information to be successful. If we were doing this analysis 10 years ago this proposition may have been true. Today it is spectacularly wrong and fortunately most senior leaders would immediately agree.
For the remaining few, today’s customers expect sales reps to understand the trends in their industry, know about their company and have an initial understanding of the likely challenges – from the get-go. The higher up one goes in the customer organization – the higher the level of intolerance for the lack of information. Beginning the discovery process from scratch is no longer a winning strategy.
- Middle Level – Sales reps can gather the information during the sales process. Yes, good sales people can effectively gather a lot of information during the sales process but they can’t win and start from square one with a “discover your pain” discussion.
If they are up against a competitor with a great support system providing focused information about the customer, the unsupported sales rep is likely to come in a gallant second. Plus in some cases companies are providing information that can help their sales reps know which customer organizations they should be calling on in the first place.
- Top Level – Sales reps can and should assemble the information on their own. Here, the argument is lots of information is available and there is always Google. So, as part of the account strategy process and call planning, sales reps can compile the information they need.
First, the kind of information that an advanced information system – managed by people who do that for a living – can provide is not available. Second, this is not how sales reps should be spending their time. They should be provided this higher-level information and be spending their time planning – not assembling the information is the first place. Time is one of those things in short supply for sales reps.
So if one decides to upgrade the effort to supply better information, what are some things to keep in mind, let’s take a look at a short list:
- Coordination and Communication. Those responsible for managing the information system in Marketing or Sales Support need to work closely with Sales to know – what data is of the highest value, how should the data be organized, and what’s the most user friendly interface look like?
- Sales Training. The sales team must not only be engaged in the design of the system; they also need to be trained on how to use the information. How do they integrate this information into how they sale and how should they sell differently because they have this information. This sales training should be viewed as an on-going effort versus an event.
- Feedback Loop. A process should be put in place to solicit feedback from the sales team as to modifications for the information system. Implementing an effective information system is neither quick nor easy.
Historically Sales Information Systems have received a mix review. But that was then; this is now. A decade from now one needs to be aboard this train so it is best to buy a ticket today.
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