As a multibillion-dollar global information services company, Experian is dedicated to helping organizations and consumers make commercial and financial decisions with greater confidence and control. Its stated goal is for Experian’s people, data and technology to become a necessary part of every major consumer economy around the world.
That’s clearly a client-centric vision. But how do you accomplish that?
Looking at the corporate goal, you can see how the company’s credit and marketing reporting services are based on the data the company collects and analyzes. These are delivered over the firm’s client-focused technology platform, so it is easy to understand how those elements are key to Experian’s success. But it was the people part of the equation that interested me the most when I recently had the opportunity to talk with Kelli Stephenson, Experian’s vice president of Sales Effectiveness.
‘Salespeople tend to sell what they are most comfortable with.’
Experian’s client-facing people make up a worldwide sales force of external, field-based reps, inside telesales reps and channel partners. At first glance, you might assume you are dealing with a commodity when you are selling something like credit information that clients can get from other sources. But Stephenson doesn’t see it that way: “What we are focused on is providing actionable insights to our clients, not just information.”
To do that, Experian needs to empower its sales reps to successfully differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Stephenson’s team is focused on ensuring that the company’s sales professionals have access to their own actionable insights—and they do that using a very innovative sales knowledge management (SKM) technology platform.
The genesis for Experian’s SKM initiative started in 2004. Previously, the company had a bid team in place to help reps develop customized, client-focused responses to RFPs. But the process was based on “liveware”; in other words, people—members of the bid team—collected, synthesized and leveraged the best information available on a bid-by-bid basis. Experian’s management decided to move this knowledge base into a technology framework.
The initial automation of the bid process allows Experian to achieve a high level of standardization across all the bids that were generated. Through word-of-mouth across the sales force, the internal demand for access to the service grew, so Experian decided to take the project to the next level in 2007, when the company migrated to a software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based platform.
This move provided several addition advantages. The first was in insight access. Now reps could search for knowledge by business need or industry, versus just by product. The second was the expansion of content managed by the system. Not only does the application manage bid information and templates, but also, it can support creating custom messaging for all types of client communications, such as letters, presentations and collateral.
Once Experian compiled all that information and made it available, it recognized another benefit: The knowledge was now available to more of the company’s employees in more places. As Stephenson noted; “Automation gave us the ability to provide direction to other regions of the company; for example, Asia Pac. Even though we did not have the resources available to help them directly, they could still follow the process and gain easy access to all applicable templates and coaching.”
This approach also offered a number of knowledge administration enhancements. Insights for the system are gathered from subject matter experts (SMEs): people in Experian with detailed product, financial and service knowledge that sales reps look to for help. The SKM system now provides a continuous feedback loop from the sales teams to the SMEs assigned to each knowledge element so that the currency and usefulness of the information can be maintained.
As the application is being made available to more and more users around the world, the SaaS implementation approach Experian choose offers several benefits. The first is ease of access. With on-premise applications, users need to have access to the software over a virtual private network. With the SaaS model, a sales rep can tap into to the Internet from anywhere and get immediate access the sales knowledge base. Another advantage of the SaaS-approach is that improvements are immediately available to Experian. In the past, Experian had to wait for a vendor to release major enhancements.
The net result of these SKM moves is that the sales agents now have 24/7 access to the knowledge they need to sell effectively. This is key, when you consider that over the past several years, Experian has not only expanded its sales force via organic growth and acquisition but also expanded the product lines reps have to sell. Both new reps and existing reps need to learn to sell new things, and the SKM systems supports that facilitates that educational process.
“Salespeople tend to sell what they are most comfortable with,” Stephenson told me. “To get them out of their comfort zone, you have to make it easy to learn how to have a different conversation with the client to sell something new.” Clearly, sales training is part of the answer, but it’s not the whole answer. As Stephenson said, “Learning new skills is good start, but without ongoing reinforcement of the concepts and the ability to execute against those new skills, meaningful change will not occur.”
What are the ultimate gains from moving to customized client-centric messaging in sales at Experian? “We know that the use of the processes and best practices improves the quality of or proposals,” Stephenson said. “Our customers have told us so, and we have seen our win rate increase.”
When customers reward you with their checkbooks, you know you are meeting their real needs.
© CSO Insights