The history of sales has largely been one of companies perceiving market needs, creating products and services to fill these needs and then turning their sales forces loose to “go do their thing”—in other words, go get customers. The worm began to turn more than 20 years ago as classes and best practices in professional purchasing and negotiating became more commonplace.
The Internet has led to an even greater power shift from sellers to buyers. This is not to suggest that sellers have no meaningful part to play. Rather, I would argue that the most successful sellers are, and will be, those that embrace this shift. And that begins with communicating with buyers the way they prefer to be reached. And there may not be a single way for a specific buyer in a single instance.
One person may prefer periodic face-to-face meetings for more strategic exploratory discussions but web-based collaborative meetings bringing in various experts and interested parties and, later, emailing—and even text messaging—for more routine matters.
‘The reality is that powerful pipeline and other useful measures are now coming on line (literally) to provide business intelligence to Mr. and Ms. Everymanager.’
Equally important with incorporating communication styles will be recognizing there is a buying process going on. For years, companies have been defining their selling process steps (from lead gen to closing) and the tactics that are associated with each milestone step. And for the past several years, CRM systems have provided an easy and convenient place to keep this information. This is a good start and the basis for creating meaningful metrics. But it is important to acknowledge that sellers can do everything by themselves without the buyer—except close the deal! So, while tracking which selling actions you’ve completed is useful, a much more accurate barometer of the deal’s progress is looking at what steps the buyer has completed toward closing.
More and more, traditional salespeople are going to have to move to what I’m calling, in acknowledging the impact of Web 2.0, Sales 2.0. Sales 2.0 focuses on aligning steps in the sales cycle with those in the buying cycle by leveraging technology, process improvement and sales knowledge to effectively collaborate with the most appropriate individuals (internally and externally) and doing so in the preferred format of each. My feeling is that Sales 2.0 will be both new and a virtual certainty.
Other key components support the Sales 2.0 model. Web crawling technologies, personal portals, high-speed low-cost wireless communications, increased market familiarity with—and acceptance of—ecommerce are just a few of the areas of massive development that say this freight train is coming. (For a more detailed discussion of Sales 2.0 visit the CSO Insights web site and download our brand-new two-part white paper. You will have to register to access the white paper.)
BI for everyone
Before Siebel Systems put a great big burnt hole in the ground and was acquired by Oracle, the powerhouse was making a lot of noise about “analytics.” While the noise and hype have died down, the reality is that powerful pipeline and other useful measures are now coming on line (literally) to provide business intelligence to Mr. and Ms. Everymanager.
The terms, “analytics” and “performance metrics,” are synonymous and form the basis for business intelligence (BI). This wing of CRM has caught a bracing gust of wind and is showing up in a number of new entries (Cloud9, LucidEra, Business Objects, to name a few). Once the purview of only the very largest companies and confined primarily to consumer and retail vendors, the combination of on-demand applications and the broad acceptance of process into business-to-business sales has created a growing and, I predict, surging demand. Today there are powerful and tailored analytics that only a few years ago would have required massive professional services and programming contracts.
That means the only real barriers to sales managers having this kind of insight is too low volume and/or velocity in their pipeline. If a small business has only two sales reps, a typical sales cycle of four to six months, and 40 to 50 active deals at any given time, the chances of getting statistically meaningful metrics is slim. But then again, how difficult is it to keep track of fewer than a handful of reps and less than a dozen deals critical at any moment?
The power of analytics comes shining through when companies have more than a handful of reps, lots of opportunities in various stages of the sales cycle and a highly competitive environment. In this arena, wisely allocating resources—doubling down on winning bets and abandoning losers early; recognizing best practices; and providing pinpoint coaching will allow process-oriented (metrics-driven) sales managers to power by their tactical peers.
In addition to process-oriented sales executives, a second component will stoke the rapid appetite for information: custom dashboards. The ability to identify the metrics that are most relevant and important to each individual manager (or rep) and provide a graphical and historical representation of this information will truly launch analytics into the mainstream of day-to-day sales.
For those sales managers and reps who think this is all so much hokum, I’ll borrow a line from the flight instructor in the movie, Top Gun: “You can run but you cannot hide.” If you have more than a couple years left in your career, Sales 2.0 and near real-time sales analytics will be part of your reality. Your customers will be active and responsible participants in your ongoing business relationships and will expect the same of you. Your management will increasingly insist upon transparency and accountability in addition to results.
Do not confuse these trends with the “bleeding edge” of early technology adopters. Countless numbers have been implementing sales process in conjunction with their CRM investments. There have been misfires and false starts, but each has resulted in another learning experience and another step forward. In less time than you imagine, either you will be capitalizing upon these significant trends in sales or you will be a victim of them.