Selling in Business Markets and Sales Force Improvement

It was not too long ago that the sales force had the information advantage over the customer or prospect. In today’s marketplace, business or consumer, the information advantage has largely disappeared. Fueled by the explosion of the Internet, today’s information-affluent would-be customers demand ready answers. They expect your sales professional to have answers to ever-more-detailed questions. And they have access to information prior to, after, and even during the sales call to verify many of the answers they receive.

Today’s customer is increasingly expecting today’s sales professional to have done their homework to a degree that allows the sales professional to have some increasingly specific reasons for the sales call. And, if your sales professionals haven’t done their homework, their counterparts with the competition have.

selling businessCompetitors are invading every market from every angle. Technology has made starting a company to compete with yours a virtual overnight reality. Bricks and mortar and inventory are no longer required to enter your marketplace. As a result, the face of your marketplace is changing quickly, dramatically for competitors as well as customers. Increasingly, your sales professional needs ready access to information, about your products and your customers to meet the needs, the demands of the marketplace.

Customers and competitors are not the only forces putting increased pressure on your sales force. Investors have growth expectations that are also conditioned by the boom in technology and the near instantaneous access to information about how your organization compares to others in the marketplace.

In response to increased availability of information by the customers and expectations that flow from that information to have goods and services meet specific needs of the customer, sales offerings are increasingly complex. “One size fits all” no longer does. Configuration and customization issues now must be addressed, frequently by your sales professional in the field. Your sales professional needs the tools to address these issues.

Customer Requirements

Across the full spectrum of industries, we see an increasingly information-intensive sales process. Customers, prospective and current, are demanding more and more information on which to base their buying decisions. The amount of customer information required for your Customer Service organization to properly serve and support your customers is comparably expanding. The amount of information required to complete the sales process grows with the complexity of the products and services you are offering and this information not only must be communicated to many individuals, but also often requires separate input to many systems within your organization. Finally, the information requirements of the beginning of the sales process may be growing faster than any of these others. Your sales force must be better equipped with more information about prospective customers in order to get their foot in the door, in order to find the right door, in order to differentiate themselves from everybody else vying for the time and resources of your prospective customers.

A consequence of the explosion of information required to sell and serve your marketplace is the increasing likelihood that your limited sales and support resources will make inefficient use of its time, energy and other resources – resources that cost your organization dearly.
Assessment of Current Sales and Service Processes

When eProcesses looks at the current sales and service process (there admittedly is rarely what one could call a sales process or a service process, but rather a set of processes) in the typical organization, we often see a wide array of sales strategies employing multiple communication methods.

In order to provide the efficiency and predictability, of both method and message, that most senior management teams would like to see within their sales and service organizations, you need to develop and implement consistent sales strategies that will provide a cohesive plan and common vocabulary for account management. It is only at this point that automation of your sales and service processes proves effective. Automation is rarely effective when the underlying processes are not themselves effective.

Current Status – How Do We Stack Up?
eProcesses begins an engagement by documenting your current sales and service processes. This step provides us with an understanding of your current methodologies. It also gives us insight into the points in the processes that are broken, or unclear, or undefined, or subject to debate.

eProcesses firmly believes that you must know where you are before you can develop an appropriate strategy to help get you to where you want to be.

As part of the assessment of current sales and service processes, eProcesses would want to look several areas, including:

  • Plans – how does the strategic plan that you have compare to the strategic direction of other organizations in your industry? When considering your strategic plan, how do the plans of your departments align with that plan and with the plans of the other departments?
  • Expectations – what are the expectations that senior management has for each department and for key members of the management team? In what way are those expectations communicated? How effectively are those expectations communicated?
  • Benchmarks – how does your organization compare to industry performance benchmarks?
  • Competitors – how do your competitors compare to industry performance benchmarks?
  • Customers – how do you compare to your customers’ expectations?

This examination step provides insight to the various gaps that exist within your organization between perception and reality and between today and tomorrow. And, in some cases, these answers provide insight into the other areas in which your organization needs to improve in order to reach its stated definition of success.
Attributes for Success

Your company must be faster, smarter and stronger than competitors. Technology and your competitors are making it increasingly critical that you information-enable the sales force so that your company and sales force succeed. This information includes: Products and Promotions; Resources, Tools, and Training; and clarified expectations in the form of leads, activity guidelines, and behavioral best practices. Access to integrated sales information is the key to unlocking the success of your sales and customer service force.

One indication that your organization is competing more effectively in the market-driven economy today will be that your sales force is reaching deeper into customer organizations. The sales force is able both to strengthen existing relationships and to forge new ones because new tools can help your organization focus on managing those critical relationships within your customer organization. To accomplish this, you will need to streamline your sales processes, thereby improving effectiveness, reporting, and coordination across geographic regions that are decentralized and autonomous and between internal departments.

You need to reinforce a consistent sales process worldwide. Using contact and opportunity management, individuals must be able to sell and manage relationships more effectively. Individuals must be better able to coordinate multiple opportunities and related activities with each customer. And, senior management can forecast and plan more accurately, and respond to changing conditions more quickly.

The company must speak to each customer with a unified voice, receiving clear, consistent messages about your products and services.

Your company must leverage its corporate knowledge to better serve customers. Electronic access to corporate information that is constantly updated will allow your sales and customer service organization to provide timely and accurate information to your customers.

Everyone in your organization who touches a customer must have access to the latest information anywhere, at any time. Data replication and synchronization allows people on the go to get what they need when they need it.

Sales Information Management Tool

Sales Force Automation and Customer Relationship Management software products are among the fastest growing sectors of the computer software market. Despite this, the sales process is least automated, least information-enabled corporate frontier, and one area in most organizations that remains ripe for strategic process improvement, for implementation of consistency, and for improvement of overall effectiveness.

eProcesses can help you save time and increase efficiency. Some of this improvement may require change in organizational structure, in core processes within and outside the Sales and Customer Service organization, and in better tools (improved capabilities) that will take the form of new hardware and software tools. eProcesses will not simply emphasize hardware and software tools because a tool won’t make a weak rep strong, but it can make a strong rep great. But, an informed sales force can quickly respond to the marketplace and ever-changing customer demands and eliminate wasted time and effort.

Among the Objectives you may expect from an eProcesses engagement are:

  • To provide a platform for informed sales force
  • To deliver enterprise-wide, integrated information management; NOT a series of non-associated tools

At eProcesses, we believe that an eSolution must encompass

  • Process
  • Strategy
  • Automation tool

Sales Force Automation Tools

The eSolution in the area of Sales Force Automation and Customer Relationship Management is based on principles and strategies of selling, not only on technology. eProcesses believes that a Sales Force Automation Tool should be built to support the sales process, not dictate it, to assist in real selling, not merely recording data. In accordance with this, eProcesses seeks to not simply get individuals to use a new set of tools, but to perceive and realize personal as well as corporate benefit to the use of the new tools. Our experience is that your sales force, just like the customers and prospects with whom they interact, must see personal benefit before they are likely to change their hard-earned habits. And your organization must see corporate benefit in order to justify change to those who have invested in the organization.

Management Information Needs

Sales Force Automation and Customer Relationship Management are certainly about gathering customer information that is relevant to specific customers and specific sales. But, it is about much more than that.

The implementation and proper use of SFA/CRM methodologies provide a vehicle to

  • Manage account data, activity management, scheduling and forecasting
  • Provide automated, quick-reference account management and assessment tools
  • House key account strategy tools
  • Facilitate team selling and executive-level positioning
  • Encourage coaching by first-line management

One of the major challenges to all firms with sales organizations is how to capture data that can be shared across multiple organizations within the firm. The sales and customer service organizations are in an unusual position to gather data on prospect and customer organizations. This data can be distributed to and processed by more than the sales organizations. This data needs an intentional conduit.

This collected, distributed, and processed data can be invaluable to the formation of strategies for identifying and penetrating key accounts and markets. It can also provide the impetus to pursue new markets and products.

Data collected by a sales and service organization can help all levels of management understand the extent to which current customers and markets are being penetrated. This data, if available, can also be used to develop and encourage strategies for broader use of corporate resources in efforts to capture specific target companies and markets.

Finally, information captured by Sales Force Automation and Customer Relationship Management tools can be used to provide coaching and counseling within the organization and to monitor the extent to which appropriate activity levels, schedules, and forecasts are maintained by the sales and service organizations.
Sales Organization Needs

Regardless of the automation tools selected (including the choice to not automate), effective sales and service organizations need both a proven sales methodology and a proven service methodology. Effective sales and service are not random occurrences. EProcesses, with or without Sales Force Automation and Customer Relationship Management software, can assist your organization in the selection of appropriate sales and service methodologies.

The choice of an appropriate methodology will assure efficiency across the entire sales or service team, provide an appropriate risk/opportunity assessment model, and facilitate the utilization of a consistent, efficient approach to sales and service with a common language.
eProcesses’ Role

eProcesses Consulting recognizes also that implementation is not truly complete until the “New Ways” become habit. While one of the major challenges of implementation is breaking old habits, the second major challenge is establishing the new ones. Some organizations require more follow up than others, but it is during this follow up stage that the new habits are solidified. eProcesses usually assumes a diminished role during this follow up stage. One way we do this is by providing tools and techniques for your management team that can be used in reinforcing the “New Ways” and in assessing the degree of new habit formation. These tools and techniques that the client organization will use will be reinforced by periodic audits by eProcesses consultants.

After 20 Years, Why Can’t We Still Get Along?

In 1991, news around the United States seemed dominated by news of and riots following Rodney King and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). In the aftermath, Rodney King asked everybody in general and nobody specifically “Why can’t we just get along?” in 2011, the same question still applies, but now to a larger, even global audience. Why does it seem so difficult to co-exist on this planet we each call home?

A popular bumper sticker seems to declare “Co-exist” as if it is possible to simply will it to be. Can we co-exist without getting along? Would that mean agreeing to disagree, letting others maintain their opinions and visions while we maintain or pursue our own? Recently in an interview on CNN, Rodney King noted that people who change things or are the focal point of cultural change become targets, implying coexistence may be at least challenging if we want change. On the other hand, might it not also be the case that coexistence may not be possible without change?

In some contexts, it may be possible to simply decide to co-exist or get along. In other contexts, we might be able to individually start the process, but not complete the process without some cooperation. For us to co-exist, we may need to collaborate on a shared vision for the future and that may require coming together and working together until we reach agreement or consensus on the way forward and how to get there.

If we want to co-exist, we may need to realize that, when we live in community, our ways and our perceived wants and needs are not all there is and may not be the community’s plans or priorities. As much as it may pain some people to realize that their opinion is not shared by others or that, for the majority, their opinion is of little consequence or interest, that may be the reality. We may not have the freedom or the right to impose our will on others any more than they do on us. We are likely to find ourselves in conflict with somebody when we try to do just that and should not be surprised when it happens.

An instructor of mine once objected when a classmate suggested that the golden rule was an appropriate ethical basis for coexistence. The instructor’s argument was that the golden rule suggests that what I believe is right for me implies that the same thing is right for somebody else. If we are to coexist within a society that allows or encourages people to live under non-uniform moral or ethical codes, then maybe when we consider doing unto others as we would want done unto us, at a deeper level, we need an understanding of the other’s values before we can fully appreciate the context and the implications of those decisions. Or, maybe we need to consider that being so open in society that we allow broad diversity in morals and ethics has a cost that may preclude the opportunity to simply coexist.

What I Expect of My Leaders

I choose my leaders in a variety of ways, by acts of commission and of omission. I elect some people to positions of leadership and whether I voted for them or not I still should expect them to lead. Other people assume positions of leadership that directly or indirectly influence my life and its quality with no input from me whatsoever. It may even be possible for a person to be in a position of leadership without my choosing to follow their lead. Whether I follow the leader or not, I still have expectations for their leading.

I expect leaders to communicate their vision for the future. Leaders should be able to provide me with a rationale for their vision. Help me embrace the vision. Let me understand the underlying assumptions and the risk factors associated with the vision and not simply the asserted solution to the proposed problem or the opportunity.

While I am interested in specific programs and policies, I find it helpful when I understand the current and proposed context for proposed actions. Where are we trying to go and what might need to happen to get there is somehow more useful to me than simply proposing or expressing support for starting or ending services or modifying organizational structure.

I expect leaders to be honest and open with me, to treat me as an educated person capable informed opinion rather than as somebody not capable or not informed enough to reach the leader’s conclusions. If I don’t have the knowledge or capabilities to come to the desired conclusion, then educate me. If you, as a leader, are afraid of the conclusions I might reach, that I might conclude something different from you, that may say as much about you as it says about me.

If I do not immediately or eventually embrace your vision, consider why that might be. The least likely reasons may be that I lack sufficient intelligence or that I am inherently cruel or self-centered. People seem to reject the actions or general direction of leaders because they have different, even conflicting, visions for the future, sometimes based on different expectations or understandings of the facts.