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How to build a sales strategy that harnesses the IT mega-trends

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18th Jul 2013
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Mobile, social, Cloud and Big Data are converging, with the sales department seemingly sat directly on the nexus point. Not only are these mega-trends impacting sales behaviours, but also sales technologies. Mobile, social, Big Data and Cloud are influencing the entire sales force automation (SFA) ecosystem, from sales opportunity management (contact management, sales forecasting, lead distribution, etc), sales effectiveness (prospect qualification, proposals/contracts, order management, etc) and sales performance management (objectives/quota management, territory management, etc).

With such widespread influence, sales teams that harness these forces have the potential to significantly improve their business results.

“The trends help the sales leaders address the perennial issue of how to make salespeople more productive, while the next generation of sales tools also mean you can have deeper insight about your customers – know which ones to call, be able to qualify leads better, be able to enter in data whilst you’re in the field and get data that you need,” says Bill Band, VP and principal analyst for Forrester Research. “The primary driver for implementation of the first generation of SFA tools was around reporting for management. But most of these new trends help the sales person more - they make them smarter, more effective and efficient and have data available to them when they need it. So this collectively benefits the sales person more than the previous generation of SFA.”

But these technology changes also necessitate wider changes within the sales department, if they are to fully benefit from the forces, says Patrick Stakenas, research director at Gartner

“In the past, organisations had to build their sales strategies around a technology, versus now building the technology around the sales strategies,” he explains. “So with on-premise type tools you built your sales processes around having to come back to the office and log back in and be on the network and so on. But that all goes out the window with Cloud and mobile. And the amount of information that is coming from Big Data and social is also changing the way sales organisations manage their business.”

And Stakenas believes the impact is such that the mega-trends actually “invalidate” many existing sales strategies.

“Everything that we knew a couple of years ago as it relates to managing the sales organisation and how we sold is changing,” he continues. “For instance, we used to be the informer – we would show up as a sales person to a customer and they wouldn’t know anything about the topic or what we’re selling. Now, 60% of the decision is already made by the person because of the internet. But that doesn’t mean that it is going to eliminate sales reps – in fact, quite the opposite. There is a great need for sales people because there is so much information out there and the information that they’re finding on the internet is confusing the buyer, so professionals have to show up with even more information and be super sales people because they know that their buyer is probably as educated as they were a couple of years ago. So these four trends are changing the way that sales people sell these days, and changing strategies related to how the sales rep interacts on a daily basis and how the buyers are buying.”

And there are other changes taking place that will shape the IT strategies of the modern sales department. In the recent past, people’s most sophisticated computing experience would be at work, but this has now changed. The proliferation of excellent devices and applications with minimal learning curves has meant that people have become more sophisticated users of technology in a short span of time. And today’s empowered individuals expect access to similar functionality in their jobs, demanding the likes of location services, contextual search results and interaction with social networks, across multiple devices. Ultimately, this ‘consumerisation’ of technology, means that IT strategies must adequately support the rep, or they will seek out alternative access to tools and apps to support their jobs.

“If IT wants to keep control here and if they want to keep it collaborative, then it is going to have to move with the flow,” says Stakenas. “They are going to have to mobilise the existing on-premise tools, because if IT doesn’t do it then salespeople are going to find it on their own – they will buy their own applications of download their own CRM applications on their phone. As far as information goes, IT is going to have to figure out ways to adapt the old systems of record like Hyperion and Business Objects and Cognos that spit out Excel spreadsheets, because nobody wants Excel spreadsheets anymore, they want that data pushed to them in a dashboard or in a way that is already pre-formatted.

“It is the same with mobilisation. IT organisations need to recognise that the Cloud is going to be the method of delivery and the utilisation tool is going to be a mobile device. So IT will either have to buy new systems to replace legacy systems or go into the marketplace and look for tools that can help them convert their existing applications to mobile.”

This leaves IT with a lot of work to do in the next couple of years to ensure that the systems are updated to enable the sales force, but it is work that is essential.

Harnessing the IT forces

So how can sales organisations adapt their strategies to harness these disruptive technology forces?

“The major thing we recommend is don’t start with technology – start with workflow,” says Jim Dickie, managing partner at CSO Insights. “Take a look at what salespeople are doing on daily basis – how much time are they researching prospects; how much time are they spending generating their own leads; how much time does it take to do a needs analysis of a new client, or to build a proposal, or to get the pricing done right, or whatever it is. Start looking for an opportunity to really streamline things to save time or optimise things like building a proposal to solve a problem. Then go back and say how could technology help you do that?”

For instance, don’t think about it as a Big Data project, says Dickie, think about how you are installing a system to take a look at your existing customers to find out what their ordering patterns are and then putting them in peer groups.

“For example, if I’m selling medical devices, I can look at what a cardiologist typically orders versus interns versus OB/GYN, so that I can realise what a typical client should order and then when I’m getting ready to call on a new prospect and out of the 50 things that the average cardiologist orders this guy is only ordering 12 I can see I have got 38 cross-sell opportunities,” continues Dickie.

“So if you start by taking a look at how your people are doing their jobs today you can see where the roadblocks are, or the things that are being done ineffectively. And at that point you sit down with companies like Lattice Engines or PROS in the Big Data space, or Salesforce.com or Oracle in the CRM space or Marketo or Eloqua in the lead generation space, and you ask them to tell you how their product helps you solve your problems. So you are doing things that you know will probably have an impact on efficiency and effectiveness and therefore should impact both the top line and the bottom line.”

Stakenas, meanwhile, has the following advice for sales leaders seeking a place to start to harness the strategic benefits of social, mobile, Big Data and the Cloud.

“Start with mobile. The key thing is to start with the devices – figure out what you’re going to do with the company and whether you’re going to distribute devices or encourage bring your own device (BYOD),” he advises. “BYOD is a very common thing these days. If you decide that bring your own device is OK, and that you’re going to let sales people use their smart phones or tablets that they already own, then start with that, and start opening up your systems.  Even five years ago, you had specific builds on your laptop and you have to have that build, and you couldn’t change it and you couldn’t download applications – you were relegated to what the company gave you. That time has passed. Now sales reps will leave their laptops behind and take tablets so that they can have their personal apps along with their business apps.

“From there, look at the Cloud from an IT perspective and how it can enable you. Even if it’s something that isn’t out in the world from a pure Cloud perspective, in a multi-tenant SaaS environment, even if it’s a private Cloud that I’m able to get to and keep logged in on a 24/7 basis from my tablet or phone, start with that. At least give your sales people access to the information they need via these tablet devices, and if you just do those two things – recognise mobile and recognise the Cloud as a way for salespeople to get access – that is a huge start.”

And for those sales teams that have yet to get started, there’s no time to waste.

“Sales organisations must embrace these new technologies or risk becoming irrelevant,” emphasises Christopher Cabrera, founder, president and CEO at Xactly. “The Cloud has lowered the barrier to entry for cutting-edge, best-of-breed sales applications – making them cost-effective, secure and easy to install and maintain. Sales and IT teams that have not begun to embrace these technologies are already behind the eight ball when it comes to their competition.”

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