Empowering the 21st century sales force

Profile picture for user itickle By Ian Tickle November 10, 2014
Summary:
Some top tips for creating a more efficient, effective and successful sales force from Ian Tickle, Vice President, Software as a Service, EMEA, at Oracle.

It is now old news that the buying habits of your customers have fundamentally changed. We are operating in the era of the empowered customer where, to quote Forrester Research, ‘buyers are more demanding, informed, value sensitive, and have more choices available to them than at any other point in history’.

DSC_9021
Ian Tickle

We all know the infamous ‘57%’ figure – that today’s B2B customers get 57 percent of the way along the buying process before they engage with a sales person and it’s common knowledge that customers are using the internet to research purchases – browsing vendor content, asking peers for advice, and paying close attention to ratings and reviews.

In the light of this, sales teams are now aware that they need to change if they are to continue to be fit for purpose. For Forrester Research the nature of this change is clear: sales organizations must move to a ‘go-to-customer’ model, in which sales teams are capable of understanding real customer needs – and providing valuable advice and insight to help them succeed.

But what, exactly, can sales managers do to ensure that the culture and tactics of their sales teams have adapted to this new paradigm? Here are my top tips for bringing the sales force into the 21st century:

Embrace mobility and be productive

Let’s face facts: very often sales reps today are not as productive as they could be. In fact, the majority of a sales person’s day is taken up with tasks other than selling, including answering emails, searching for information and inputting data into CRM systems.

If businesses could provide sales reps with the tools and information they need to spend more of their time in front of their customers, then they would see an immediate uplift in sales. Increasingly these tools are based around mobility - tablets and smartphones that let reps stay connected to enterprise systems and co-workers when they’re on the road.

Today it is even possible to provide reps with up-to-date insight into the customer they’re about to visit such as where they’ve been on your website, what they’ve been posting on LinkedIn, or what they’ve been asking peers about in industry forums, making reps better prepared to turn a prospect into a sale.

Center sales on deep insights

Thanks to social media, website analytics, purchase history data and many other sources of information, sales teams today have the potential to know more about their customers than ever before.

Sales organizations must learn to make intelligent use of this data to gain visibility into the areas that matter most. The use of white space analysis to identify gaps in the market, explore customers-buying habits, and mark out future opportunities is crucial. Sales teams will also need to work with marketing departments to decipher lead behaviour, to understand when their buying intentions are serious and to engage with them earlier in the buying process.

The most advanced organizations are using predictive analytics to reveal where future opportunities lie, and to deploy resources and training accordingly. Analytics that can predict a customer’s next likely purchase – perhaps by uncovering and aggregating the buying patterns of other customers – are gold dust for reps who want to know where they need to go to sell more and should be embraced by all forward looking sales teams.

Be collaborative

Today, very few reps have enough information, insight, expertise and authority to negotiate a complex sale on their own and this means that sales teams need to be able to collaborate like never before.

If a customer has a query about a contract term, the rep needs to be able to pull a lawyer into the conversation. Or, if the prospect doesn’t have the budget upfront, the rep should be able to call on the financing team to agree a payment structure. This kind of on-the-spot collaboration – ideally done through the rep’s mobile device – can make the difference between a deal lost and a deal won.

Collaboration should also be used to share ideas and successful approaches. Imagine how performance would soar if you could capture the approach of your top-performing challenger reps and share it across the sales force, for example – turning those winning techniques into standard procedure for everyone. With all reps working together and pulling in the same direction, efficiency is improved, sales increase, and revenues soar.

Focus on building the pipeline

In most sales organizations, pipeline building is deeply flawed. Fewer than 50 per cent of ‘leads’ result in an initial discussion with a customer, and up to 50 per cent of forecasted deals never close. The issue is that reps are almost the last person a customer will turn to for advice on a purchase. Instead, they are researching your products – and your competitors’ products – online, talking to peers on social media, and reading ratings and reviews.

Sales teams should completely change their approach to lead generation and nurturing. Sales and marketing must work together to develop new ways of generating and scoring leads, analysing data to understand where and how prospects are conducting their research, and be in those places with genuinely useful information to guide the buying decision.

Building pipeline in the age of the empowered customer may seem harder than ever, but the right tools, skills and behaviours can provide unprecedented levels of insight into what customers are really looking for – insight that can be turned into a healthy pipeline.

5265518.cms
Some 44% of organizations report user adoption as a key reason for the failure of CRM initiatives. For sales teams to be successful in the age of the customer, they need tools that help them close more deals, faster – tools they will actually want to use.

Today, CRM is no longer just about managing accounts, contacts and activities. It’s about gaining insight that provides a competitive edge, having access to predictive information, and being able to collaborate in real time from anywhere – all helping to drive sales and pipeline.

To that end, sales leaders should equip their teams with the latest cloud-based tools for fast, successful, social selling. These tools are quick to get up and running, incorporate the latest social selling features and enable a fully mobilized approach to sales that encourages collaboration and puts analytical insight at the heart of the equation.

By enabling better collaboration with co-workers, building stronger pipelines, and being able to access useful customer data from any location will bring sales teams right up to date, allowing them to win in the era of the empowered customer; selling more and selling faster.