Back in the bad old days, before there was too much information available on the Internet, there was practically no useful information available about companies, their managements and their possible business problems. If you wanted to sell to a private company good luck, hopefully you went to college with someone there who could give you the skinny or perhaps a former co-worker worked there. People networked, but the network was not very fast.
If you wanted to sell to a public company you went to the library where there were many volumes of generic information like compiled annual reports. There were also back issues of business magazines and the trusty Readers Guide to Periodicals. There was also the daily business press, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. You could waste a lot of valuable selling time doing research.
If research wasn’t your thing and you needed to make your number you could cold call some C-level officer or vice president to pitch your idea. Many books have been written advising sales people how to get through the screeners — the switchboard, the great man or woman’s assistant, the voice mail system — all in an effort to convince a decision maker that you had a solution to a problem and get an appointment. All of that was hugely inefficient and it is a wonder anyone ever sold anything.
Thank goodness the Internet came along. Now we have the opposite problem, there’s a lot of information around and sales people can spend their time using search engines, reading what they bring in and formulating sales strategies.
Of course I am being facetious; time spent in any of these pursuits is not as well spent as face time with prospects. Many organizations today still rely on salesperson initiative and cold calling to identify opportunities and there’s nothing wrong with that but the reality is that if that’s all you’ve got, chances are good that other sales people have developed the same information.
There’s nothing like being first and that’s where sales intelligence, a relatively new field of front office automation, is gaining traction. I really like the idea of sales intelligence for several reasons. First, it uses Web 2.0 technologies to find and organize information. Web crawlers, for example, continuously search the Web for nuggets of information that the user decides is important such as information about a company, a person or a business problem. If you have a target universe of 300 companies or executives that you must sell to, there’s no way you are going to effectively track them without technology like this.
Second, sales intelligence systems organize and prioritize the information they collect and present it in a format that is easily readable, enabling users to take appropriate action. Third, some also integrate a social networking component. It’s nice to know that Joe Blow, CEO at some company expressed a need for a product or service that your company produces, but it’s even better to know that you’ve got a mutual acquaintance. It goes on like that but you get the picture.
Sales intelligence isn’t a panacea; there is still plenty of opportunity for rejection even if you know that you have something to sell that is vital to your target customer’s success. Nevertheless, selling with intelligence is a heck of a lot better than selling blind or cold. Products that I have seen and liked include SalesGenius by Genius.com, the eponymous InsideView and Carousel by DreamFactory. There are lots more and this short list is not intended to be exclusive.
With all of that you might expect that selling has gotten easier, but it hasn’t. Selling is an arms race. As Woody Allen once said, always go to a knife fight with a hatchet. Good advice, especially these days when customers have more of an upper hand than they have had in a long time. Today, things like sales intelligence and sales knowledge (see last week’s piece) are as indispensable as SFA. It’s still possible to operate with just a spreadsheet full of contact information but that limits your possible opportunities and almost guarantees that you’ll find it increasingly hard to compete with others that have more advanced tools.
Of course sales intelligence is not the only way to improve selling and you’ll need to carefully evaluate your sales operation to identify the solutions that will do you the most good. Ideally, solutions like sales intelligence, sales knowledge, SFA, marketing nurturing applications and others should come together to make a suite because in the real world their outputs are linked. We’re beginning so see good integration with SFA as the core technology and no place better than via salesforce.com’s platform. Nevertheless, that’s still too ad hoc and I wouldn’t be surprised to see whole new CRM 2.0 methodologies grow up around some of these integrations in the future and the methods will drive suite development.
There’s never been a better time to improve your sales process though and there’s never been so much additional help you can access. Of course, a lot of the help we’re talking about is available on-demand too which means it won’t kill your budget to try a few solutions.