Using CRM to Read Digital Buyer Intent
A decline in face-to-face selling calls for new solutions.
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As part of CSO Insights' recent Sales Management Optimization study, we asked the 650-plus firms we surveyed to tell us what the ultimate outcome was for the deals they forecast to close. The chart below summarizes the responses we received.

Let me say again, we are talking forecast here, or the opportunities that salespeople had a high degree of confidence should/would close. What is disturbing is that they were right only 46.4 percent of the time—less than the odds you get playing the craps tables at Vegas!

In discussions with sales executives across many industries, a common observation has come up regarding some of the factors causing this trend. One of these is understanding buyer intent. For decades, reading a prospect's "body language" has been a skill that salespeople have used to gauge level of interest. But face-to-face selling has been declining over the past few years, having been replaced with telesales, Web meetings, email exchanges, etc. This is, in turn, making it harder for reps to predict the likely outcome of a deal.

But some sales organizations are finding that CRM solutions can help minimize the impact of decreased face time with customers, by helping them read a prospect's digital body language. Let me share a few examples.

In the past year, online meeting systems, from developers such as Cisco, Citrix, iMeet, and others, have been enhanced to support live video streaming during Web-based events. What this means is that in addition to sharing their display remotely with prospects to do demos, presentations, testimonials, etc., reps can also have all the attendees share streaming video of themselves using the Webcams built into nearly all new computers today.

A manufacturing firm we benchmarked reported that nearly half of its online meetings with clients involve streaming video. Now with this blending of high tech and high touch, reps can read a prospect's body language, even if they are thousands of miles apart.

Email solutions are also emerging to give salespeople insights into buying intent. We recently reviewed a solution from Yesware that tracks all the email correspondence between reps and clients. The system provides immediate feedback on when a prospect opened an email, how many times the mailing was opened, where the person was when she read it, etc.

If prospects are opening and reading everything you send them, you can assume that they are truly interested in what you are sharing. Conversely, if your emails remain unopened or are deleted, the chances that the opportunity is not real increase significantly.

We have also had sales organizations tell us how they are tracking the actual content they share with prospects (datasheets, case studies, proposals, etc.) to gauge buying interest. Solutions like Brainshark and iCentera allow reps to send links to prospects that then take them to key selling collateral.

What would you learn if a case study was viewed six times? It might well mean that there is a committee that will be making the final decision. What if the terms and conditions are never opened by the CFO of the prospect firm? Corporations rarely buy today without knowing what the contractual issues are. And what if a prospect who has been dormant for a couple of months restarts accessing all the materials you have previously made available to his organization? That is a potential sign that things have changed and you should re-engage him.

Examples like this show that even as more selling and buying move to virtual activities, salespeople can still do an effective job of assessing buyer interest. They just need a little help from CRM.

Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at jim.dickie@csoinsights.com.

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