Know Thine Enemy
If you feel your company is under siege, you're not just paranoid. In the Internet age, threats come from more than just your competition.
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One of the benefits of being asked to speak at a variety of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) forums is that I also get to listen. Recently, I had the opportunity to serve as a guest host with Casper Weinberger on his television show, "World Business Review." Two days later, I facilitated a panel discussion of pharmaceutical industry executives at PharmaQuest in Nassau. One of the key insights I took away from these events did not come from my sessions, but rather from having the chance to listen to two other individuals.

Prior to my breakout session at PharmaQuest, Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, delivered a keynote address. Also, before the taping of the show, David Kundert, chairman and CEO of Bank One Investment Group, did an interview in which he overviewed Bank One's move into e-Business with its Wingspan.com venture. The two sessions were totally different, but they drove home a single point that all chief sales officers should think about: The company across the street that has always been your competitor is not your only enemy anymore. With the acceptance of the Internet by both customers and sellers, threats to your company exist virtually as well.

The Best Defense?
Colin Powell set the stage for this epiphany during his talk in which he reviewed his military career. He explained that one of his first assignments was in Germany, where as a lieutenant, he was given command of a small group of soldiers. This was during the Cold War, and his orders were simple. He and his men were to guard a portion of the Iron Curtain and keep the Russian army from coming through. His mission was clear: They were the enemy, and they must be kept at bay.

Twenty-eight years later, General Powell was again stationed in Germany. He had many more men reporting to him, but his orders were essentially the same: Guard the entire Iron Curtain and keep the Russian army from coming through it.

This time, however, the mission was not so clear. In the Soviet Union, major changes were underway. Premier Gorbachev was in the midst of implementing a series of bold moves as part of his Perestroika policy that would totally alter the way of life for the communist state. Powell recounted that he had an opportunity to sit in a meeting with Gorbachev and his staff where the premier was outlining his plans. During his talk Gorbachev explained out that he was effectively ending the cold war, at which point he stopped, looked at General Powell and said, "You will have to go find a new enemy."

Think of the position Powell was in. For 28 years, his mission and his career were crystal clear: Protect America from the "bad guys." Now all of a sudden, he didn't know exactly who the bad guys were.

Better Me Than You
As I listened to Powell, I flashed back to David Kundert and realized his position is similar to what the general faced a few years ago. For decades the challenge of servicing customers in the banking industry was a fairly clear-cut mission: Build branches close to customers, offer competitive interest rates, provide good customer service, keep the bank across the street from stealing market share.

However, today things are changing dramatically and not just for banks. The Internet, inadequate staffing levels and "virtual" offices, among other challenges, all present threats that companies focused on the old "enemy across the street" paradigm ignore at their own peril.

Wingspan.com is Bank One's answer to that new threat. Realizing that someone in the financial community could start attacking them via the World Wide Web, Bank One decided to launch its own offensive. In Wingspan.com, it has in effect created a competitor to its traditional business. But better to do it to itself and keep customers in the family, versus losing them altogether.

The thought process Bank One went through is one I would recommend that every company consider. How have things fundamentally changed in your marketplace over the past few years? And in view of those changes, who or what is your real enemy today?

The Internet will be a legitimate threat to many companies, but it is not the only one. Let me give you some other examples.

• Current staffing levels. A number of companies we have reviewed have experienced a significant scaling back of their sales and support personnel over the past few years. This is now leaving them understaffed and unable to adequately cover the market.

• The virtual office. While Web-based common ground may save dollars in office space, the inability of employees to easily collaborate with each other to close deals and service accounts is a threat.)Increased customer expectations. Customers and prospects are demanding that sales people be experts on products and services. Product lines continue to expand and the complexity of these products increases. The more time salespeople spend learning and explaining the intricacies of a very complex product line, the fewer deals they will close in a given day.

• Working through channels. The tools and processes companies design for their own employees do not always match the way a channel partner operates. If you make it hard to sell or service your products, the business partners you are counting on to meet your revenues goals may switch to a competitor that is easier to work with.

Facing the Future
Understanding the enemies you face today is critical if you are going to make wise CRM investments. Your challenges should dictate the tools you choose. For example, we have seen a lot of investments over the past few years in technologies to help salespeople plan for and follow up on sales calls. But if your real problem is actually making great sales calls, then interactive selling systems should be the technology with which you arm reps. If customers rebel because you cannot get their orders right the first time, maybe configurations systems should be your first choice. Or if the key challenge is getting new sales reps effective quickly, then sales coaching systems may be the right answer.

We are entering a new millennium. Let's use this as an opportunity to step back and really look at our businesses, our competitors and our customers. Start with the question, "If we were going to start a brand new company to directly compete with who we are today, how would we choose to do business?" Realize that someone in your industry is going to figure out who the real enemy is and then reinvent how business is done.

Be the one to do it, not the one it is done to.
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