Finally you can relax in the knowledge that your IT department's adoption of real-time operations software has put your enterprise in the competitive catbird seat. Or can you?
Improved processes and performance will certainly accrue if your real-time enterprise (RTE) roadmap embraces marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), partners, and even customers. But those benefits may find themselves playing to an empty house if your RTE roadmap fails to also address the effectiveness of those on the front lines of growing your business: your sales force.
An overarching goal of RTE lies with the need for "process automation to manage the detailed steps involved in moving transactions and business events from start to finish," says Yankee Group CRM analyst Sheryl Kingstone. In practice, she adds, business context management routing logic "should allow information to flow to all the right places at the right time." A complete list of those "right places" must include additional touch points between sales and the customer, between sales and marketing, between sales and sales support, and between sales and ERP.
Overlooking these touch points can create an especially rough road for businesses characterized by dynamic pricing, sophisticated products or services, custom packaging, high churn, or other factors requiring a consultative, rather than passive order-taking, sales force. The real-time linking of salespeople to processes and data across the enterprise can elevate consultative selling to the norm, help close more deals, and as CRM consultant Barton Goldenberg suggests, upper management will see a drumbeat of documented RTE successes, including "quick wins and operational excellence," (CRM magazine, October 2002, page 20).
Real-Time Touch-Point Number One: Sales and the Customer
Whether most companies seek to sell directly to new prospects via electronic disintermediation or, as Yankee Group's Kingstone suggests, to "facilitate commerce and collaboration with existing customers, suppliers, and partners [via] re-intermediation," many RTEs are certainly pursuing new sales, up-sales, and cross-sales by bringing marketing and ERP information directly to customers through the Internet.
Toward that end, pricing and product availability information anchor many a corporate Web site, and CRM vendors continue to apply real-time processes to personalizing that data. This can allow, for example, a telecom carrier's predictive offer management software to automatically tailor and present new premium offers to known premium users.
However, enticing a prospect does not equal closing a deal. Salespeople charged with pulling that hooked Web prospect aboard the boat typically continue to lack optimal access to real-time information. Consequently, lost opportunity costs mount as the salesperson finds himself out of the real-time loop on a discount or new feature. The salesperson denied access to real-time intelligence will become all too practiced in telling tales of the ones that got away. In contrast, sellers with timely, relevant intelligence at their fingertips will carry negotiations to successful ends.
Real-Time Touch-Point Number Two: Sales and Marketing
While every marketing and sales department seeks mutual collaboration, the usual practice still involves marketers devising products, prices, positioning, and promotions, throwing them over the wall to sales, then waiting helplessly until after the fact to analyze the effectiveness of what they've devised.
If it is to gain a palpable, real-time influence on effectiveness during actual sales, marketing must have a real-time flow of information on the selling process.Managing this flow requires tools that automate the capture of each sales action. It also requires an interface that is easy and beneficial to use when compared with arduous manual reporting.
Given real-time insight drawn from 'watching' each sale unfold, both sales and marketing can improve their approaches at the speed of actual business. A so-so or negative response to a new campaign can be discovered well before more funds are wasted on it. Pricing can be tuned this week, rather than next. A creative or impromptu stroke of selling genius can be replicated immediately across other products, services, or promotions.
In short, tearing down this wall between marketing and sales and opening the way to transforming mere cooperation into real-time collaboration and consultation is the way of the future.
Real-Time Touch-Point Number Three: Sales and Sales Support
A familiar "before" picture: The salesperson enters a prospect's office with a colossal encyclopedia of guidance on products, features, options, discount bundles, cross-sells, upsells, brochures, position papers, and promotions, thuds it down on a desk, and for the next hour, repeatedly resorts to the phrase, "I know that's in here somewhere." For many lines of business, expanding product lines have created such scenarios, leaving the average salesperson with little chance to keep up with the knowledge needed to sell effectively.
Real-time sales support can revolutionize selling effectiveness by ensuring that the salesperson is not overwhelmed by unnecessary information and is, instead, provided with the right information at the right time during sales activity. Through mechanisms offered by some sales automation systems, the real-time input of sales actions and queries automatically triggers the release of information or proposals relevant to the specific circumstances and stages in the sales cycle. In addition, real-time sales incorporate instant messaging, email, form-based, and other synchronous and asynchronous collaboration with sales support, engineering and other aides.
The happy "after" picture: Timely, intelligently filtered information coupled with rapid exchange of support communications yields real-time generation of information and proposals that speed a customer's ability to act decisively.
Real-Time Touch-Point Number Four: Sales and ERP
Much RTE effort has sought to provide enterprisewide access to snapshots of a customer's buying history and behavior. These efforts clearly yield useful needs discovery information, but from the salesperson's vantage, complex processes remain undone: How is that history to be intelligently and rapidly combined with all the dynamically evolving sales encyclopedia information to positively effect sales?
As the customer changes, real-time needs discovery can help the salesperson to sell the customer again, matching constantly changing customer needs with constantly changing product portfolios.
In financial services, for example, ERP can share the fact of a large deposit with a real-time sales application to automatically trigger an opportunity to sell the customer on moving that money from checking to a money market fund or other higher return account. In telecom, real-time sales software can turn high network utilization data from the network management component of ERP to trigger an upsell of overflow bandwidth.
However deflated the concepts of Web time or Internet time may have become in recent months, the actual speed of business continues to accelerate. This law of competitive dynamics stands out in a tight economy and is leading many firms to develop RTE roadmaps. Yet real-time roadmaps may fail to take into account real-time selling at the company's peril.
"Sales and service personnel are your ears and eyes to the ground who can provide current information on demand signals they observe in the marketplace," from spending patterns and competitor pricing to customer wish lists, says Yankee Group's Kingstone. "Providing visibility at every critical point of customer contact can improve service and decrease costs."
By mapping real-time processes among sales, marketing, sales support, ERP and the customer, an enterprise can yield effective sales greater than the sum of myriad product, inventory, and customer behavior data. And one of the most important representatives of any company--the salesperson--can be brought up to speed with the enterprise at large.
Michael Heflin is the CEO of WhisperWire, a provider of sales effectiveness solutions. Heflin has more than 20 years experience in sales and has worked extensively in the CRM industry. Prior to WhisperWire, Heflin was chairman and CEO of Fracta Networks, which was acquired by Divine Inc. Prior to that Heflin was the COO for Xelus Inc., where he led strategy and execution teams to relaunch the company, rebuild the sales force, and develop multiple product lines. Heflin also served as vice president of North American Sales for Vantive (acquired by PeopleSoft in 2000). His leadership at Vantive helped grow revenue more than 100 percent annually for five years.