Today's sales organizations are under more pressure than ever to find new business opportunities. Management continues to raise the bar on sales quotas and emphasize productivity to boost the bottom line. Yet reduced territory sizes and greater market competition make it difficult for an individual sales representative to succeed. So-called sales intelligence products and services promise to help but ultimately come up short. In fact, intelligence turns out to be something of a misnomer. These tools, which take advantage of Web 2.0 social networking to generate contact databases, tend to lack data accuracy.
What's needed is an entirely new kind of opportunity-alert solution that helps sales representatives identify and engage with smart sales targets--those that are more likely to progress through the sales pipeline. These new solutions must enable sales professionals to work smarter and reduce the time they spend on research and promotion by:
Facilitating strategic engagement with prospects
Why Traditional Sales Solutions Fall Short
Over the past decade, enterprises have spent heavily on CRM and SFA to improve workflow and overall sales productivity. Some sales productivity gains have been made. CRM and SFA systems have streamlined areas such as pipeline management--the tracking, coordination, and administration side of the sales function. But these systems have not fundamentally changed the sales equation to make sales representatives more efficient. Specifically, the systems have not transformed sales from a quantity- to quality-driven process, thus have not enabled sales representatives to work smarter versus harder. In fact, the additional data entry steps imposed by CRM/SFA take time away from meeting with customers or making prospecting calls to further develop a pipeline.
There also are numerous online service providers that are focused on delivering data about prospects and customers. But the wealth of information they provide has proven to be too much of a good thing and many users find themselves buried in an avalanche of facts and figures--many of them irrelevant. Even a highly trained Web researcher may need an hour or more just to research a single company. That time sink is unacceptable to sales professionals with hundreds of prospects to pursue in a relatively short make-contact time frame.
Good leads, good products and services, and talented salespeople do not ensure that deals will be made. Those elements mean nothing if they aren't matched with the right opportunity--the right offering and the right call to the right person at just the right time. And that essential, make-or-break component of selling--finding opportunities, calling on them before the competition does, and capitalizing on them via strategic insights and connections--is far beyond the reach of conventional data and IT.
New Real-Time Solutions Meets Reps' Requirements
But the situation is changing with the emergence of a new category of sales technology called opportunity intelligence (OI). These new solutions apply recent advances in information gathering, search, and analysis to rapidly and accurately perform some of the most vital but heretofore most difficult, time-consuming, and error-prone aspects of the sales process. The key to OI is its ability to track prospect and customer activity and identify key selling opportunities as they happen in real time. In doing so OI eliminates days of unfocused research, fruitless cold calls, and missed opportunities, enabling sales professionals to go straight to engagements and do what they do best: sell.
Sales professionals set industry- and application-specific selling triggers to detect sales opportunities. These could include or target companies for leadership changes, new product offerings, acquisitions, expanding operations, and positive or negative financial results, for example, whether a company is exceeding or falling short of sales expectations or the performance of its competitors.
Until recently, OI was technically impractical. However, in the past few years technological advances have made this type of solution possible. These developments include: a large quantity of constantly updated data--on companies' activities, financials, and personnel--now collected in public and private databases and new analytic techniques to recognize patterns and meanings in underlying data and distinguish relevant from irrelevant information.
OI is a dramatic departure from past sales solutions. It is the only solution to apply automated intelligence to solve the strategic challenges of sales, versus current systems that only automate administrative and procedural functions. It enables sales professionals to quickly and precisely pinpoint actual sales opportunities and be notified as opportunities emerge.
These benefits are more than hypothetical. A leading Fortune 500 vendor of computer security software and services estimates that with OI, it can save nearly 21,000 hours of research time across a pilot team of 45 sales representatives over the next year, increasing sales by $16 million in just four quarters.
In an increasingly complex, competitive, and rapidly changing business environment, sales can no longer get by with hit-or-miss, cold-calling approaches. Sales must become more strategic. OI solutions are emerging to reshape the competitive landscape and become a compulsory tool for high-impact sales.
About the Author
Umberto Milletti is the founder and CEO of InsideView (www.insideview.com), the pioneering sales opportunity intelligence service. Before founding InsideView, Umberto was an executive and cofounder of DigitalThink, a provider of Web-based corporate training services.