• November 1, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Sales Away into the Cloud

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When Joe Galvin started his first job, as a door-to-door salesman for Xerox, he says he needed just three things: sales training to provide the necessary skills; familiarity with the sales process; and knowledge of his company’s offering. 

These remain the fundamentals of the sales game, but the circumstances have changed dramatically as consumers gained the upper hand thanks to the Internet — and now social technologies. “The Internet provides information,” says Galvin, now a vice president and research director at sales and marketing consultancy SiriusDecisions. “What sales needs is intelligence.” Further complicating matters, he says, is that the move online also pushed sales toward a more “dynamic, just-in-time approach.”

Jim Dickie, managing partner at CSO Insights, says that, in a survey conducted last year, the percentage of sales representatives meeting their quotas dropped from 61 percent in 2007 to 58 percent—the first drop in the study’s four-year history. And yet, in a follow-up survey, 84 percent of sales teams raised quotas for this year. No surprise, then, that the percentage of teams meeting quotas dropped again, this time to 52 percent. 

Because buying has changed, selling needs to change. Customers are no longer interested in a feature-function discussion, Dickie says — they’re looking for a business discussion. A successful salesperson should be able to pinpoint the business challenge, cite examples of past customer successes, and propose methods for how the problem can be resolved with a given product or service. 

As a result, says Ken Kramer, director of business development and marketing at sales resource optimization vendor The TerrAlign Group, the technology department is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor’s point of contact far less often than was the case 10 or even five years ago, and the solutions are far more strategic than previous offerings ever were. Companies are finally ready to take sales to the next step, he says. “They’re saying, ‘We’ve automated everything, now how can we optimize?’” 

Social networking has introduced another dimension to a sales process powered by the Internet, and many organizations are concerned that the overwhelming amount of data being generated by social media — and the time spent involved in it — will actually take away from the act of selling. 

According to Richard Berkman, vice president of sales enablement strategies at Kadient, mitigating that risk involves ensuring that social tools — like any other sales application — are introduced appropriately. In fact, argues Berkman, whose company is a provider of sales enablement solutions, the best way to benefit from social data may be to silo it first, allowing the “360-degree view” of the customer to become “360-degree involvement,” turning the sale into a collaborative effort. 

Not everyone agrees. InsideView, a provider of sales solutions, offers natural-language processing tools to unify social data for salespeople — tools that sift through the mounds of Web-based data to create what Rand Schulman, the company’s chief marketing officer, calls “a smart record that’s the arbiter of truth.” 

With SaaS, companies are able to implement a solution faster, see the results more readily, and in turn, invest in more solutions that can help sales teams make better decisions. Alhough technology barriers have come down, salespeople are still in what Dickie calls “point-solution hell.” What sales ultimately needs is a single solution that pulls all the disparate pieces together, and this, Dickie says, requires a subject-matter expert devoted to enforcing a sales standard. 

Perhaps the most frustrating reality uncovered by Dickie’s research? “Increasing revenues” was by far the top goal for 2009, but “increased revenues” ranked only 10th in terms of the benefits seen from CRM. “There’s a ton of enabling technology there,” Dickie says, “but somebody’s got to figure out how to increase effectiveness.”  


SIDEBAR: The 5 Forces of Sales Competency

Whether it’s seen as “sales enablement” or “sales readiness,” the underlying premise involves fostering the right conversation. Here are the five aspects of sales competency, according to Lee Levitt, program director of IDC's Sales Advisory Service:

People: hiring, staffing, career planning, talent management.

Sales management: forecasting, role and quota setting, behavior modification.

Sales methodology: steps to take on a repeated basis for each opportunity, tools that support the sales process. 

Sales enablement: getting the right information to the right person, at the right time, in the right place.

Customer intelligence: knowing who to call, getting deep insight on those prospects.


For the rest of the November 2009 issue of CRM magazine — a look back at the first 10 years of Salesforce.com — please click here.


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