Sales Effectiveness Relies on Knowledge Management

Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power--the problem is finding the light switch. Sales forces across most industries have information needs that aren't being met, according to a new survey from research firm CSO Insights, titled "Increasing Sales Effectiveness Through Optimized Sales Knowledge Management." It reveals that the top-four business objectives for sales forces, according to the 1,337 sales executives who participated, are to increase revenues, improve sales effectiveness, grow market share, and extend customer loyalty. One key to achieving that longed-for effectiveness, the report says, is sharing institutional knowledge. At companies that excelled at knowledge management (KM) in their sales activities, the number of sales reps meeting or exceeding their quotas increased by 25 percent, according to Jim Dickie, partner at CSO Insights and coauthor of the report. Dickie says the information is out there, just waiting to be found. "I either have access to everything or access to nothing, and neither one is right," he says. "There's a ton of stuff out on the Internet--probably too much stuff. If I start to surf the Internet for information on competitors and the marketplace, it's like walking into the Library of Congress without the Dewey decimal system. It's the role of CRM to be the librarian: 'I just want this little piece of information; go get it.' " Given the amount of data available, he adds, "I can't get it at all, and if I do bother to get it, it's [often] wrong." The survey also reveals several telltale gaps in the KM needs and capabilities of today's sales forces. For example, 77 percent of respondents said that changes in their customers' respective marketplaces were increasing significantly, but only 37 percent said that they have the appropriate tools in place to keep pace with those changes. To generate sales effectiveness, Dickie says, CRM will have to move beyond its contact-management foundations. "We've been focused on name/address/phone number," he says. "There's a lot more information that's clearly available, but the scope of CRM projects has been very limited. If we can't throw people at it any more, we have to start throwing the right tools at the problem." Dickie says that knowing whom to deal with is no longer necessarily a one-on-one relationship. "The vice-president-level person used to be the economic person doing the buying," he says. "Today it's buying-by-committee--there are a whole lot of people who have to touch the deal." Knowing what customers want remains critical, and is often critically lacking: 79 percent of survey respondents felt that knowledge of customer objectives was extremely important, but 65 percent felt the data they had was inaccurate or outdated. That discrepancy means that the sales force has to exert itself needlessly. "Salespeople are working a lot harder than ever today just to bring in the same amount of business as they were bringing in before," Dickie says, adding that the biggest issue is that "reps weren't getting access to the info they really needed." That missing information is what needs to be addressed, he says. "[I]f you don't change something in the equation, that's going to get worse." In the end, Dickie says, "this is a problem that's totally solvable today. It's not about waiting for the capabilities to get more robust. Massive improvements are possible today." To make sales KM a reality, "people in sales operations [simply] need to go talk to the people they're working with," he says. "There are a ton of insights you can get right away, both inside and outside [the organization]." Related articles What Knowledge Management Isn't Knowledge Management Is a Key CRM Driver
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