Linking Data to Build Sales
When most people think of the Weather Channel they think about our television weather reports. It seems like a simple, straightforward business, but behind the screen things are more complicated.
The Weather Channel is our core business, which includes on-air programming, weather scanning service, and the localized 24x7 weather-report product we sell to local programmers. There is also The Weather Channel Latin America and WSI, a weather-content data provider. Add our distinct Internet business, weather.com, and what you have is a whole lot of data constantly being accessed by sales and marketing people who are trying to sell programming or advertising slot time to customers.
To keep all our business data in order we were using ACT! databases installed in individual departments and business units, and managed by separate account managers. But because many departments might be considering going after the same clients or following the same leads, this caused problems. There was no way for departments to have even a high overview of what others were doing--even something as simple as determining whether Latin American sales was meeting with a customer at 2 p.m. and WSI was meeting with them the same day at 4 p.m.
This made the company look disorganized--and it was. Our distributed environment created a constant and very real risk of sending inconsistent messages to the customer or prospect, ultimately causing potential damage to the relationship.
It was time for a change.
After reviewing our problem areas we determined that we not only needed a product that could link disparate databases, but also provide multiple view levels on demand. Reporting had to be easy and Web-based.
There was another important aspect to the system we hoped to design: We wanted account managers to feel that they had the same level of control and privacy over their material. In essence we wanted to still be able to have some information segregation, but clearly not at the extreme level of the previous ACT! databases.
After an extensive due-diligence process we settled on Salesforce.com. The product was robust enough to link our entire existing databases, with room to grow. It gave account managers a place to keep meeting notes for themselves and to manage tentative leads before sharing them with their bosses; yet managers and senior leaders could still see across the enterprise as needed.
Because we were trying to move salespeople to a system that would appear to be removing privacy and control from them, it became incredibly important to walk our sales folks through the Salesforce.com process as a way of showing them how much time they would save and how much easier their lives would become.
What we did was quite literally sit down and play-act a lead generation, sale, contract, and billing scenario, all the while coaching the sales staff on how to complete these tasks with the system. This was different from focus groups or mass training sessions, because it allowed us to alleviate fears about the new process on a one-on-one basis.
Ultimately we were able to fashion a product that gives sales managers a sense of individuality and control over what each salesperson is doing. At the same time it gives them the ability to communicate with each other and their own bosses in a time frame they feel is business appropriate. Most important, today we can say that everyone is on the same page.