Include Sales in Customer Intelligence

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Last year, when I tried to change a rental car reservation at an airport counter, agents at the big-name car rental company told me it was impossible—since I had booked the car online, any changes would have to be done through the website. The sales agents at the counter were unaware of my history of renting from the company online because they didn’t have access to the online system. This complicated the sales process so much that I stepped away to the next counter, where a competitor was better equipped to accommodate me and ultimately got my business.

This is an all-too-common problem at many companies, where two different business units (one online and one physical) use two different systems that don’t talk to one another. It prevents sales reps from fully knowing all they can about their customers, their preferences, and how best to pitch to them. As a result, most sales reps are not as aware as they could be—and some would argue, should be—about where their customers came from and the steps they took along the journey to get there.

“In general, salespeople lack full understanding of customers, how the solutions sold would actually be used by customers, and the impact the solution would make on the customer’s life,” says Lior Arussy, founder, president, and CEO of Strativity Group, a customer research and strategic planning company. “They are biased and view the world from their own perspective and sales targets.”

This is understandable, Arussy points out, because often “salespeople’s awareness varies widely based on the length of the sales cycle and the size of the deal. Longer, larger deals command more investment of time to understand customers, while shorter ones do not.”

Another problem encountered frequently in the sales cycle is that while analytics are being used, most of the time the purpose is to help sales reps sell more, not to help them understand and better serve their customers, according to Arussy.

MAKING THE TIME

Salespeople are also under constant pressure, especially if they are selling commodity items with short lead times from start to close. In this environment, they must continuously sell. They don’t have time to learn new systems or to consider how analytics could help them.

This is where the marketing department can step in.

“If you have a sales force that has a marketing arm that is responsible for lead gathering and qualification, tracking where the leads are sourced from, how they score as potential buyers, and so on, the sales force itself isn’t going to care much about the source of the lead. They will figure it’s marketing’s responsibility, but they’ll go with it,” says Tiffani Bova, global growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce.com. “They figure that marketing will track each customer, from initial contact and sale through service and delivery, and that marketing can use the analytics.”

On the flip side, if a salesperson doesn’t have channel tracking enablement from marketing, the process can become more difficult.

“I still believe that most salespeople have not harnessed the power and the intelligence of CRM and marketing intelligence in general, not to mention knowledge about customer behaviors and profiles on different selling channels,” Bova says.

But the real question is whether sales reps are actively using information about their customers—such as their preferred communications channels—to best direct sales pitches to them. “The smart ones are,” Arussy says. “Those who value their time will use tools to ensure they are not spreading their efforts too widely and are targeting [customers with] the highest chances of success.”

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