• July 1, 2008
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

CRM: Your Personal Digital Assistant

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Despite the advance of technology, salespeople continue to face one big challenge: simply connecting with customers or prospects. Call a prospect, and what do you get? Voicemail, most of the time. Email a customer to schedule an appointment, and you end up playing tag before agreeing on a time to talk. It would be great if we had personal assistants to do the connecting tasks for our reps, but that can be cost-prohibitive. So is this just the way of life? Not necessarily.

Since the beginning of the year I have been contacted by several new players in the CRM space, offering what I have started to term digital assistant solutions for sales reps. Let me share a couple that caught my attention.

Prospecting. ConnectAndSell (www.connectandsell.com), of Redwood City, Calif., offers an interesting combination of software and "liveware" to help your rep connect with potential clients. The way it works is elegant in its simplicity: Your sales rep sets aside a two-hour time period to call prospects, signs into ConnectAndSell, uploads the call list to use, and tells the system "I’m ready."

Eight ConnectAndSell reps immediately start making calls. Within two-tenths of a second from the time any of them reaches a live person, the call is transferred to the rep. The contact information for the person being called pops up simultaneously on the rep’s PC, and the dialogue can start immediately. Testing this myself, I found the transfer to be so quick that the person I was calling -- well, the person who was called for me -- had no idea that I hadn’t initiated the call myself.

After the conversation, the salesperson updates the call notes, hits the "go" button, and the ConnectAndSell team starts calling again. Based on the combination of working harder (eight dialing fingers are better than one) and smarter (instantaneous call transfers and contact-data pop-ups), the salesperson spends those two hours doing lots of talking -- and zero time dialing.

Scheduling appointments. TimeTrade Systems (www.timetrade.com), of Bedford, Mass., has an answer. Say a sales rep is in the middle of last-minute negotiations with a prospect firm. He gets word that its CFO wants to discuss the warranty before she will sign off on a contract forecast to close this month. With TimeTrade’s TimeDriver, the salesperson now has access to a digital assistant to make sure that this meeting happens.

The rep sees what times he has available over the next couple of days to get the issue resolved. He then sends the CFO an email (as he might normally do), but this time he uses TimeDriver. The email asks the CFO for a meeting, and at the end of the communiqué there is a button that says simply "Schedule Now." As soon as the CFO hits that link, she now has dynamic access -- via TimeDriver -- to all of the times the rep is available to talk, and she can pick the day and time that works best for her.

The application then takes communication enhancement several steps further by prompting the CFO to tell the rep what part of the warranty agreement she wants to discuss. Thus, the salesperson not only has a time set to review the agreement, but also knows what the issues are beforehand. TimeDriver then automatically sends the CFO an email confirming the appointment, and drops the scheduled appointment into her Outlook or Google calendar. In addition, shortly before the scheduled date and time, TimeDriver emails her a meeting reminder.

These and dozens of other solutions entering the market are positioning CRM to be an invaluable tool in terms of taking over the admin tasks -- freeing reps to do more of what we hired them to do in the first place: sell.

Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at jim.dickie@csoinsights.com.

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