Sales 101

John Rossi, YSU Marketing Faculty:
Sales 101: How Technology Is Revolutionizing Sales

January 2, 2018

Did you ever want to smash your computer or toss your mobile device across the room? Me too. Many times.

One of my all-time favorite office cartoons is “Duck Smashing a Computer.” It exemplified the human condition, regardless of position or industry, of being continually frustrated with and by technology.

I have yet to see a similar cartoon that accurately represents the shockingly short tolerance we have for our device’s seemingly slow response.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago we waited minutes for our modems to respond. Now it is only seconds  – even less  – and we still act just as frustrated as “the Duck.”

In sales we have experienced a technology revolution of sorts, too. We have seen the internet move from a dial-up medium of email and electronic brochures to a broadband, fiber-optic and wireless communications medium capable of transmitting two-way video in real time and conducting commerce with the click of a mouse. It has also taken the art of persuasive communication and the science of informing and educating customers to new and novel dimensions.

Nowadays we don’t even recognize the evolution of technology because our culture absorbs new technologies rapidly by comparing it to what is familiar — a new version of something we already understand.

Take the telephone for instance, which Alexander Graham Bell, a Scottish immigrant, patented in 1876. At the time it was perceived as a more convenient form of the telegraph. Then people realized that it would be much more useful as a device to hold one-to-one conversations. Now, a century-and-a-half later, we take the telephone for granted. It’s ubiquitous, particularly since mobile phones appeared in 1973.

The transformation of the personal computer is no different. Computer history doesn’t begin with the familiar names such as IBM, Apple or Microsoft.

The first personal computer appeared about 1975 as a DIY kit for home use. When it was introduced to business, executives saw it as a cheaper version of a word-processor (i.e., typewriter). Does anyone remember carbon-paper copies and the tiny bottles of WiteOut? The personal computer and its sister, the laptop, along with its second-cousin, the tablet, are now seen as essential productivity tools that belong on every desk and in every briefcase.

Today nearly every aspect of the sales process is being altered in a variety of ways, small and large.

So as you’re thinking about this new year and contemplating investments in technology, you’ll want to think about how technology has changed the sales process in your industry.

You need to ask yourself and your team: What role can selling technologies and sales-force automation play in helping your organization to adapt and evolve and thereby better serve its customers or clients?

Sales-force automation is clearly no longer about the device. It is much more about the customer relationship management (CRM) tools it provides that automate the sales pipeline by way of streamlining functional activities.

These include inventory, leads, forecasting, salesman performance, sales metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) they compile, and the analyses they present to management in the form of dashboards, graphical summaries and overviews.

Salesforce, SugarCRM, Zoho, Nutshell and GoldMine are five examples of popular sales force automation products you may have heard of by now and are considering.

Most CRM systems incorporate two fundamental components: content activity management and sales process management.

The first consists of tracking customers, their activities, forecasting, individual contacts, customer communication and sales histories and account-based analytics, the second of tracking leads and various opportunity pipeline data and sales process metrics.

Big-ticket enterprise systems such as Marketo and HubSpot have effectively integrated both sales and marketing functions into a seamless cloud-based platform and distributive software application that works with most all devices.

Last July, Gartner Inc., a leading research and advisory company, issued a report, “Magic Quadrant for Sale Force Automation,” which predicted that by 2020, 30% of all business-to-business companies will employ artificial intelligence to augment at least one of their primary sales processes.

Think about your own organization and your sales pipeline. Recall the seven stages in the sales process and make a guess about which of your processes might benefit from employing artificial intelligence.

So if your team and organization are considering investing this year in sales force automation and customer relationship management tools, here are some helpful suggestions. Consider and rank the primary features important to you and your team, to your firm, and target your own industry. Among the common elements are:

  •  Integrations and access to API (application programming interfaces).
  •  Cadence, the frequency that you and your sales team reach out to prospective clients/customers and the methods you use to contact them, typically best if structured and consistent.
  •  Contact management.
  •  Partner tracking.
  •  Database management.
  •  Pipeline management.
  •  Quotation and order handling.
  •  Contract management.
  •  Product and price controls.
  •  Performance reporting.
  •  Territory-quota management, along with task assignment or alignment.
  •  Maybe sales “gamification” to motivate sales behaviors and internal competition.

Equally important secondary features should include: customer service automation, marketing automation, social media/relationship channel management and possible CPQ customization (Configure products, Price orders and generate Quotes) if applicable to your business and industry.

Technical considerations might include: Is it OK to be cloud-based, or does it need to be installed on-premise and on a secure company server? What does mobile implementation look like on smartphones, tablets and laptops (Android app, iOS app, or web app)? Will it be deployed in more than one location, on more than one type of devices, or involve several currencies? Does it need to be customizable and what are the IT infrastructure and coding-programing requirements, if any?

Management considerations should encompass: How long will it take to implement and deploy given the current program and processes? This should include minimum and maximum project timelines. How is the solution priced and structured (cost per user and licensing)?

Is there a demo to try out for a trial period? What has been the response of other organizations that have purchased, implemented and deployed the solution? Can you contact them directly?

What is the vendor’s technical support commitment? How long is it and at what price? How do you take the fullest advantage of the vendor’s proprietary training programs?

Given all the considerations mentioned above, along with the level of purchase complexity and given your own experiences with technologies, you may realize that although you are a professional sales organization, you also need to think like a “typical” customer-client-buyer yourself.

As a sales professional, you should recognize the irony.

Have sales questions? Email John Rossi at Sales101@business-journal.com.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.