Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The sales professional in 2015: proactive, advising and especially perfectly informed

Your customer knows all the specifics of your product, is well known with the common prices in the marketplace, has googled your companies’ and most-likely your name as well. Equipped with all the information he can find, your customer goes to battle.

To be honest, drinking a cup of coffee over a general sales conversation simply does not do it anymore. It stands clear that the sales environment is undergoing a large transformation.

Customers have unrestricted access to information on the internet, and are usually active on social media. Because of this, they are well informed, and know exactly what they do and don’t want. This has great impact on you as a sales professional. In a B2B environment for instance, customers have checked all product specifications and prices even before contacting you. The only reason they need you as a salesperson, is for a good offer.

Sales in 1995

What a difference with twenty years ago. Before the current millennium, the internet wasn’t much.
If you wanted information on a certain topic, you would visit the library and read a book.
With the information being scarce, sales had all the power. He literally brought information to the customer using company brochures, product leaflets and pricelists. The customer needed the salesperson to make a good choice. In many cases, the customer would follow the advice of the salesrep. He after all was the one with the monopoly on wisdom.

A new way of doing business

In order to ‘hold the line’ against the well-informed customer, sales professionals these days need to be even better informed than the other party at the table. This is the only way to stay in the lead of the sales conversation. I would think that you should know at least as much about your customer as your customer knows about you. Sales professions should know what drives their customers, where they have been, which websites they have visited, what is important to them, what they are looking for and what they are not looking for. The more you know about your customer, the better you can focus on their specific needs. But where do you get this information?

A transformation in sales = a transformation in IT

CRM systems play an important role in the transformation. These systems existed well before the new millennium, but had a mainly transactional duty. Planning meetings, registering sales opportunities and following up on the sales process. The functionality fit the role of a salesrep in the old days. With the shift in sales, so should the CRM systems.

How I see this? I look at modern CRM systems as a collection of information, as a centralized location where all customer data is gathered. ‘Customer data’ not referring to just historical data on sales and service, but also external data such as visits of events, websites, articles on blogs, fora, social media. What are the customer’s personal and professional interests? This unstructured data, combined with the information from logistic and financial processes, gives an enormous uplift on your customer insights. This allows you to build a full profile on the customer, also known as a unique and priceless salestool.

All information in the digital collection is combined and analysed, enabling sales professionals to give even better tailored advice and offers. This, like twenty years ago, puts them back in the driver’s seat. Your sales can now advice the customer how to make a better profit, re-establishing the added value of the sales professional.

The sales rep in the driver’s seat.

The sales rep as an advisor, that is how I see the future. A powerful CRM system enabling this. With rich, accurate information on the customer, sales professionals can focus on the needs of the customers, and can mould their offerings to these needs. And maybe even more important, they can ‘hold the line’ against the well-informed customer.

About Taco Schallenberg
Taco Schallenberg is co-founder and director of Acorel, an SAP consultancy company with a strong focus on CRM solutions, mobility and cloud. For customers such as ABN Amro, Bose, Douwe Egberts and Agrifirm, they support the improvement of sales-, service- and marketing processes.
Taco has a track record in consultancy, CRM marketing, sales and SAP implementations. “I am driven to help make our customers more successful by implementing innovative solutions.”