Be it optimising processes or driving revenue growth, the key is focus on the client conversation!
It all started – many years back – with sales force automation which laid the foundation for companies to drive their sales processes. The challenge was daunting – managing opportunities, accounts, contacts and pipelines for sales forecasting, and the goal of sales force automation was to improve operational efficiencies. Over time, many peripheral sales processes such as lead management, quote management, territory management, strategic account management and partner relationship management were also integrated to build a single platform for managing the entire client journey. Recent innovation is looking to add predictive analytics for opportunities, business process modeling, sales-methodology overlay and vertical specific products to further optimize workflows.
But removing operating inefficiencies can rarely – on its own – deliver revenue growth; and this realisation shifted focus to sales efficiency (mostly under the head of performance or productivity) and brought in initiatives to develop sales capability. It led to the emergence of new tools and processes – all within the SFA environment – starting with sales content management (creation, curation, and analytics for usage and influence), feeding it into onboarding, coaching, role-play, training and slowly extending to applying this knowledge to specific sales situations with curated account intelligence, just-in-time training, recommended sales content and many similar functions. Increased experimentation with such tools can be seen under broad initiatives of sales enablement or sales excellence (or even the not so fancy old-but-still-relevant sales training).
It’s quite fascinating to watch these innovations. It sounds so cool, so intelligent – a system that can dynamically deliver contextual content to me, that too just when I need it. However there is one big catch. The efficacy of these targeted push solutions is highly dependent on the quality of data that exists in the system – the data needs to be accurate and timely to build the contexts and identify the co-relations, else it will end up delivering static set of pre-defined resources or running predictive analytics on an incomplete or even worse irrelevant data set. And this is where most of the current systems start to fail to deliver on the promise.
In this scenario, I am reminded of a lesson I learnt (as always the hard way) in the early days of my career – a lesson I have never been able to forget – that you can be highly efficient but continue to do the wrong thing (!) and that the measure can never be actions but has to be only-and-only outcomes.
The focus really needs to shift from efficiency to effectiveness… You can argue that many of the sales enablement solutions are designed to improve effectiveness as well… and it may even be true for simple out-of-the-box solutions where you need to deliver consistent messaging about what you do and what you offer and deal with a set of known objections. However, my experience has been that in today’s complex business scenarios, selling is not about talking of what you can offer but instead understanding the client’s pain points and challenges and often extrapolating the implicit needs from those conversations. Solutions are not static and a solution that fits one set of conditions may not be effective in another.
The key to effectiveness is to understand the situation and ask the right set of questions at the right time. It’s a challenge not just to know what to ask but to figure out what is more important and relevant in the current context.
With growing sales cycles and increased cost-of-sales, the need is to maximise every client interaction. But there is little support from the environment, which continues to be weak on managing and driving client conversations as also extracting actionable intelligence from sales interactions.
It is not hard to understand the real problem – all these systems are designed for management and there is very little for the person in the field to gain – a person whose life revolves around clients – he meets new clients and stays in touch with old clients, building relationships, understanding their needs, finding about their pain points, talking about solutions, understanding other options and in the process collecting so much of data and bits-and-pieces of market action, competition strategy and emerging innovative alternatives. All this real intelligence just sits in people’s heads and never gets shared into the systems. If it did – it would open up a plethora of options on which to respond and stimulate business decisions that can transform the win cycles.
The crux then is to capture the client conversations – accurately and in-time. This will bring the larger organization into the decision making circle and also drive these next-gen intelligent systems to drive the cycle of contextual discoveries.
Accurate and timely capture drives contextual discovery, which in turn drives dynamic responses and maximises client conversations.
But the big question – how? Hardly anyone has been able to drive client conversations into the CRM.
Arti is the co-founder of humanLearning – a fast growing UK-based technology startup – setup with an earnest desire to make the life of busy professionals simpler and more effective. hL is disrupting business workflows thru short structured and searchable videos and event-driven SaaS. Arti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Arti has spent a major part of her working life in the field trying to create new opportunities in the leading edge high-technology complex solution space and used this experience to design their new platform vyn.
vyn, a new tool, tries to address the challenge of feeding client conversations into CRM by embedding the way of selling into daily action. Centered on client conversations, it asks the right people, the right questions at the right time. Structured storyboards ensure that no important aspect is missed out and by making sure that one speaks for less than a minute, it keeps it just to the point. With short, storyboarded videos, it is now easy to capture updates, insights or any other information directly into the CRM – wherever one may be – and allow all stakeholders to participate and contribute to moving the conversation forward.
But where the tool really scores is that it slowly starts to assist the sales person in daily chores… its like a super efficient virtual assistant – that mostly leaves you alone but in between sends a few prompts – triggered on key events in the client journey – these provide timely reminders for urgent actions and make sure that you don’t miss anything. Even better, when you need it most, it guides you with simple storyboards at every step and ensures that you are fully prepared with the right set of questions and answers at the right time, and can maximise every client conversation. And of-course it makes life simpler…
[This article was first published @LinkedIn on 03 March 2017.]