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Don’t be a sales blast from the past

Sales has changed dramatically since the ’90s and, while that decade  might be fun for the occasional trip down memory lane, sales has come a long way since then.

Sales has changed dramatically since the ’90s and, while that decade  might be fun for the occasional trip down memory lane, sales has come a long way since then.

Sometimes it’s fun to look back at the way we used to do things in our industry, to realise how far we have come and what advancements mean for us today.

I remember the days in sales when we used to keep records on a spreadsheet, with columns to record data and rows for each customer.

Typically that system wasn’t very good at separating certain types of information, such as sales and support events, or ‘opportunities’ and ‘customer service’. Such information was generally crammed into a ‘Notes’ column.

Sometimes this was a paper-based system. Sales teams used a ring-binder and pages had to be sorted. Sheets of paper had to be removed when a contact was made with a customer, then re-ordered to ensure the sequence was always correct.

Worst of all was the old, spreadsheet processes usually didn’t have a proper, master version. This meant data would go missing because somebody had it on their laptop and their hard drive failed, or they lost their laptop, or they left the company.

“Over the past five years there has been a 15% drop in the number of salespeople hitting their quota, from 63% to 53%.”

When they left, all customer information would go with them. So there was no real sense of forecasting, of managing a pipeline or of figuring out what to focus on in your territory, based on historical sales performance.

Customers too felt the difference. Unless a sales rep was working with a very small base of high-value clients, consultative sales and building advice relationships was impossible – the data just wasn’t there. This may be why, now, people are most likely to think ‘pushy’, ‘hard’, ‘difficult’ and ‘ugh’ when asked what they think of when they hear ‘salesperson’.  

The next step forward was when somebody would come in, perhaps an expensive consulting firm or a young, summer intern, and they’d build a database. There were always synchronisation issues and there was always corruption of data, which made people argue that the paper-based system was better.

For such systems to work, and for sales-based businesses to thrive in such an environment, customer expectations had to be fairly low compared to today. And of course, they were. Today, the way people buy is very different.

That was sales then, this is sales now

Today, most buyers do their research before they talk to a vendor. Buyers don’t need a salesperson, or a brand, to tell them about a product or its pricing, quality or reputation. Customers do their own research and, when they finally get in touch, they are already 65% to 70% of the way through their purchasing journey.

They want to see a demo, do a test drive or discuss free training. They’re contacting the vendor to simply remove the risk items, to clear any doubts.

Plus, business buyers have had their expectations raised by the levels of customer delight they’re experiencing in a B2C environment. They’re used to that now, and they expect the same in a B2B environment.

Has sales arrived at its destination?

The most frightening aspect about looking into the past is the realisation that many businesses are not far advanced from that historic view of CRM. Some businesses still use spreadsheets. Some were early adopters of new technology, but didn’t continue to upgrade. And others utilise technology well but in siloed applications, meaning they have a system for sales, a system for service support, a system for marketing.

So nostalgia can be fun, but it can also reveal serious weaknesses.

Despite all the advances in technology and training, a report from Frost & Sullivan says that over the past five years there has been a 15% drop in the number of salespeople hitting their quota, from 63% to 53%.  

But among companies with a sales-enablement charter, almost 74% of salespeople hit their quota. It’s a clear message around the power of up-to-date technology to assist in identifying and satisfying customer needs.

The same research says 65% of companies run their contact centre in the cloud today, and another 30% expect to do so within the next two years.

Just as they do in the B2C environment, customers expect the brand to predict what’s going to happen in the relationship and to get ahead of it, to ensure nothing goes wrong. When something does go wrong, there’s a mass of other vendors to choose from.

Why does anyone use a CRM system? It’s because they want to track relationships with customers and provide better levels of service. But they also want to be able to drive consistency across all processes, so the entire business can see into the future. Great technology in siloes is no longer good enough.

Find out how to leverage the most modern technology to excel in speed, productivity and customer expectations. Download the Frost & Sullivan ‘Modern sales team, yesterday’s CRM?’ ebook. 

Ever feel like something’s holding your sales rep’s back?

Phil Cleary

Phil Cleary leads sales enablement for Salesforce in APAC, building and delivering on-boarding, product training, business acumen and selling skills programs for sales professionals across Australia, Singapore and India.

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