After my first year of university, I landed a summer job in the ad department at a local newspaper. This was pre-Internet, back when newspapers were only published on actual paper.
The sales reps drew mockups of their proposed ad campaigns on paper, which were then delivered to advertising clients by two full-time drivers who zipped around town in white vans. Then one day, we all got called into the boardroom for training on a brand new gadget: the fax machine.
Suddenly, ad proofs were created, modified and approved much faster. Eventually, the two delivery vans were retired. And almost 10 years later, the Internet arrived. Since then, broadband, FTP sites, cloud computing and tablets have streamlined the process of selling and designing ads even further.
About 25 years after my group training session on the fax machine (I still remember waiting to get a dial tone), technology is still disrupting the business of selling. Here’s a look at how digital is changing sales teams.
Making customer contact with more intelligence
Many customer relationship management (CRM) systems can automatically import email information into contact databases so salespeople can track the history of every email, call, meeting or other interaction with that prospect or client.
Entire sales teams can often share and access this information in the cloud. This means other reps can avoid approaching clients who have already been contacted or conversely, provide consistent service to a customer whose sales regular rep is off sick or on vacation. The cloud also allows sales teams to collaborate in real time when creating pitches, assessing prospects or analyzing sales data.
For pure contact management, apps like ScanBizCards scan paper business cards into contact databases so they don’t have to be entered manually. For outbound sales campaigns, automated emails can save time and money, track response rates, pre-schedule follow-up emails and even include personalized greetings or message options.
Showing off products & solutions
Showing is often better than just telling. Using videoconferencing, sales people can meet with team members or clients from almost anywhere.
During face-to-face meetings, tablets are useful for showing images or videos of products to customers. Several mobile apps are available to create or edit video files or design images on the spot.
Prospects and conversion
Analytics technology can help sales teams determine if they’re targeting their desired audience, how often those consumers interact with their campaigns and the variables that result in conversion. By analyzing data on the demographics, behaviour and preferences of individual consumers, sellers can create personalized sales materials just for them.
Predictive analytics takes things a step further. Based on past purchasing patterns, it forecasts the most likely buyers for certain products and the sales approaches most likely to resonate with them.
As detailed in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), an unnamed telecom company successfully created a “collaborative filtering method” for its key sales people, similar to the analytics system Netflix employs. Netflix recommends video content to users based on past viewing selections made by them and other customers with a similar profile.
Similarly, the telecom firm’s tool suggested products and services the sales reps could offer clients based on previous purchases made by them and similar customers. Although HBR did not provide exact sales figures, it said the analytics tool “(drove) stronger uptake of new product lines and improv(ed) the realization of cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.”
Social networks have emerged as one of the newest – and most effective - sales channels. On LinkedIn, for example, the site’s Sales Navigator tool helps users identify sales prospects based on the information in LinkedIn’s database of 450 million professional contacts.
According to LinkedIn’s own 2016 survey of 1,107 U.S. sales and business development people, 71 per cent already use social selling tools. In addition, 70 per cent of the surveyed sales pros said “relationship building tools” like social media are either “impactful” or “very impactful” on their ability to grow revenue.
In Accenture’s global survey of 800 sales pros released in April, there were some interesting stats revealed:
- 80% of sales pros said they’ve adopted CRM systems.
- But only 13% are fully utilizing the capabilities of these tools.
- 59% of respondents said they’re required to use too many tools.
- 56% felt the tools they use aren’t customized to their needs.
To remedy this, Accenture said sales tools should be designed more like consumer technology: accessible, user-friendly, simple, seamless and customized for the needs of sales reps and their particular customers.
“Technology alone isn’t enough to maximize sales channels, and bringing personalization into the equation can create success,” the study suggested.
So even if your business is already ‘sold’ on sales technology, making sure it meets the unique needs of your sales staff and customers could boost its effectiveness beyond the adoption phase.
Are you using sales tools to connect with your customers and prospects? Tell us what tools have changed your sales strategy in the comments section below.
About the Author
Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.Follow on Twitter More Content by Christine Wong