Be Your Sales Team’s CIO

Thanks for the great response to my call for feedback on analysis and reporting tools in my analysis tools column. I’ve heard from plenty of you about log file analysis tools but haven’t heard much about reporting tools that go beyond the log file to combine transactional, financial, and profile data. It’s not too late for your two cents’ worth! Do you have a tool you use on top of a data warehouse to analyze, manipulate, or present data? Tell me what it is. What are its pros, cons, successes, or failures? I’ll share results in a couple of weeks.

On to today’s topic — working with your sales force.

In some organizations, there’s very little sharing of information between sales and marketing, usually for political reasons. It’s like the relationship between the FBI and the CIA, everyone vies for position and considers information a competitive weapon. Even in organizations where communications are good, there’s usually room for improvement.

Whatever your company’s climate, you can make a difference by reaching out on your own. Your sales team needs your help. Whether you realize it or not, you need theirs. I’m speaking primarily to analysts, but adapt this idea to your own marketing situation.

There’s great potential for a two-way sharing of information between sales and marketing. It’s so obvious but rarely taken advantage of, even in companies with CIOs.

Consider a top account for which spending has dropped off. The salesperson speaks directly with the client and learns a competitor is vying for some or all of the business currently flowing to you. The client tells the rep, “Your prices are too high.” The rep responds with a 15 percent across-the-board discount. You, meanwhile, look at historical data and determine the spending decline is confined to one product. You conclude (erroneously) the client isn’t happy with that product.

In this example, a salesperson unnecessarily discounts products that aren’t at risk, and marketing goes off to research customer satisfaction with a product that works just fine.

You cannot assume salespeople know all they need to about your products or competitors. You also can’t assume they take the time to read any of the reports you send them. Get involved! Open the lines of communication and offer assistance. You’ll be surprised at the payback.

I helped a company conduct a sales training session that dealt with overcoming objections. My role specifically concerned objections due to competing products or businesses. We played a “Family Feud” style game as an icebreaker. The first question was “Name the top three reasons our Product X is better than competitor Product Y.” None of the salespeople knew the answer — although they’d been receiving competitive product updates for over a year! They assumed the two products were the same, although there were legitimate differences not visible to the naked eye. They never read those updates. They focused on landing new customers, not watching the competition.

It was rewarding to see the light bulb go on. They realized our product really was better than our competitors’, and there was a way to make a customer understand the differences. The salespeople saw the opportunity for a fatter commission check by mining the data and learning a little about competitors. As a result of the session, we created profiles of “typical” customers based on demographic and other data. We worked one on one with salespeople to pinpoint opportunities for specific accounts by comparing them to a profile. We then provided ammunition against competing products to win back lost business and create new business within existing accounts.

The information highway is a two-way street. It was valuable for marketing to learn the salespeople weren’t going to read our competitive updates, but we’d get results by talking to them in person. We, in turn, learned what kind of information sales reps needed. Not general information that required them to draw conclusions, but conclusions with some supporting general information.

As you work directly with your sales force to address issues with specific accounts or products, you become a clearinghouse for sales strategies and issues that must be shared. Perhaps Sales Rep Sally doesn’t know Sales Rep John encountered the same problem last year and knows how to overcome it. Your involvement makes it possible to combine customer comments to the rep, historical account data, and competitive and product information, all to increase account revenue. The sales folks get a pretty good education along the way and start applying new methods to increase revenues.

Pick up the phone and call one of your salespeople today. Review customer data, competitive data, reports, and customer feedback. Figure out where you can help one other. Join her on a sales call. There’s nothing like meeting a customer in person to help you understand what your sales force is up against. If your company doesn’t have a sales force, you can still segment your customer base, look at the product mix and competitive environment, and talk to customers. Piece together where the opportunities and pitfalls are.

If you’re in your office with the door closed, crunching numbers and frustrated by a lack of response or results from the sales force, you may be the one missing the point. Get out there — you’re needed!

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