Sales Effectiveness: A Moving Target

I have been very encouraged by the flurry of activity in the sales effectiveness space. Over the last 18 months or so, emerging vendors there have taken a concept that had been around for a while and breathed new life into it.

Sales effectiveness is still a catch-all category. If you had to distill it to its essence, you might describe it as “sales applications that are not sales force automation.” It’s never a good idea to define something by what it’s not — politicians seem to do it a lot, but that tactic works best in a contest where there are only two choices. The real world is a bit different.

Included in sales effectiveness are applications for content management, sales operations, intelligence gathering, demand generation and many more. The thing they have in common is making a sales representative’s time more focused and productive.

The trouble is that a company could spend a lot of time and treasure figuring out which effectiveness solutions are the best choices. It’s a moving target that is influenced by things as basic as the kinds of products a company sells, the terms it offers, the sophistication of the competition, and who knows what else.

Hindsight Observations

It would not surprise me at all if at some point in the not-too-distant future the category fragments and the big pieces form their own new categories. I prefer to think about the category from a different perspective, though — the business process that is supported.

Taking a business process view helps clarify a number of things. If you start with the notion that each organization should be able to custom design its sales process, then the whole idea of fitting together different components makes a great deal of sense.

Let’s start with a relatively straightforward four-part description of the sales process itself: Identify, qualify, sell, close. That’s admittedly a simple description and many would say, what about a step for presenting or demonstrating? My answer is that although it’s a valid point, there aren’t a lot of products I know of that do the demo for you, so it’s implied but not included.

The latter half of the process seems to be pretty well covered with SFA and possibly some other tools, like compensation management — a potentially great tool for modeling the pipeline.

In my opinion, the early part of the process was never covered really well. Marketing was expected to cover it, but the results were pretty uneven. Too often, marketing identified prospects that were not really ready to buy and put them in the funnel only to have them rejected by the sales force.

Hindsight shows that often many of the leads were just handed off prematurely and eventually resulted in sales. However, with a typical 90 day or lower threshold, sales lacked the patience to mature them, and good leads too often were discarded.

The Importance of Being Specific

On the other hand, sales has been notorious for grabbing a list of suspects and cold calling the list in the hope of finding an opportunity. That wasn’t the best use of expensive salesperson time, but the practice has remarkable persistence.

Sales effectiveness organizes the front part of the sales process by providing tools that help organizations to mature suspects into leads without resorting to expensive manual labor.

Taking the labor and cost out of early information gathering and dissemination is something that many sales effectiveness solutions do a good job at. You might say that’s what marketing and advertising are for — but if those things worked, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

One of the advantages of the sales effectiveness approach to the early part of the sales process is that it can have a great deal of specificity. Judgments can be made about which prospects to pursue in ways that are at best passive in more mass-market approaches.

That specificity is very important, because companies very often find they are not in mass markets and that they must deal with customers on a more intimate level. The key difference is in understanding this information and using technology to time offers and interactions.

The power of sales effectiveness applications is brought into sharp focus by some recent developments. I have noticed a small group of vendors who are banding together around the idea of an integrated sales process. Each vendor knows that the sales process is larger than any single solution, and that has brought many of them together in an effort to supply integrated end-to-end process support.

We’ve heard of best-of-breed before, but there is an important difference here. The old style best-of-breed assumes that the customer take responsibility for integrating disparate solutions. Here, the responsibility for integration is taken on by the vendors, and in the process, they are building something that is bigger than any one of them.

One combination I like is the integration ofEloqua for demand generation and lead maturation withPragmatech for content management. It’s an elegant and mostly automated way of taking the customer’s pulse and supplying the right information at the right time.

Of course, that’s just one example. As sales effectiveness gains more momentum, you might see this kind of advanced mash-up really take off. I hope by then we have a term that’s more definitive than “sales effectiveness,” though.

Denis Pombriant runs the Beagle Research Group, LLC, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing, and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected]

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