Transforming Sales From Art to Science: Sign ‘Em Up

To many, sales is an art form, one that takes years or even decades to master.

If you head to your local bookstore or search Google for “sales,” for example, you’ll find a myriad of books, training classes and podcasts teaching sales techniques “guaranteed” to help you make your quota.

Some stress the need to make persuasive eye contact during a presentation, others suggest that it’s all about projecting confidence. Still other experts teach salespeople how to use charm to build a massive Rolodex.

While the books and Web sites may keep proliferating, it’s likely that such techniques will begin to fade in importance in effective sales environments. The reason? Technology is transforming the sales process from an art to a science.

An Industry of Coaches

The sales industry is incredibly profitable, at least for the legion of sales “gurus” offering their books, seminars and training tools to salespeople who are struggling to meet ever-increasing quotas.

Because a large percentage of salespeople do not make quota (and may not possess the natural talent to do so), the industry is rife with those claiming they can teach the top tips and tricks to reaching one’s selling goals.

The industry is built on influential motivational speakers, conferences and expos, and popular Web sites, blogs and podcasts. Most of these resources tie sales performance to presentation skills and personality. Until recently, though, there have not been a lot of scientific ways to deal with selling.

Sales Force Automation

The birth of sales force automation (SFA) introduced a bit of science to the industry. SFA, marketing and other related operations have become a standard part of CRM systems employed by sales organizations., SugarCRM and other CRM providers offer applications that supply performance data to sales managers.

The problem is that these applications do not offer help for regular salespeople working to make quota. These folks are still tuning into speakers and trainers because traditional CRM tools offering data and documentation do not help in selling faster or better.

Sales managers are similarly handicapped: SFA tools provide them with information and metrics, but are unable to help them improve the performance of their sales teams.

The Science of Sales

The influence of Web 2.0 has begun to shake the CRM model considerably. Enterprises are beginning to take advantage of the abundant information-gathering tools now available, along with emerging social networking services oriented towards business.

In the area of sales, this has spawned a set of technologies that come under the mantle Sales 2.0. Salespeople have technology at their disposal to help them improve their performance, thus transforming sales from an art to a science.

Companies like InsideView, Visible Path and Genius are using Web 2.0 strategies to aggregate and distill the wealth of information available on the Internet, providing salespeople with invaluable knowledge that they could not have imagined having access to even five years ago.

Such Sales 2.0 applications weed through immense volumes of data to provide salespeople with useful information that can streamline the sales process or uncover opportunities that would have been impossible to identify without their help.

As an example, a salesperson using one of these tools to close a deal could find out in real time that:

  • A fresh CFO (chief financial officer) just came on board in a particular target account.
  • The new CFO is connected to the salesperson via his or her social network.
  • The company is searching for engineers in a particular department.
  • The prospect presently uses a particular technology made by the salesperson’s rival.

Sales 2.0 methods thus represent a scientific approach to sales. Because of technology, it’s now simple for anyone to find the information needed to close deals or to prioritize leads and accounts — rather than relying on charm, luck, or hard-to-learn artistry. As a result, more and more people are starting to deploy the tools to increase sales.

Closing the big deal will always require a few artful touches. However, personality and presentation skills will matter less and less in the Sales 2.0 world, where information reigns.

The exponential growth of data generated in the modern world also demands that sales people utilize new selling tools. Salespeople and organizations that understand the technology for managing this information — in other words, how to apply the best science to the problem — will have the competitive advantage needed to thrive.

Umberto Milletti is the chief executive officer of InsideView. Founded in 2005, InsideView provides Opportunity Intelligence, a new class of sales performance technology. InsideView’s technology reduces cold calling and research, assists in prospecting, and focuses on achieving higher sales and building high-performance pipelines.

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