Rethinking Sales in a SCRM Strategy

18 01 2010

Before you start thinking “where the heck is he going to go with this, does he want us to ditch our Sales people?”, let me reassure you – it won’t happen so I won’t try to argue in that sense. All I’ll be talking about here is that we could take the opportunity that a Social CRM Strategy can offer to change the approach we have been taking to organizing for Sales activities. In this post I will concentrate on B2B Sales as this is what I am most familiar with (see Mitch Lieberman’s “Is B2B the new B2C” for more thoughts on the subject). 

To condense something that very complex, Marketing has been about getting the attention of potential customers to turn them into lead that Sales can then work with. Sales is about building a relationship with these leads and turning them into prospects and then into clients. To simplify again, Sales – especially in B2B – has come to mean an entity that is specialized in building the relationship between your company and its clients. Note here that I say “building” and not “building and maintaining”… The primary role of Sales Managers is to go out and generate revenue from these relationships. And, unless they have a stake in generating recurrent revenue, they will concentrate their efforts on building new relationships to fill their pipeline. Also, if the fish is not big enough, it may not be fed enough to grow…

Trusted Advisor

So what Sales people actually do? Some cynics would say “press the flesh and cash the check”…but hey! if it was that simple, everyone would be doing it, right? In my point of view, their main role is to establish a trust relationship so that when their prospect decides to invest their time, resources, effort and money, they can be fairly sure that it will not be in vain. The Salesperson serves as a proxy or go-between between the prospect and the company and she takes ownership of that relation (and will be held accountable when things go awry) as a Trusted Advisor, and it is for this that they get their commissions.

Educating the Customer

The way I see it  (at least for in the ‘traditional’ sense of Sales Management), the role is mainly about educating the customer about the benefits of the product or service that the company has to offer. Marketing activities will have generated initial curiosity and an interest to go out and obtain a better understanding to see whether the offer is likely to meet up to its promise, and that it corresponds to the Customer Job it pretends to solve. In Sales Management a there are a number of methods such as SPIN or Xerox’s Customer-Centered Selling and derivates are commonly employed to (try to?) manage the Sales Cycle. The Salesperson acts as an educator, but also as a gatekeeper to feed information and other supporting material into the prosepct’s Learning Curve according to what she believes is the right timing to do so. The Salesperson also serves as a coordinator between internal resources to come up with deliverables such as RFP responses, Presales demonstrations, references, organisation of visits to existing clients etc etc. Prospects rely heavily on the Salesperson, as she is the main touchpoint to get the understanding they need to build their purchase decision on.

The Social Customer

Then came along an itsy bitsy spider that spun its web…the ‘Social Customer’ as described by Paul Greenberg (see here for a nice writeup by Esteban Kolsky). The Social Customer will turn to her peers to exchange on what their impressions, experiences, disappointments and whatnot are. Their buying behaviour is now influenced by what what some call ‘Social Shopping’, so that rather than asking your immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, you now have access to the opinions to help you decide of a virtually unlimited number of ‘people like you’ through the use of ‘social tools’.

Just as it has been the case for consumers that now look on multiple Social Media channels (customer communities, blogs, article, WOM, twitter, shop personnel etc.) to learn about the merits of a product they wish to acquire before going out and actually doing so, your B2B clients will increasingly look to the same tools to evaluate what the value proposition is of your company and, lo-and-behold, engage with other prospects to seek the knowledge they need! These same tools could change the way companies source their suppliers.

Rather than go through their assigned Salesperson for their knowledge needs, they can now meet online and have these same conversations about the supplier’s offer. Sage’s Act! forum is a good example of giving clients a platform on which the Act! product can be discussed transparently. Good ideas as well as shortcomings are available for all to see, thus potential client can actually get a good understanding that will help them in their purchase decision-making process. Furthermore, through the integrated monitoring system (as they are managing this forum themselves, Sage has the ability to extract valuable insights), the company can feed information into the forum by encouraging its employees to partcipate, and in general facilitate the conversations and the e2.0 tools now make this possible. And once you recognize that that this has an influence on the Sales cycle, you can start getting creative by giving recognition to those that contribute to these conversations (such as through an e-reputation system with points that can be redeemed for vouchers, gifts, or even holidays). As an added benefit you maybe catching fish that would have fallen through the net initially and your employees will feel more engaged with your company…

Becoming a Facilitator

 To summarize, the Salesperson has less and less control over the prospect’s learning process and has been taken an inside-out approach. Now that the prospects are starting lose their dependence on the Salesperson for their knowledge needs, her role will change in order to provide the same amount of added value. The challenge will be shift from being an Educator to a Connector/Facilitator – taking and outside-in approach, understanding what is going on in the ecosystem and feeding it with relevant knowledge on which others can build – in a transparent manner and for all to see. And the role will not only be about connecting to the prospects and customers and facilitating customer interaction, it will also be about connecting these customers to Marketing, R&D, (Consulting…), Partners and Suppliers.

By understanding that prospects now have other options for finding knowledge about what you offer (including your post-sales performance…), you should be looking at adapting your Sales methods to incorporate this shift in balance in my opinion. What are your thoughts on the subject?

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18 01 2010
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18 01 2010
mikeboysen

Mark,

I think the door is still wide open for savvy sales people who can identify value, demonstrate it to potential customer, and then use this as a competitive advantage over a salesperson that simply educates on product features and benefits. This may be easier to do in the services area but it can related to products as well.

The point is that I don’t believe a community is in a position to identify this value component. I think it comes from, say, industry experience along with a well tuned discovery process.

I guess what I’m suggesting is that while this can roll over to the B2B community, I think there will always be that special kind of sales person that educates a prospect or customer in a way no one else does.

18 01 2010
Esteban Kolsky

I figured I have already made enough enemies i life, one (or thousands) more won’t matter much… will see.

I like your post, your paragraph on Educating the Customer is such a stereotypical 1.0 description that I was really, really hoping it was just a stepping stone to something bigger. I like the progress you made towards the end of the post.

Now, to make some enemies… as one of the cynics that says “press the flesh, get the check” I think you are still ascribing too much value to the role of sales. I see it differently.

I see the entire lead-to-prospect process moving over to what is today marketing (in a social business roles are not as clearly defined, organizations are much flatter and the role distinction does not matter) and you are already seeing this where Marketing today is scoring leads, strengthening the information they pass along, even doing some prospecting and qualification in some cases. You see this because the customer has changed their behavior (you also start to see some of this in service, but not as much) and marketing is where these interactions show up now. You cannot transfer a call or an interaction to a sales person anymore (as we used to do) so the front-work is being led by marketing (both in B2B and B2C — models that are also slowly decaying and merging together – i wrote more about that on Mitch’s post you refer above).

So, what is so wrong with just getting the cash? Sales people are good at asking for money and getting it. That is what they should do. They are also good at retaining relationships (which the rest of the organizations does not do so well), so why not leverage that?

My vision for the future includes tons of free-agent sales people who simply are what in Argentina we call Gestores (they navigate bureaucracy, they know people, and they get things done). the ask for the cash, they navigate procurement and other processes, and they get the cash. and they retain the relationship for the next suitor. That is their role, that is what they should do. Think about the savings for a company not having to sponsor a network of employees to try to do something that a contractor does extremely well… and commissions would be based on value for the organization, not a standard metric that is applied to all deals. so, any organization can really afford to get any deal if it is important enough for them, and the sales people can cash in on their relationship building (which is what they do amazingly well). Leaving the strategy to the company to handle and match with their other strategies.

But I digress, will this change soon? not soon enough…

But I can always dream…and continue to make enemies in the process :)

what do you think?

19 01 2010
Mitch Lieberman

Mark,

Good thoughts – a track I am watching very carefully – The Social Customer meets the Social Sales person. I have been working on a model, not quite ready to share, but it suggests something akin to what Esteban suggests above. I am trying to figure out the exact role of the sales person, in B2B, in a Social Business. The answer seems to be a moving target.

I think back to some really great sales professionals who I have worked with, and try to understand what they are good at, and how they became successful. Some days they are bulldogs and get the point, in an almost uncomfortable manner. Some days, they do nothing but try to evaluate what the value in exchange the customer / prospect is looking for – often they are not the right person to answer the question. This is the reason for Social Business – something I know you and Esteban are both passionate about.

I am always reminded of Brent Leary during these conversations – My postulate is that the only that has changed in 30 years is the size (orgs, information,…) and speed of travel (information) – “Vast and Fast” This is Brent’s quote – and it seems to apply everywhere. My point in bringing it up here is that the one part of the organization that seems to work in slow motion (because of a point I will make in a moment) is Sales. Like the success I achieve when trying to rush my wife out of the craft fair, some things just cannot be rushed.

This may be the special skill of the sales individual – having a better understanding of the mindset and pace of the customer, better than anyone else. When to push, and when not to push. In the end it should be about value and it usually is, but sales is still sales.

My key point is that SCRM or Social CRM or Social Business needs to solve the problem of providing the trusted adviser with the people, tools and any resources required to become and remain that trusted adviser. I second hidden point here is that the sales person, because of current models will not be the point of contact throughout the lifecycle of the customer.

19 01 2010
Esteban Kolsky

Mitch,

Great comment, and you mention something I want to explore further (have some notes on it) which is the customer lifecyle. My postulate is that not only has changed, it does not exist anymore. The old cycle of acquire-sell-support-retain (plus/minus some steps in there) is gone.

Customers are no longer acquired or sold to, they buy. That shifts the entire lifecyle on its axis… would be very interesting to see how it evolves in leading organizations.

I am going to be publishing my thoughts on this, and a new model, later this year — but I think you hit the nail in the head with the problem we are discussion: customers are not longer sold to, they buy.

Cool…

19 01 2010
Kathy Herrmann

Mark,

Thanks for your article. You bring up good points.

As I’m re-reading it though, I realized what you’re advocating has always been true for good sales folks. Good reps have always taken a more consultative approach to sales…helping clients understand their need(s) and then helping them understand the opportunity afforded by their products/services. Good reps already understand sales is a two-way convo.

The difference will be felt by the not-so-good sales folks who try to control the sales activities and information flow. These folks will experience problems in the social model because, by its nature, it’s about transparency and co-creation. The social model will force these folks to adapt or be left behind.

20 01 2010
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20 01 2010
Wim Rampen

I don’t think a whole lot will change in B2B sales in a Social CRM Strategy. Good salesmen have always been able to understand how their product/service contributes to the value creation process of their Customer’s Customers. That’s what consultative selling is about.

I do agree with Esteban that lines are blurring. I have never been in favor of the “hunting” kind of sales-approach. Like in B2B this approach has significant risk of over-promising and under-delivering on a Customers expectations. To leverage this negative effect most B2B companies I’ve worked for choose a model in which a business owner (by Customer segment) is not only responsible for sales, but for account management too. And in more and more cases I see responsibility for P&L, growth, Customer satisfaction and Customer retention too, all in the hands of this Customer (segment) owner.

In Social Business I believe B2B company’s should get better at a few things (among others):
– being transparent about their conditions (what’s included and what not)
– being transparent about their cost-structure and margin-development
– stop abuse of lock-in situations (or even following a clear strategy of creating such a situation)
– collaborating with Customer’s and even their Customer’s Customers together on finding and designing solutions & experiences for unmet needs
– being part of the closing the feedback-loop in the ecosystem
– measuring their success based on the Customer’s Customers success.. (thus not only their Customer’s financial success)..

Before they can do all that, they need to really want to understand their Customer’s Customers value creation process and their Customer’s value creation process and how their product/service fits into that complex (adaptive) eco-system.

This is not easy and mostly still hypothetical.. But it starts with a mindset. If we can only realize 80 % of this, it would be great. Because by then we will have even better solutions than Social Business or Social CRM strategies ;)

21 01 2010
David Beard

Nice piece, Mark –

I’ve been out “doing some education” in the last few weeks.

But … businesses are still looking at WHAT they sell, now HOW do they do it. Trouble is, that thinking really only operates from an internal perspective.

It’s much better to ask why customers buy, how & where they do this, what are their expectations of the service wraparound, etc.

I know we *live* in this world of customer care (we are more aware of why it is important) but sometimes I shake my head in disbelief that people still do not get it. They are sadly lacking in INNOVATION skills.

Yet, bizarrely, the innovation required is more than likely just within reach. In a knowledge-based econony, the most valuable capital (knowledge) is in their employee’s heads. They probably have most of the answers to the intricate details of various stages of the customer journey.

That should allow any business to drive innovation from within, delivering a clearer view of the world in which the business operates & how best to focus their efforts.

-= David

http://www.tinyurl.com/drbcrm

22 01 2010
The Social Business Engine (part 1 of n) « Mitch Lieberman – A title would limit my thoughts

[...] on the Sales role within a Social Business. I recommend taking a look at Mark Tamis’s post on the role of Sales, I will build on that, and some of the discussions there. Categories: [...]

23 01 2010
Mahendra

I believe the initial change will only happen or happening is on 2 side: Discovering a vendor and deciding on a vendor (collaborating with friends and network). Rest all would remain as it is once you decided on few vendors to deal with. The sales man will come and give pitch and so on. Essentially, for push it is going to be Pull! Thats is!

23 01 2010
Mahendra

Your comment is awaiting moderation.
I believe the initial change will only happen or happening is on 2 side: Discovering a vendor and deciding on a vendor (collaborating with friends and network). Rest all would remain as it is once you decided on few vendors to deal with. The sales man will come and give pitch and so on. Essentially, for push it is going to be Pull! Thats is!

26 01 2010
brianvellmure

Mark,

Interesting thoughts and sorry to arrive a little late to the discussion. I understand your perspective, but have a slightly different view.

Effective sales people are great at:

(1) Listening – understanding what problems that their customers are dealing with
(2) Translating – those problems into impact and/or implications for the customer’s business
(3) Creating – vision towards an environment where their problems are solved
(4) Convincing – that the result of inaction is more painful and problematic than moving forward with a solution.

But more than anything, all of these things fail unless they are executed within the context of a trust relationship. People still buy from people and more specifically, people still buy from people that they like, and they trust.

Great sales people in the B2B realm have always been good facilitators. They tap numerous internal and external resources to create/provide a compelling value proposition while aligning themselves with the customer’s buying cycle. They have, as you mention, become a trusted advisor.

Social channels have provided more resources not only to buyers, which you allude to, but also to sellers. Savvy sellers will tap these resources to act on their behalf. In theory, sales people operating under previous models can have less impact on the customer’s learning process, but effective sales people in the social world will continue to add further value on behalf of their prospects. One example might be curating content from the communities and social web on behalf of their prospects. More data doesn’t necessarily mean more insight and the sales person can add value and help in that process on behalf of their prospects.

B2B transactions, especially larger ones, still will be done on the phone, or face to face for the foreseeable future, and will be executed over several interactions. The impact of the interactions with the sales person will likely far outweigh the impact of the interactions with an relatively unknown community through social channels. There is only so much value we can collectively gain from forums and communities of strangers.

The game is certainly changing, but I firmly believe that the impact of a quality sales person (a trusted advisor/influencer) on an organization’s success, or customer’s buying process hasn’t or won’t change significantly. At some point, the customer has to choose a solution to their problem, and a large piece of that buying decision will be based on the people most closely associated with offering that solution.

Thanks for the thought provoking post.

Best regards,

Brian
@CRMStrategies

27 01 2010
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3 02 2010
Sandra Tung

Interesting discussion.

The Social Customer effect in the B2B world seems to be getting much less traction than in the B2C world as there is no central, easy way for B2B customers/prospects to share information. Most B2B products/services are sold either directly by the vendor or through channel partners and unlike the B2C world, where you can easily go to a retailer such as Amazon.com or BestBuy, browse through competitor products in the sames category easily side by side, review peer product reviews all in one place. This is usually not possible for a B2B product. Also due to the nature of a B2B product, most buyers might find it challenging to find peer opinion on said B2B product through their personal network. People might have better luck looking through their professional network, but usually not an easy task. That’s why most still rely on custoemr references that the vendor provides. IMHO, until we do have an easier way for business buyers to share and find peer opinions, the Social Customer effect in the B2B world will be somewhat limited.

9 02 2010
Ann Crisci

with the proliferation of social media, is a 360 degree of a customer possible any longer? should CRM offering strive to arm the sales rep with everything published or blogged about the account of a prospective sale? should educating the customer on what the word is about themselves be part of a crm offering?

17 02 2010
Umberto Milletti

Ann’s question is right on. While the evolution towards a social web enables more customer knowledge and transparency, it also provides very rich, 360 degree profiles of leads/prospects/customers.
These new information assets can help sales people engage in the dialog better educated. Technologies like InsideView help them get to this intelligence quickly and at the place of need (usually a SFA/CRM system).

20 04 2010
social crm: quando il crm diventa social | webmarketing | e-xtrategy

[...] strumenti di customer relationship management, ma piuttosto è in grado di lavorare al suo fianco, dando la possibilità di valorizzare la maggiore interazione che i social media permettono. si [...]

27 11 2010
Ray Brown

Great discussion folks. I believe however that we need some new thinking to cope with a new customer environment. Sales and marketing will always be rightly driven by relatively short term revenue targets. The B2B and B2C channels are about efficient sales processes in a developing world. Sellin to and marketing to is their game. I believe that many customers are looking for a trading relationship i.e. to trade with a business rather than be sold to. Part of my solution is the development of a B2Me channel to supplement the traditional sales channels. The currency here would be “actionable insights” rather than short term revenue. Trying to make “hunters” into “farmers” will always run the risk of not being authentic and being pulled back into the “hunting” space. The bank “relationship managers” are a typical example. They are all targeted and will eventually try to sell you in their “relationship” conversations.

14 01 2011
Craig M. Jamieson

Hi Mark! This is a great article and the comments indicate that this is, indeed, a hot topic. Certainly I understand and agree with all the Social CRM will be changing the rules governing the salesperson/client relationship. I would like to thank Brian, in particular, for addressing how SCRM might make the professional salesperson better at those roles that he or she currently fulfills . Despite changing and blurring responsibilities, how your sales department will use these tools, remains an important part of this discussion.

22 02 2011
Demain nous serons Customer Centric… ou nous mourrons ! : Frédéric GILBERT – Consultant Social CRM | Entreprise 2.0 | Customer Centricity

[...] sociales. Avant tout, je vous encourage à lire l'excellent article de Mark Tamis sur le nouveau rôle du commercial à l'ère du social media. Il ne faut pas omettre ou minimiser cet acteur-clé dans la réussite des [...]




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