Would you buy from a 20th century sales rep?

Author: 
Peter Ostrow, Vice President, Group Director, Aberdeen Group

If two sales reps meet with us on the same day offering competitive solutions, are we more impressed with whoever boasts both traditional advantages — who is better dressed, who knows our college cheer song, who shares our out-of-work interests in golf or steampunk — as well as who is armed with the coolest new tech products?

Lest this hypothesis be perceived as a merely an intellectual construct, take a look at the chart comparing the current business results of early versus late adopters. This data shows that in all facets of the customer management lifecycle, organizations that enable their sellers with more current tools perform better than non-adopters.

Today’s professional B2B marketers are not judged by 20th century metrics that are activity-based, such as the number of registrants, attendees or eyeballs. Rather, today’s key performance indicators (KPIs) are far more sales-centric. With a 50 percent higher lead acceptance rate (57% vs. 38%), early sales technology adopters are clearly partnered with more effective corporate marketers. This is because they more actively provide the sales team with access to the marketing automation platform, have a voice in messaging development, and follow other lessons from Aberdeen’s data featured in “Sales and Marketing Alignment: A Primer on Successful Collaboration” (March 2014).

3 more reasons to act

Ongoing Aberdeen research covering a variety of sales effectiveness subjects ratifies the need to optimize the technologies leveraged by your sales team. Findings published in our report, “Mobile Sales Enablement: Fulfilling the Promise of Untethered Selling” (February 2014) show us that best-in-class organizations place significantly more emphasis than under-performers on arming their remote and field-based sellers with an “anywhere, anytime, any device” approach toward filling their pipeline and closing deals.

One of the current popular memes around mobile technology is the concept of “consume versus create.” In the context of sales effectiveness, this refers to ensuring that reps are not just provided with the opportunity to see content on their mobile devices, but actually do their job as easily as if they were in an office using a desktop computer. In practical terms, this is often interpreted in the context of the CRM platform, which traditionally has failed to capture enough data from reps who have to wait until day’s end to enter their meeting notes, as opposed to those who can do so in real time because they are enabled with better mobile CRM solutions.

Beyond the basics of the CRM deployment, Aberdeen has proven research supporting best-in-class firms’ more aggressive early adoption of mobile tools ranging from social selling and sales coaching to configure/price/quote and electronic signatures. Comparing best-in-class enterprises with under-performing companies, Aberdeen has clearly seen that leading-edge mobile technology adoption is directly associated with superior sales and organizational results.

Social selling trends

Social selling provides a second opportunity to analyze early adopter trends around the technologies that support enhanced sales results through the collection, manipulation and distribution of user-generated content. A 2014 Aberdeen report on social selling connects the strongest business results with the following three main tenets of social selling:

Social Collaboration: Numerous commercial platforms exist that help enterprise sellers when they are seeking guidance from colleagues, and which can replace those awkward “reply all” e-mail strings with a newsfeed-like stream of multi-user content that deliberately borrows from the near-universal Facebook motif.

While the classic 20th century B2B sales rep may have considered sharing with others to be anathema to their own personal success, Millennials are far more comfortable continuously enhancing their professional abilities by posting, following, liking and tweeting their way toward President’s Club. Indeed, the research proves that team-based selling is growing most rapidly among top-performing sales organizations, ratifying the value of social collaboration even among highly competitive professional sellers.

Social listening:  Is there anyone who craves more buzz about the Kardashians, rather than less? Hence the value of social tools that allow reps and managers alike to filter the incoming flood of content around just those individuals, accounts and markets that impact their actual professional pursuits. Even the simplest trigger alert tools allow reps to understand, in crucial real-time the moment that newsworthy occurrences that impact their efforts — executive personnel changes, acquisition announcements, legislative changes, product releases, etc. — take shape.

Social participation: Closely linked to these listening tools, but rife with opportunities to inadequately communicate, platforms that help individuals publicize their thoughts and sales pitches are readily available but, alas, often poorly deployed. Because sales reps are naturally verbose, aggressive about promoting their product or service, and generally impatient, the unlimited opportunity to post or tweet about their solution easily can lead to obnoxious and over-sharing behavior: essentially, “BUY FROM ME!” on steroids.

Best-in-class companies teach their reps patience and subtlety around social selling, encouraging them to add value to their markets rather than beat up their followers with sales pitches. Top-performing firms never introduce social authoring platforms to their teams without this approach to training.

Content is everybody’s business

Finally, Aberdeen research on sales enablement technologies published in March 2014 examines the value of the technology solutions available to help marketing and sales leaders collaborate more effectively. More specifically, the all-important content that is used to lure potential B2B buyers was once the sole province of the marketing department, but today is equally important to how sales teams cope with the hidden sales cycle that precedes direct conversations with accounts.

Given the fact that social media tools have — in some cases, unfortunately — provided every B2B seller with the opportunity to create and distribute their own content, the idea that only marketers should create corporate messaging is now antiquated. Best-in-class companies are 52% more likely than all others to allow and encourage sales input on marketing messaging. They understand more than under-performers that the skill sets of these distinct job roles overlap far more than they did in the last century, and that customer-facing reps have legitimate insight into the potential reactions of their buyers to the messaging presented by marketing.

Additionally, the traditional tools of marketing automation that provide insight into customer behavior — who is clicking, how long are they spending on a page, etc. — are being made available to the sales team by best-in-class firms 54% more frequently. Top performers realize that technology platforms exist to provide real-time insight into audience consumption of their content, allowing savvy enterprises the opportunity to adjust and replace their messaging on the fly. These two omni-directional approaches to the flow of marketing data
are relatively new concepts. So while the majority of all survey respondents have yet to adopt them, the more aggressive sales enablement utilization by best-in-class organizations provides clear guidance to under-performers that they ought to play catch-up as soon as possible.

Keep up with the Joneses

Buying corporate technology platforms and solutions for their own sake has little value to best-in-class companies. The margin for error in trying to achieve aggressive quota demands does not allow sales leaders and their sales operations teams to blindly invest in the latest and greatest toys they see on the trade show floors or in online demos.

And yet, sending sales reps into the field of corporate battle without any contemporary tools is also a mistake. Our research showcases three representative areas of early sales tech adoption — mobility, social and sales enablement solution sets — that represent specific ways in which the leading edge provides a competitive edge. If your organization, like most, cannot afford to rip and replace every element of sales effectiveness support technology every year or two, follow the examples set by your best-in-class competitors.  

The full version of this report and other research by the Aberdeen Group can be found at blogs.aberdeen.com.