Emerging Technology Helps Salespeople Create Opportunities

Column by Ramon Avila

Salespeople were once treated almost as independent contractors or lone wolves. They were given a territory, a budget, and a sales goal and then set free to operate autonomously. 

The home office seldom knew their whereabouts and had little concern about the tactics they used. Further, the sales effort tended to be more transactional-focused; the relationship with the customer was only as important as the next sale.

Fast forward 20 years. For most business-to-business sales organizations, building long-term mutually beneficial relationships with customers is the focus of the selling effort. Managers work more closely with their salespeople, monitoring their activities and progress with current and potential customers. The lone-wolf approach has faded.

Today, sales technology tools help the organization keep track of its sales force’s whereabouts and performance. Moreover, salespeople skillfully employing these tools enhance their productivity in building customer relationships and generating revenue.

Increasingly, organizations are using customer relationship management (CRM) tools in combination with web 2.0 technology (e.g., social networking, web analytics, blogs, and video sharing) to better manage the selling effort. Salespeople armed with smartphones and other portable web-connected devices access these tools and the information they provide from anywhere and at any time.

CRM tools supply pertinent customer information and sales performance metrics on demand and in near real time. This information allows salespeople to better execute the sales process on an individual customer basis, while also monitoring their performance on an aggregate basis.

Sales managers use these tools to support and develop their salespeople based on what is happening (real-time data) rather that what has happened (data from weekly or monthly reports). Salespeople use social networking and other tools to learn about their prospects and customers, stay current, and connect with other business associates who can help propel their business.

Smartphones and portable web-connected computing devices such as the iPad grant salespeople and sales managers on-the-go access to their CRM and web 2.0 tools, reducing downtime, and improving productivity. In addition, these devices provide access to an ever-growing host of other specialized apps such as travel aids, expense reporting, GPS-enabled maps, newspapers, and books designed to improve the life of a salesperson.

Most, if not all, of the successful CRM solution providers have recognized the importance of social networking and have integrated access to such tools within their systems. Social networking tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be used as ways to create relationships and create sales orders.

This whole new world is exploding with sales opportunities. A good salesperson should enter social networking sites with the idea of increasing contacts and letting the networks know what business they are in. Getting to the right person with the right message is what creates sales, and that is what these sites can and should do for a salesperson. With the tight economy, it is critical that salespeople increase the number of opportunities they personally create and not wait for something to happen.

Smartphones are also a huge aid to salespeople. Professionals can use integrated GPS apps to plan an efficient day in the field or find directions to an account. Through mobile broadband, the salesperson can quickly look up information on a company or contact the salesperson is going to call on that day. The camera can be used to take relevant pictures (e.g., existing equipment, damaged parts, and so forth) for developing a proposal, or to video record testimonials for distribution through the website and/or social networks.

Employed wisely, technology can enhance the salesperson’s efforts to build trust-based mutually beneficial relationships with customers. And if fact, salespeople are seeing how the technology helps them in their day-to-day operations and are readily embracing it. 

Ramon Avila is the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of marketing and director of the H.H. Gregg Center for Professional Selling.