Thursday, December 27, 2007

Outsourcing the Sales Force to SalesForce.com

As SalesForce.com becomes more widespread, what will it free up your sales team to accomplish?A few weeks back, I attended a SalesForce.com seminar in the local Cleveland area. I have been familiarizing myself with SalesForce for about a year now. Still, attending the conference was very enlightening. As with anything in life, I discovered that the more I learned about a product or a new technology, the more I realized that I didn’t know. In this particular instance, it also brought up memories of Tom Peters’ book, Re-Imagine.

In this book, Tom Peters wrote how technology was making complex tasks easier to do, requiring fewer people to execute them and taking less time in the process. To underscore his point, he used the example of a timber ship unloading at a dock. He said that 30 years ago, when one of these ships pulled into the dock, it took 108 men 5 days to unload it. Today, after the advent of containerization, it takes 8 men only 1 day to do the same amount of work. Yet, no one seems surprised about this advancement. In fact, we’ve come to expect this kind of advancement in efficiency. Peters points out that the forklift did the same thing for the distribution centers, robotics did the same for the automobile factory and that software is doing the same thing for white-collar office work.

This is exactly what SalesForce.com and sales force automation is doing in the arena in sales.

At this SalesForce conference, one of the attendees on the customer panel stated that he used SalesForce.com to get rid of all spreadsheets. He did not want to see them. All of the information had to be in SalesForce so that he could pull up a report in real time when he needed it. He could see which clients needed attention, which sales reps were performing and where he should allocate corporate resources. And it made his sales team more effective with their time and work effort as opposed to having them trying to organize various scraps of paper for the next sales review.

In our organization, we use SalesForce.com to perform such tasks as real-time data analysis, on-demand report creation, responding immediately to emails, coordinate our schedules, as well as enhancing our collaborative sales efforts. Since implementing SalesForce.com, our team has had the time to enhance their communication skills, listening skills and business acumen to provide some additional value to our clients.
In other words, our team has had time to focus on the things and develop the skills that the company cannot outsource to a machine.

Traditionally, sales people have spent a large chunk of time dedicated to creating spreadsheets, creating reports, writing letters of introduction, and writing follow up letters to potential leads. They relied on a sales support staff to handle some of this work and to organize their schedule. Today, many businesses are outsourcing much if not all, of this activity to SalesForce.com and other advanced CRM applications.

So what does this mean for the sales reps that are accustomed to doing all of this by hand? Well, two responses immediately come to mind. On the one hand, they may say, "Great! Now I’ve got all this extra time to contact more people, establish stronger relationships with my clients, and work on my skills set to bring some additional value to the table." On the other hand, they may say, "Great! Now what am I gonna do? I’m being replaced by a machine!"

With more advanced applications on the horizon performing these routine tasks more efficiently, I guess the answer really resides with us, the sales rep, to determine where we should focus our attention. We may have to take another look at what it means to be a sales rep in this hi-tech, hyper-connected world, identify our current skills and talents, and determine the skills that we should focus on developing. That way, we can bring real value to our clients, as opposed to a catalogue and a thank you card.

In his book, The Accidental Salesperson, Chris Lytle stated that our biggest investment is not the car, the house or the 401K. The biggest investment we will make is in ourselves. Because without our own growth, there can be no career advancement and no increase in income to buy the car or the house or invest in the 401k.

It may be time for some of us old sales dogs to learn a few new tricks, or risk being left behind by the competition.

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