In June this year, the Raconteur brought out a special report on Sales Performance: pages and pages of articles on sales topics - needless to say, I loved it. Sales experts shared their experience with Artificial Intelligence and technology tools used by sales organizations. Others debated that sales technology alone will not solve your business problems, especially not if your company culture doesn't have a digital mindset at its core.
Richard Hilton of the Miller Heiman group summed it up wonderfully: “Technology is an enabler, not a deal closer.” Because despite advances in technology, one basic fact in sales remains true: People sell to people.
That technology is enabling, however, is of course the case. The right software gives sales professionals the focus needed to pursue potential clients that are worth pursuing. When I moved from a smaller, luxury hotel company to a sales position under the giant that is Marriott hotels, technology was a game changer in my daily work. I felt like I was blind and could finally see! With a savvy CRM software, all hotels were interconnected and I could see what pieces of business clients in my local market had brought to my sister hotels in other destinations. I could also look up those contracts, allowing me to go into the offer or contract phase of the sales process much better prepared.
To gain a better understanding of what business we weren’t getting, we used an online service that was tracking competitor information in the city. When I logged into that system, I could filter corporate group business at competitor hotels by company name. This helped us to learn what meeting inquiries were out there that we hadn’t received the initial inquiry for and that we needed to pursue.
Technology is not only helpful in gaining sales insight, but also in managing your own performance. At the click of a button I could check my progress towards my sales target, see which proposals were past its expiry date or review whether I had achieved my weekly goal, which was always focused on achieving a step, sometimes ever so small, towards my sales goals.
One new software featured in Raconteur’s Sales Performance issue was Refract. This software analyzes the conversation between the sales person and the client. It tracks, among other things, the talk-listening ratios, how many questions were being asked during a sales call, what exact phrases were being used, time spent on the commercial negotiation and competitor mentions during the meeting. When I train sales people on how to prospect more successfully, how to overcome their anxiety around cold-calling and how to structure their sales meeting, this is exactly what we work on. The fact that now a software has been developed to measure the language we use underlines just how important powerful and smart probing questions are. Even better - it makes it measurable!
The competitive advantage you can gain through better technology is huge. But here’s the thing:
If you run a small to medium sized business, investing into technology is also a risk. Implementation and training take up a large amount of time and you need to allocate sufficient resources to deal with the resistance to adopt. So to me, before investing into technology, you need to get the basics right. And the basics are your people.
Skilled people are the ones that will handle your client conversations, present your product or service and solve any issues that your clients may face. Your success as a business first and foremost depends on how much you value and develop your people.
Jumping straight to technology will not help to increase your sales performance. It rather supports your existing, healthy, sales department.
So, before adding technology, conduct a review of your sales structure. Focus on this:
1. Deployment & Talent
Are my employees deployed correctly? Are the ladies and gentlemen selling my business naturally curious, driven and focused, yet creative?
2. Vision & Leadership
Have I shared my vision for the organization with my team to give them direction?
3. Sales Structure & Key Performance Indicators
Have we implemented regular sales meetings, where we discuss our gains, losses and our pipeline as a team? Does the team know how we measure success?
4. Corporate Culture
Does our company culture have sales success at its core and rewards behaviour that helps solving the obstacles our customer faces?
5. Sales Training
Have the people selling my organization been setup for success? Have they received sales training and helpful tools to perform their daily tasks?