The promise seems real. Walk the exhibitor halls at Dreamforce and you’ll pass more than 300 hundred vendors with products promising to grow revenue and improve sales force productivity. Take a closer look and you’re sure to find some success stories. But in our experience, too few of the stories involve salespeople actually closing more deals as a result of the technology. Even fewer involve the notion of improved value selling or insight-led selling. Which begs a fundamental question; can technology actually help reps value sell and sell more?

The role of technology.  Technology for sales needs to help an organization do one or more of the following:  a) manage the sales force better, b) enable the sales organization, and/or c) close more deals.

1-2-3 chart

Which category is the most important? They’re all important, but surprisingly, companies make fewer investments in category three, “close deals.”  In fact, most tools in the marketplace fall in categories one or two.  As an experiment, we randomly selected 50 logos from the Dreamforce Bronze level sponsors list and mapped them to the three categories. Only four of the 50 associated solutions fit the definition of “get deals closed.” The other 46 (or 92 percent) of the tools in our sample set were focused on managing or enabling the sales force. While dramatic improvements in sales productivity can be found through those first two categories, we started to wonder whether companies are missing an important opportunity.

Testing the hypothesis.  So why do so many tools and projects focus on managing and enabling the sales force? Some would argue that it is easier to quantify the impact and drive adoption. Others say management and enablement tools are what’s been available. To test our hypothesis that technology can help reps value sell and close deals, we assembled an Executive Panel at our recent Chief Sales Executive Forum. The panel represented a diverse set of industries and companies, with the discussion focused on how companies use technology to develop and deliver sales insights. The experience of the panel confirmed what we’ve observed in our client work:  technology can also help salespeople close more deals.

Selling with insights.  Increasingly, value selling requires that sales people leverage insights and bring insights to the customer – insights about the market, the customer and the offerings. A company’s ability to generate and deliver insights can serve as a true differentiator. In addition, the tools and technologies available to gather, develop and disseminate insights are really beginning to come of age. Technology can have a significant impact on an organization’s ability to generate, manage and deliver insights. Analytic tools can cull through the CRM database, financial results and third party data to help salespeople uncover information about their accounts for improved planning and call preparation. Automated playbooks can provide real time guidance to sales people on insights they can deliver at different points in the sales process to different buyer contacts. One of the panelists shared how salespeople use issue-specific videos on their tablet computers as a way to bring subject matter experts into the sales call.

Types of insights.  To close deals, there are two types of insights:

  1. Insights ABOUT the customer.  These insights help a salesperson plan and prepare. They can include market benchmarks and data about the customer’s performance, data on purchase history and additional product potential, as well as other analyses of the customer relationship.
  2. Insights FOR the customer.  These insights are shared with the customer and focus on their market, business or opportunity. The insights can include improved business practices, market trends, research or unique perspectives the customer can use in their own decision making.

The panel and audience members prioritize the two insight types based on their go-to-market model and competitive situation. An important aspect of insights is that they need to reflect the changing nature of how customers buy. It’s not enough to ask good questions any more. In the words of one panel member, to add value “you have to format insights for your audience.” Sales teams need to have a point of view and provide knowledge the customer can’t find through Google.

Sources of insights.  Insights can come from many sources, including Marketing, Sales, Product Management, and even Finance.  One of the panelists described a unique program where sales reps formally submit insights to what’s become a robust database. Really good insights are named after the originator in their honor. To manage and prioritize insights based on what the field actually uses, companies should consider an insights clearinghouse run by Sales Enablement, Sales Operations or Product Marketing. The panelists also recommended that insights be given an expiration date in order to keep them relevant and encourage ongoing creation. After one year, or some other time frame, the insight loses its value to customers and should be removed from use.

Call to action. With all the tools available, choosing, implementing and using the right tool(s) is easier said than done.  And no single tool provides the silver bullet answer. In fact, one panelist shared the importance of training salespeople just as intensely on when to put technology down and go to the flip chart or the whiteboard.

So how are you using technology to help your salespeople deliver insights? Take the self-assessment below. Rate yourself across the 12 dimensions and three categories to identify gaps and areas warranting additional exploration. And when you’re ready to take the next step and improve your organization’s ability to deliver insights and close more deals, give us a call.

Learn more about insight-led selling and other related topics at Alexander Group’s website.

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