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Sales 2.0: Does It Enable Effective Selling Or Is It Yet Another Decoy?

As ESR continues to work with our clients, observe salespeople and research sales effectiveness, we’re frustrated and concerned with the increasing hype around Sales 2.0.

Is Sales 2.0 real?  Yes.  Are Sales 2.0 applications actually helping salespeople to win business? Yes.  There is no question about that.  But we believe in numbers significantly less than some would have you believe.  I expect the Sales 2.0 vendors will be all over me about this.  Yes, I know they can provide compelling case studies, references and testimonials.  The issue is much broader and quite serious.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that there are highly effective sales enablement (Sales 2.0) apps on the market.  What immediately comes to mind are those of some of the leading sales training companies: The TAS Group with their Dealmaker and TAS:Pedia (we saw an exciting demo of new releases last week) and the effective technology implementations of a number of other sales methodologies by White Springs.

ESR knows that the sales methodology and the processes upon which it is built should be the backbone of a company’s sales approach.  Significant research bears this out.  Get that methodology thing right, provide all the support, training and coaching and get all your salespeople following it (with the requisite flexibility for differing situations, of course), and you are taking one of the most important strategic actions that determines sales success.  Automate it and you’re doing even better.  That’s what some of the leading training companies are accomplishing.  They’re helping companies improve sales performance by getting them to employ a process.  Then they’re automating the process to make salespeople more effective and efficient.  It works considerably more often than not, and in the world of B2B selling, that’s an accomplishment.

Here’s my concern: Sales 2.0 vendors are pushing hard, claiming that their software applications will solve specific selling problems.  Many of the vendors are right, but—here’s the thing—if the sales leaders who are considering investing in those apps don’t have their team lined up and fully compliant with the consistent execution of a sales process, with training, coaching and metrics in place, they will more likely compound the problem than fix it.  That’s what happened with CRM years ago.  Many of us saw it promoted as a paradigm-changing fix for most sales ills.  CRM’s big problem, was (is?) that there was nothing in it for the salesperson, and that’s why compliance was (and still is, in many cases) so low.  For many companies, CRM served to make the situation worse, not better.  It kept sales management from focusing on the real issues.  It was a decoy!

Will sales problems get compounded with the purchase of a few cool Sales 2.0 tools?  It’s like my problem with sales tips.  Allowing sales people to spend time seeking out and using random tips from unapproved (and sometimes incompetent) sources takes everyone’s attention off the real issue—no process!—and the lack of discipline to build one and follow one.  Sales 2.0 has become the new silver bullet—this year’s universal elixir to solve a company’s selling problems.  In those cases, Sales 2.0 may provide some value, granted, but with a steep price: it becomes a distraction from what really has to be done.  By the way, I spent better part of a week struggling to make the same decoy argument about the current state of social media with respect to B2B sales

Here’s an example of how a solid Sales 2.0 application can turn out to be a broken promise: There are some terrific sales analytics packages out there.  But what good are analytics if a company doesn’t have a documented and fully-complied with sales process?  What will happen when leading indicators show a bunch of deals are slowing down?  What will managers coach reps on?  How they themselves won business years ago?  Those managers should be coaching the rep on how the rep can better comply with the pre-established sales process—on what specific behaviors the rep must improve so they can effectively execute the process and move the deal along.  We have worked with companies that have installed analytics tools and the results were precisely as I described.  Lots of data, but no standard operating procedure for fixing the situation.

Another example would be Sales 2.0 lead generation tools.  There are some really good, innovative ones out there.  Sexy as hell.  So what happens when a sales rep uses one of these and winds up with some really good prospects and the rep can’t advance the sale from that point to closure because they don’t have the skills, proven path, tools and support to get that done?  I hope you get my point.

So here is my recommendation.  If you get all charged up about a Sales 2.0 tool that you think will help your sales team sell more stuff, faster and for bigger dollars, map the application onto the backbone of your overall sales process.  If you don’t have a sales process, stop right there.  That’s what you need to do first.  It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, it takes time, thought, focus and you’ll find every excuse not to do it.  But the research says it’s what you have to do.

Bottom line: If you want a real boost in sales effectiveness, get your selling methodology and process built, train your people on its use and support them in their effort.  Automate it all, if you like.

Then, and only then, when that’s ticking nicely along, and you can measure progress, start layering in the Sales 2.0 applications that will have the biggest bang for the buck.  Then you’ll really get some value out of Sales 2.0.

Let me hear from you.  Do you think a solid, complied-with sales process is the backbone upon which Sales 2.0 applications must be layered?  Or not?

Photo credit: © Valeriy Aksak – Fotolia.com

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6 Responses

  1. OMG! You have hit the nail on the head. I have been agonizing about how to talk to my clients about Sales 2.0. What the heck is it anyway? What was 1.0 and are really only at 2.0?

    I could not agree with you more that the foundation of success for any sales organization is an effective process. After that you need tools to support the process but the tools revolve around buyer persona messaging and relevant content first.

    There are some amazing technologies out there but before committing to any of them you have to ask yourself if your sales organization is ready to embrace more change and is the technology a nice to have or a need to have? Thanks for your insight Dave. Loooking forward to hearing what your other readers say on this topic.

  2. Dave,

    I agree with you (and I am the fellow who first coined “Sales 2.0”)

    All business functions can be broken down into people, process and tools. Tools are part of the solution but not without process (and people). Any business function will need to have ALL of these in decent shape to do well.

    My idea of Sales 2.0 is NOT just technology. It’s about using the Internet as a catalyst to induce a “new way of selling”. I believe we desperately need it. We have a chance to make some big progress on the back of the way buying and selling is being changed by the Internet.

    I agree that process is a huge hole in most sales departments and actually where my personal quest began to fix the sales function.

    Organizations need to analyze their people, process and tools to get this right — ALL of them not just one of them.

    Nigel

  3. Just to piggy-back a bit on what Nigel said, the internet can change the way that buying and selling take place, although I see it more with marketing than with sales — the internet has shifted control more control to buyers, so it’s really important for marketers to get their Web story together, for example, by optimizing their landing pages for specific types of viewers, engaging people at different points in the buying cycle, providing material of interest so people come back, and in general, trying to establish an ongoing relationship with potential clients. Ardath Albee (http://marketinginteractions.typepad.com/marketing_interactions/), among others, writes a lot about these kinds of ideas.

    I totally agree with you that you need to clearly define your process before looking for tools, and it’s absolutely wishful thinking to expect Sales 2.0 to rescue a failing sales process, but I do think the new breed of sales and marketing tools are much better than the previous generation of BI and CRM applications simply because they provide specific solutions to real-world sales and marketing challenges.

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