Recently, I did an interview with TechnologyAdvice for their Expert Interview Podcast Series – you can hear it in its entirety here. The conversation was pretty far-ranging, but one area that kept surfacing focused on the area of balancing sales talent with sales technology.
You might think that a company that sells sales technology would try to convince you that technology was all you need to inflate your sales numbers. That would be dishonest – the best technology without the guidance of smart people is useless. That said, if those smart people can use that technology to get smarter over time, and continue to improve the ways they used the technology, you’ll get a virtuous cycle that makes people and technology perform better.
As I say in the interview, “the best sales intelligence/analysis/data/information gleaned from data is useless if the salesperson can’t use it to reach the customer in a way that works.”
Even the Lead to Money suite, as powerful as it is, can’t change a company’s fortunes all by itself. It needs to be applied properly, and its insights must be used promptly and properly by people. Our product marketing team spends a lot of time explaining what the suite can do, but here are some things our suite (or any other software) can’t do on its own:
1. Force Sales and Marketing to Work as a Team
This perennial problem undermines the performance of many otherwise outstanding organizations –and the numbers point out how costly it can be. A 2013 study by MathMarketing and Marketo revealed that organizations in which sales and marketing planned together had a 30 percent higher win rate for proposals and a 62 percent higher contribution to new revenue by marketing. Aberdeen echoed this in a 2010 study that revealed that organizations with good alignment between sales and marketing teams grew their annual revenue by 20 percent, while those with poor alignment saw revenues actually decline by 4 percent.
What do the revenue numbers look like for businesses suffering from misalignment? According to IDC, poor sales-marketing alignment at B2B companies costs $100 million a year at “the typical” $1 billion firm.
So, we know misalignment is costly. But can you count on your applications to fix the alignment problem? Software can’t do it all by itself. The Lead to Money Suite is unique in that it allows sales and marketing to use the same tools and share the same data, which helps avoid buttressing the silos, but unless leaders in the two departments actively work to bring their organizations into a more unified team, the software can only accomplish so much.
2. Listen to the Customer
Sure, software can record what’s being said by the customer – but only when it’s entered by people using the system, and the conversations this valuable communications comes from is the result of one human speaking to another. Often, that’s between a sales person or a customer success person and a customer. You can’t automate these conversations – a tuned-in representative can listen for cues about customer concerns, opportunities for up-selling and other valuable information that may be harder or take longer to capture through data analysis.
3. Create Content On Its Own
This topic is near and dear to me. While recent headlines have trumpeted the idea of robots writing better sports stories than humans, the writer in me notes that this is sports, the last refuge of the hack journalist. Snarkiness aside, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which automation can create on-target sales and content marketing material without serious guidance and revision by humans, especially as we compete for the attention of our fellow humans. Technology may be able to assemble a framework that humans can dress in details and language, but detailed and readable B2B content is likely to remain the domain of humans for a while.
4. Answer Hard Questions
We’ve all seen automated customer service responses. Usually, they’re good enough to answer the routine questions. But the ability to answer those questions is most valuable in a customer moment of truth, when the relationship is on the line. In those moments, customers have already exhausted their other options (like your website) and are in need of expert help that relates to the way they use your product. Technology has no way to deal with these kinds of question, which by their nature are outliers and which challenge vendors to satisfy customers. Nothing satisfies customers in these situations better than an informed and empowered human on the other end of the phone.
5. Articulate Your Story in the Context of the Customer
Great sales pros know to listen first and speak later. Listening allows them to internalize customer needs and, if they’re empathetic, to see problems through the customers’ eyes. Then the sales pro can describe how his solution addresses those problems – and do so in a language that the customer can relate to. This is a skill no machine can match; customers are too varied in their needs and the way they explain their business challenges. Only an engaged human can adjust and adapt his company’s story to connect with the customer.
Don’t mistake these limitations for an argument against automation; in all five cases, humans can be assisted by the sales intelligence technology creates. Technology allows salespeople to understand what a customer has said in the past to better understand what he’s saying today. It can provide a history so that when a customer’s voice suggests frustration or satisfaction the sales rep can respond appropriately. It can provide analytics that help marketing organizations create the right content on precisely the correct topics. It can help indicate how effective answers to customers in moments of truth have been by correlating future behaviors to those moments. And it can cue up sales content that’s appropriate for the stories that sales reps are telling when they need that content. But it’s a team sport, split between technology and sales reps: you can no longer win at this sport on your own.
The important – and often unasked – question is whether technology is being deployed into an environment where people are willing to change their processes to take advantage of it. Without a willingness to embrace change in all its confusing, chaotic forms, investments in technology can never pay off – and, in sales and marketing, that can doom a business. Before you invest in automation, make sure you also examine attitude.