There is irrefutable evidence that companies cannot flourish without integration of IT and sales-force functions. According to Peter Ostrow (Research Director for Sales Effectiveness, Aberdeen Group), “Companies that use co-browsing or screen-sharing solutions within their sales organizations typically see about 73% attainment of the annual sales quotas (as against 60% for companies that do not use it) ….Companies that use real-time Web visitor tracking have representatives that hit their numbers annually 54% of the time (as against 40% for companies that do not use this technology)” (33:30-34:41). It isn’t just that sales people need good, relevant information readily available while making the sale. Good sales is much more than persuasively informing a prospect, and it is not the art of mastering a discrete relationship, that of the sales situation. What is not sufficiently appreciated is that sales efforts are contextual and that IT plays a major role in context formation.
To take an illuminating example, one that relies on nothing like cutting-edge technology, consider a company that sometimes finds its customer service phone lines swamped with calls. The introduction of a relatively simple tool to avail customers of a precise callback time can have a profound effect. When the customer is indeed called back at the scheduled time, the whole company benefits. The unmistakable message to the customer is that this is a company with the confidence to make commitments and the competence and integrity to honor them. Gerald W. Shields (Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer, Aflac Incorporated) has personal experience at Aflac with just such a customer service solution, and he endorses it heartily, for it is rife with sales consequence. It isn’t, after all, a question of selling an insurance product once. Premiums are due on a regular, ongoing basis. As such, sales and customer service go hand in hand (37:17-39:17).
There is of course the challenge of getting sales representatives current on the latest technology. Many top sales performers will be reluctant to innovate, experiment, or make changes. Take CRM data entry, for example. According to Peter Ostrow, better CRM adoption has been demonstrated to lead to better company performance, and CRM itself is a valuable resource for the individual sales representative. But perhaps the best places to begin, as Aflac found, are with new sales associates and associates who are performing well but not reaching their goals. These employees, once sold on a technology, can then become its most influential evangelists.
Technologically empowered salespeople will discover that the product is not an isolable entity. Imagine two insurance sales representatives. One presents the virtues of a certain variable life insurance policy by employing a great stack of paper, the pages covered in charts and tables and stipulatory language. The other presents the same sales materials for the identical product on the wide screen of an iPad. According to Gerald Shields, customers will tend to conflate presentation and product, and not without rational basis. They will think more highly of the same product presented differently, in a more technologically appropriate manner. They will also think more highly of the company offering the product and the salesperson talking about it.
What are the implications of all of this for CIOs? According to Ostrow and Shields, there is a need for the CIO to work well on the business side of the organization. Some venders will try to circumvent IT, and this needn’t occur. The goal should typically be to buy a solution rather than build one from scratch. Additionally, there is no reason for IT to stand aloof from the sales force. Indeed Shields has sent IT personnel on sales calls. The relationships that IT can build with executives and sales people will be the context in which the CIO can most effectively perform his or her job (45:51-53:43)