Controversy in enterprise technology is why, in Silicon Valley, CEOs are treated like celebrities.Gucci gowns and wild parties don't don the red carpet of Salesforce.com or Slack; instead, our celebrities throw hackathons, drive Teslas resembling the Batmobile (the Christian Bale one), and make bold market predictions.
The death of the saleswoman, or in other words, saying the traditional sales function will cease to exist in 10 years (a sentiment Forrester echos) – is on par with that party line. It’s controversial. It garners attention. But that's not my only intent.
When was the last time you walked into an Apple store and asked the girl in blue to sell you the latest iPhone? Nope – now when you walk through those glass doors, you know the exact model, color, storage, carrier and matching unicorn glitter case you know you want.
That friendly salesperson isn't selling you anything at all; they’ve been demoted to check-out-cart status and serve only to swipe your credit card.
That trend is creeping up on enterprise companies
Generally, it takes five to 10 years for enterprises to echo consumer behavior, so let’s think about current consumer addictions. Mobile devices are 5th appendages that let us connect with friends and family at all times. Facebook lets us post selfies and status updates anytime, anywhere.
Now fast forward. In three years, enterprise mobile will rake in $140 billion, and tools like Chatter and Slack will be how we share tasks and ideas in the workplace. The enterprise is risk-averse and slow to move, but it eventually embraces the benefits of the tech we use in our everyday lives.
For enterprise sales, the buyer is now more knowledgeable than ever, or so they think after following the path Google sends them down. By the time they speak with you, about 60% of their decision has been made, according to Corporate Executive Board. Turns out, the most critical time to get to know your customer is the hardest, because it's before you've even had a chance to speak. So when you do get your shot, your message better be perfect.
To get there, we need to go way beyond CRM
When it comes to having a relevant, sustaintable message, customer relationship management software today doesn’t come close. When did a salesperson ever say, when contemplating their path to success, "If only I had some CRM?"
Other than serving as a glorified rolodex, which admittedly comes in handy for calling your customer by the right name, CRM is more of a hindrance than an impetus. During my decade at Salesforce.com, we would draw attention to task and pipeline management, convenient access and team collaboration as benefits to the sales rep. But if you ask any salesperson what helps her win, her first response will probably not be, “My Salesforce data!”
More important, in what way do customers benefit from the data, outside of hoping the salesperson has kept an accurate record of their goals? Hoping, because in reality, they know salespeople are subject to bias and misinterpretation as they scramble to type at the pace of the customer's voice on the other end of the line. Data, if it exists at all, is rarely accurate and therefore misleading.
Think about it, CRM doesn't manage the customer relationship at all. It is a data-entry tool that sits behind the sales rep – a user interface represented by fields, resting on top of a database, designed to provide insights to your sales team. Reps begrudgingly input their activities, opportunities and everything else with that dreaded red bar indicator.
It's a bottoms-up CYA tool, where reps' inputs aren't even meant for them, but for the boss.
The point: CRM doesn't drive sales reps to focus on what's most important – the customer's buying experience.
Stop obsessing over data in Salesforce. Focus on this instead.
What customers and salespeople need to educate and advocate, are case studies, product datasheets and all the documents that are often painstakingly assembled and forgotten.
What do these things have in common? They’re not data.
Yes, while technically content is a collection of facts and data, it’s much more than that. It’s a story, and that’s what drives one conversation to the next. During a sales meeting, a rep walks through a slide deck, then the follow-up meeting includes a case study, a proposal, and so on. A great salesperson is a brilliant narrator, and content is her illustration. Those documents are what help create consensus and commitment.
Sadly, most of sales, relative to the buyer, has grown complacent. When it comes to chasing business, sales is the best – adapting to the evolving customer, not so much.
Face the challenge
Technology has given the customer a vertical frontal cranium (the parallel to the neanderthal skull evolving to fit a more advanced, homosapien brain). So sales should take notice – my prediction above will eventually become reality. Our profession and its function will become mostly redundant, resulting in far fewer salespeople.
Tactical elements like planning and communicating will be better managed by a bot. Machine learning will better understand the customer than you or I ever could. Even today, AI has the ability to replicate our own linear thinking and do many of the mundane but critical aspects of the job.
But for now, let's stand upright and embrace this innovation. Start by moving the data-driven CRM that sits behind the salesperson, to a content-driven experience that sits out in front – the space in between where customer and company come together and share in a better understanding of one another.
As we create this space for our customers here at Showpad, I'd welcome your feedback and ideas. Please subscribe to our blog or follow me on Twitter. After all, Showpad believes in a different kind of relationship with its customers, and it begins right now with you.