Sales opportunities usually involve lots of people in a company besides the sales rep — technical consultants, product managers, customer service agents, sales operations staff, and sales management. It’s typical for critical information to be fragmented across the multiple communication channels they use like e-mail, Instant Messaging, phone calls, meetings, and the many PowerPoint presentations, RFPs, visit reports, and other documents they share.
What if a rep didn’t have to walk down the hall, send an e-mail (and wait for a response), or leave a voicemail (and wait for a return call) to get the information s/he was looking for from their colleague? How much productive time is lost with that sort of back-and-forth?
Let’s give it a conservative number such as 2.5 minutes a day. Do the math and that’s 2.5 minutes a day across 215 days equals nine hours. Assuming the rep works an average of 10 hours per day, nine hours of unproductive time amounts to nearly one full day vanishing from the annual sales calendar. Gone. Lost forever.
Now, instead of 215 days to sell, s/he is down to 214. What if, instead, there was a central online message board with instant messaging updates? What if you could quickly see what flight your colleague is taking so you can take the same one?
What if you were updated whenever an account plan was modified?
Think through the seemingly limitless, minute activities and you’ll see how easily they result in a monumental amount of lost time — the antithesis of productivity gains.
Business collaboration software products — such as CubeTree, Jive, Basecamp, CentralDesktop, and Wizehive — help prevent the loss of productivity associated with these tasks. And you could argue that they lead to better quality of work, improved knowledge, more timely proposals and, ultimately, better impressions on your prospects. It’s easy to see how this can have a positive impact on sales.
The following table lists the types of features associated with collaboration software along with a description of each. Not every product offers every feature but this will give you a feel for what to look for.
You might think of collaboration software as a private social network for your business. Some collaboration software is referred to as sales enablement because they offer such additional features as collateral management, trigger event notification and prospect research capabilities. Sales enablement is outlined in the next chapter. Collaboration software prices range from “free” up to $10/month/user and some require a minimum of 100 users. It pays to open up your collaboration system to other internal departments such as product management, marketing and accounting. These people contribute in one way or another to winning the business. You might also want to open up your collaboration system to other parties. It’s possible to set up a secure and private collaboration area to interact with customers, business partners and re-sellers. Not all collaboration systems allow you to do that; CubeTree for one is strictly for private company communications (all users must have the same e-mail domain name).
For those systems that do, you’ll find many great reasons to invite your customers, partners and re-sellers to participate.
Internal Sales Collaboration
Salesforce.com has announced a collaboration feature called Chatter which will be built into its CRM software in early 2010. Although collaboration features certainly don’t have to be embedded in your CRM system, if they are, data from your contact records and other elements of the system will be integrated into your collaboration system. Records and information are tied together and you can work with both feature-sets as if they were one system.
Only a handful of CRM companies currently offer built-in collaboration tools. While this number surely will grow, it’s not essential to have the two interwoven. If you’re just starting out with CRM or you already have a CRM system in place, there is no reason why you can’t operate efficiently by adding stand-alone collaboration software. It may be less disruptive than switching CRM programs to one that does have collaboration. Plus, at this point, you’re likely to get more capabilities in a standalone product than you would with one that is built into your CRM system.
Customer, Business, and Channel Partner Collaboration
If your after-sale support requires task or project management, you may benefit from a collaboration system that is open to your customers. You can post and share files, send alerts and share calendars. No more e-mails with large file attachments. No more flooding your customer’s e-mail system with short bursts of information which would be better served using microblogging. And no more documents scattered about on your hard drive. iCentera, is a sales enablement product that offers collaboration between your sales reps, customers and partners. It’s iCentera’s position that collaboration enables better relationships, more informed and better armed re-sellers and the ability to transact more complex deals. We agree.
Customers and partners both benefit when communication is more comprehensive, better organized and more easily shared. If you have strategic partnerships and need to stay in touch frequently, e-mail is not an effective solution. When updates are fragmented in e-mail messages and files are sent as attachments, it’s difficult to keep the big picture in mind. E-mails and files are hard to find. This is helped by posting messages in a central location where they can be searched and stored by topic or project. Collaboration software allows you to associate files with topics which reduces the time searching your network files and folders.
Post and promote your channel partner programs. Share and track leads. Provide a centralized repository of customized marketing materials. Use message boards or wikis to share knowledge, to discuss business opportunities and to keep up-todate on activities and events.
Using collaboration software is an excellent way to protect the 215 and increase sales productivity.
Nancy Nardin founded Smart Selling Tools after a prestigious career in high-tech and IT market research sales. She is considered the leading expert on sales productivity tools.