The marketplace is flooded with technology tools geared toward salespeople on the go. It’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t — what will make your job easier and what’s just going to unnecessarily complicate your life. Here are seven essential technologies that could make you a more productive salesperson this year:
- Social networking for salespeople. Social networking isn’t just for the MySpace generation. Sites like LinkedIn and Plaxo were created for businesspeople like you. LinkedIn is a Web site created to strengthen and extend your existing network of contacts. Here’s how it works: You disclose your network to your contacts, and in turn they share their network with you. So, if it turns out that a friend is connected to the purchasing manager of a company that you’ve been trying to crack, you can suddenly leverage that social capital. “This creates a wonderful opportunity to start making a lot more warm calls,” says Keith Rosen, an executive sales coach and author of Time Management for Sales Professionals. For its part, Plaxo lets you better manage and update your network of contacts. The system sends you alerts whenever a contact’s info has changed and automatically updates your address book.
- Use the salesforce. Michele Michler insists on one thing when she hires a new salesperson: They must use Salesforce.com. A territory manager for ThomasNet, an electronic marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of industrial products, Michler believes that salespeople are lost without an online customer relationship management (CRM) tool. “A product like Salesforce.com is easy to use, has excellent functionality, and is reasonably priced,” says Michler. What’s more, by allowing her salespeople to capture key pieces of information and stay in constant touch with customers, they close more deals. “Nothing slips through the cracks,” she says. “It really gets you organized and helps you understand where you are succeeding and where you are falling behind.”
- Lighten the load. Walter Fine sells commercial real estate throughout southern Ontario. He hates lugging around his bulky laptop, but he frequently needs to get online to access e-mail, software applications, and a variety of Web sites. He considered getting a PDA, but he doesn’t like working off a tiny screen and keypad. So he invested in the new ultramobile PC from Samsung called the Q1. “I can carry it around in my pocket, access all the Web sites I want, and even use it for PowerPoint presentations,” he says. “It’s definitely more comfortable to operate than a typical PDA.” Another popular ultramobile PC is the OQO, which is ergonomically designed for usability on the go.
- Always say thank you. Thank you cards and follow-up notes are small details that can go a long way toward closing a sale or winning a contract. Still, many salespeople overlook this simple courtesy because they can’t find the time to squeeze it in. That’s where Booked Solid Cards comes in. It’s an online service that scans your handwriting style and signature and then mails out personalized thank you cards on your behalf. The service literally makes sending out a card as simple as typing an e-mail. “It’s actually cost less than buying cards at a store and mailing them out yourself,” says Lori Richardson, a sales coach who swears by the service. “It’s a simple, hassle-free way to touch prospects and build trust.”
- Get smartphones. The Blackberry isn’t called the “crackberry” for nothing. Smartphones like the Treo and Blackberry are not only highly addictive, they are also highly effective for salespeople. “I love having access to the internet from my smartphone,” says Christina Richter, director of business development at CRI, a recruitment outsourcing firm. “It’s easier than using a laptop when I’m on the road, and much more convenient for managing my day-to-day business.” In the moments before meeting with a client, Richter will log on to the Internet via her smartphone and read the latest press releases or news headlines on that particular client. “If something just happened that day, like an acquisition, I walk into the meeting looking real smart,” she says.
- Make your powerpoint. If you’re like most salespeople, you struggle trying to turn limp, lifeless PowerPoint slides into stunning presentations. That was the case with Rick Cooper, until he discovered a new software product called Ovation from Serious Magic. “The product really added a ‘Wow!’ factor to my presentations,” says Cooper, a sales coach and author of Million-Dollar Contacts. “With a simple click, it automatically makes text more readable, adds motion and animation, and builds in these eye-catching graphical backgrounds.” The software also features a countdown clock for each slide so you keep on track if you have limited time to make your presentation.
- Visit more prospects. Clarke Nelson sells financial products to loan officers and mortgage brokers. He spends his days traveling from bank to bank all across the San Francisco Bay Area, often visiting locations he’s never been to before. “Flipping through maps while simultaneously driving and talking to prospects on the phone can be a real hazard,” he confesses. That’s why he invested in a new personal navigation system called TomTom. The global positioning system (GPS) now steers him in the right direction by providing voice commands as well as graphically rich maps that tell him exactly where he is at every moment. “I’m no longer putting my life at risk every time I visit a client,” says Nelson. “Plus, I’m actually able to see more prospects during the course of the day.” You can also try GPS devices from Garmin.