Sales is the world’s oldest profession; while people usually cite a different trade entirely for that particular honor, it’s still a form of selling. Over the course of its history, several time-honored principles and traditions have developed, to the point that the idea of what makes a good – or bad – salesperson is crystallized in the popular consciousness. A good salesperson, like Ricky Roma from Glengarry Glen Ross, has a certain easy charm; he gains a lead’s trust and persuades them to take action. A bad salesperson – like Jack Lemmon’s character from the same movie – is weak and unconvincing. A good salesperson, like Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness, is dogged and relentless to the point that nothing will divert them from chasing a deal; a bad salesperson, like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, is all too eager to give up.
The point here is that the qualities we associate with a good salesperson are all internal; they’re born, not trained. Accordingly, seasoned pros working in industrial distribution can be somewhat sceptical about the power of technology; the basic principles of the trade have been intact for thousands of years, and sales will always be about persuading people to sign on the dotted line. What can a machine do that an experienced closer can’t?
Of course, anyone working in the industrial space may have reason to be wary of machines. Furthermore, while the advent of ‘big data’ has meant access to more information, the seasoned salesperson could well argue that more information isn’t always good or actionable information – and certainly, a bunch of numbers from an algorithm aren’t going to be better than getting a real-life read on a prospect’s intentions.
That said, the notion that software is more trouble than it’s worth is more than a little misguided. Modern sales software isn’t about replacing the salesperson, and determination and personal charisma are as central to making a deal as ever; it’s about empowering them, and augmenting these attributes to maximize time, energy, and revenue. By leveraging the power of sales intelligence software, they can do this in a number of ways.
1. Trendspotting and proactive sales
Sales isn’t always consistent; in fact, it frequently is the very opposite. It ebbs and flows, it booms and declines. Steady progress is a rare thing, and dramatic improvement even rarer. Having tons of data on your customers, leads, and prospects can help, but only if your department knows what to do with it. Until recently, this usually meant getting your marketing team to unearth spreadsheet after spreadsheet in the hopes of identifying a magic correlation that might represent a real trend.
You likely don’t have the resources to pay professionals for information that might not even be useful, so in this scenario, sales intelligence software is a lifesaver. Using predictive analytics, it’s possible for the right technology to identify a seasonal surge in the sales of a particular machine part – and make recommendations for how the enterprising professional can capitalize on it. For example, you could offer the part at a markdown price, encouraging people who might have bought elsewhere to buy from you.
Alternatively, you can be proactive with existing customers. With sales intelligence, you will, over time, accumulate a lot of insight into your clients’ spending habits: if you know that a particular client runs out of a certain product in August and tends to make new orders in September, you can pre-empt their needs with a discount – ensuring you don’t miss out because they shopped around for a better deal.
2. Building better – and more personal – relationships
One of President Bill Clinton’s most often-cited ‘superpowers’ is his ability to remember names. As legend has it, in any given year, he’ll meet thousands of people, but if he’s met you more than a few times, he’ll know exactly who you are. It’s one of the reasons he’s still regarded as one of the most charismatic Commanders-in-Chief in recent memory. The lesson here is easily applied to sales: people like to feel special and important, and if you can make them feel special and important, they’ll be positively disposed towards you. A client who feels like you aren’t really paying attention to their needs, and are simply interested in shifting another couple of units as quickly as possible is likely to go elsewhere.
As a salesperson, you likely meet several hundred people a year yourself, and without the benefit of Clinton’s superior recall. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn up to every meeting with all the information you could possibly need – and more besides. Sales intelligence software allows you to document every relevant part of a conversation so that you’re not left scratching your head when it comes to interacting with customers: effectively, it enables you to pretend that every client is your only client. And because it’s frequently available on mobile devices, it’s possible to do this on the move; you can potentially brush up on the particulars of a prospective deal on the car ride over.
3. Improving efficiency
Sales intelligence software has applications outside of the customer-facing parts of an organization. Even the leanest and most well-run companies accumulate small inefficiencies over time; processes that could be better or smoother, but aren’t – often for the simple reason that nobody knows these inefficiencies even exist. On a case-by-case basis, a few wasted minutes or seconds might seem trivial and hardly worth giving any serious thought. Cumulatively, however, the result can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, pounds, or euros worth of wasted money.
The right technology allows you to identify the chinks in your company’s armor before they become major issues. For example, if your salespeople are offering unnecessary – and minor – discounts of a few cents here or there (amounts that wouldn’t sway a customer’s decision one way or another), it won’t seem like a big deal, but it will cause order value to diminish considerably over time. The right technology will flag this, and recommend ways to correct it (as well as pre-empt this kind of situation in future). Likewise, if your team are wasting time on minor administrative tasks that can be outsourced to more relevant departments, the software will make this known – allowing your sales team to get on with the business of actually selling.
4. Smarter selling
When it comes down to it, this is ultimately what sales intelligence software was designed for: to reduce the investment of time and company money required to perform their duties. It’s not technology’s role to replace competent, dedicated professionals – and if it was, it would do an awful job of it. But there’s no denying that, given two salespeople of equal ability, the one with technological savvy will win out every time; to not use it effectively is to fly blind.
The truth is that the key to good salesmanship isn’t necessarily charisma or drive; these things are important, but they’re not everything. More than anything, a quality salesperson has a nose for opportunity – and the opportunity provided by sales intelligence software should be irresistible. In the age of big data, it’s possible to be quicker, more efficient, and more informed than the competition – particularly since uptake, for the moment, remains somewhat slow. The possibilities available to sales professionals in the industrial distribution sector are expanding constantly; whether they take advantage of them or not is ultimately their decision.