What field reps – and their managers – want from the avalanche of Sales 2.0 tools flooding the market are solutions that deliver more sales successes with less sweat whenever possible, and the good news midway through 2011 is that suddenly, the revolution is more real. There is more progress with both mobility tools and technologies for tracking and sorting the huge mountains of social-selling info. And this is translating into good news for sales teams.
The popular press reviews for the new Research In Motion (RIM) tablet are tepid – some pundits even are rushing to bury the device – but be prepared to be surprised. “We are making a major push with the BlackBerry PlayBook. We are launching many apps that will run on it,” says Dan Mahowald, vice president of enterprise mobility at SAP.
And SAP is not alone. Many business-software companies are focusing on the new BlackBerry tablet, just introduced in April and still a work in progress. It has flaws, as noted by many reviewers, but others see great potential, particularly for mobile sales teams. The reason for optimism is simple: The PlayBook is as secure as the BlackBerry itself (and that is good enough to pass muster at almost all organizations) and, importantly, PlayBook runs Adobe Flash, which means tools such as SAP’s Xcelsius dashboards that do not run on iPad (with its ban on Flash-based tools) will run without a hitch on the PlayBook.
Between enterprise-grade security and Flash compatibility, business-software writers are taking a long look at the PlayBook, and many like what they see. Add in dazzling graphics, a highly portable seven-inch size, and an HDMI port that allows for projection of PowerPoint shows onto big screens, and BlackBerry may have a tablet that could give the iPad a run for its money.
Probably the biggest issue upon the PlayBook’s release was the scarcity of applications to run on it, but that is being remedied as more app developers see its business potential. RIM has taken steps to allow at least some Android apps to run on PlayBook, and while it isn’t likely to rival Apple’s 300,000-title Apps Store anytime soon, BlackBerry App World, little by little, is filling up with tools that matter to mobile professionals.
And that is why many sales managers and reps are taking a close look at PlayBook. It just may rise above those early, lukewarm reviews.
The wake-up moment came when the Wall Street Journal tabbed sales-compensation company Xactly at number three in its roundup of top venture-backed companies. That made Xactly a company not to be ignored, and, says CEO Christopher Cabrera, the ranking resulted from “a perfect storm.”
He explains, “You can’t find companies that are happy with how they pay. In the past, software developers tried to solve this with big, heavy, expensive software. The sea change came with Software-as-a-Service that lets us rent our software. This lets price points come way down. We have finally cracked the code.”
Companies have long used Excel to calculate sales compensation, but there is little dispute that using the Microsoft spreadsheet is time consuming and error prone. Miscalculations are so frequent, most reps do so-called shadow accounting to keep tabs on the official calculations.
“With companies using Excel,” Cabrera says, “they are paying their reps three or four weeks in arrears, in the best case. Their pay comes as a surprise a month later. That just does not drive behavior. On our system, the reps can see their compensation every day. This motivates them. So why not tap into the coin-operated mentality of sales reps? Xactly lets you. We help design plans that are visible to reps; you will see their behavior change.”
Cabrera says that commission-estimation tools that let a rep see how much he or she would earn after making a particular sale at a particular price point are especially popular. Xactly takes all the guesswork out of the calculation, and, suggests Cabrera, this turns Xactly into a powerful motivator.
Xactly plans start as low as $30 per rep per month and escalate to $70 per rep per month for organizations that want richer analytics. “We have democratized sales-compensation software. Any company can afford it,” says Cabrera.
Back in the day, Jon Ferrara was a cofounder of the groundbreaking CRM software company GoldMine, but now he is back and hip deep “in the social river,” as he puts it, with startup Nimble, a new online tool designed to make sense and connect the many dots of our multiplying digital relationships.
“What are relationships all about?” he asks. “People, activities, relationships. That was at the root of GoldMine. It hasn’t changed. These are still what matter. What has changed is how we communicate.”
Sign up for Nimble (it’s free for individuals, but fees kick in for team-based use when team members share insights and contacts), and it swiftly sorts through a person’s Gmail and Google contacts and LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. “We integrate it all with your calendar, too,” says Ferrara.
Nimble sees you are meeting later today with client “X,” so it tells you what it has recently gleaned about this prospect via the social networks. A core Ferrara belief: “You should not have to type in much data. Nimble does it for you.” He adds, “Nimble is a Web-based solution that integrates your connections into one simple tool. We connect things in a way that will make you more powerful, more effective.”
Understand this, too: at bottom, according to Ferrara, there is nothing especially new about social networking. What is new is that it is now online, and for most of us, the volume of activity is dramatically greater. But what Nimble seeks to do is sew it all together so that we connect better and with very little need for direct input or involvement, since, by design, Nimble uses our existing networking accounts to develop the information we need to succeed.
“This is all about making it easier for you,” says Ferrara.
“Eighty percent of our business comes to us through Ariba Discovery,” says Kevin Govin, CEO of MarkMaster Inc., a manufacturer of identity solutions such as name badges. “We grow 10 percent or more per year. We sell to sixty Fortune 500 companies. And almost all of it comes to us through Ariba Discovery.”
An Internet pioneer, Ariba has persevered in its mission to make it easier for buyers and sellers to find each other online. With Discovery, it has hit a home run, at least in Govin’s estimation. “It’s like Yellow Pages on steroids,” he says.
Govin adds, “I used to focus on products. Now I focus on meeting customer needs. Using Ariba, we find out what those needs are.”
Core to Ariba Discovery is the belief that generic search is a highly ineffective way for online buyers and sellers to meet up. What it aspires to do is be the matchmaker for business, intelligently pairing up buyers and sellers. A growing number of companies sing its praises.
Even though MarkMaster’s sales volume has grown two and a half times over the last 11 years, according to Govin, its number of sales reps has remained constant: “We have more opportunities. We go about it smarter. Our salespeople do not take orders any more. They create repeat customers.”
Ariba Discovery expedites a lot of MarkMaster’s prospecting by putting its wares in front of customers. “We are on 5 million-plus Ariba desktops,” says Govin. “We have listings, we watch for opportunities, and we are contacted directly by customers who find us on Ariba.”
An early cloud-based apps developer, Zoho has staked out a CRM play, offering a high-value product at a low price, says company evangelist Raju Vegesna ($12 per user per month, with an enterprise edition with more features available for $25 per user per month). Key to Zoho CRM, which Vegesna says is a top-selling Google Marketplace app, is its “tight integration with email.” Look up a customer, and not only do you see his or her contact info and order history, but the history of emails exchanged with that customer also unfolds. Plug-ins with Microsoft Outlook and Google Apps make the data exchange easy.
BlackBerry and iPhone apps are new for Zoho CRM. “Mobile is critical with CRM,” says Vegesna. Why? Reps will update CRM in a few brief minutes as they sit in their car in the client’s parking lot or use public transit in urban areas. That means they’re using mobile apps via either tablet computers or smart phones.
Vegesna also sees a beefed-up mobile app that, for instance, features built-in tools for taking a photo of a customer’s business card with a phone’s camera, and almost instantly all the data is made available on Zoho CRM. Users can also access the phone’s location capabilities and ask Zoho CRM for the names of nearby customers or prospects. (The phone knows if you are in Hoboken, NJ, and can tell you on whom to call while you’re there.)
“Mobile information will just get more important in CRM,” says Vegesna. Bottom line: Any CRM tool has to keep upgrading to reflect that reality.
Another entrant in the expanding field of startups that promises fast tools for making better sense of our social-media streams: ConnectedHQ, which gives users “the information they need to sell smarter,” says Art Jackson, director of sales at Web 2.0 company Tynt Media. “ConnectedHQ puts all the social content together. It is very easy to set up and use. All I had to do to get started was check some boxes. It’s a godsend for people who aren’t supertechnical.
“It sends me a daily email with that day’s appointments and information about the social-media news of the people I am meeting.” He says he glances at all that – including a person’s recent Tweets, LinkedIn updates, and so forth – just before going into a sales meeting. When he does go in, he goes in “feeling connected to the person, and that is why [ConnectedHQ] is so great.”
Adds Jackson, “If I haven’t seen a contact in a few months, I’ll pull him up in ConnectedHQ, and he comes alive. I see what he’s been up to on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.”
One difference with ConnectedHQ is that it is fee based ($9.99 per month after a free trial). Jackson is convinced it is well worth the fee, mainly because it offers so much ease of use. He also likes how quickly it sorts information. Want to know who among all your contacts in San Francisco is a company vice president? Click a couple buttons, and ConnectedHQ gives you exactly that information. “You can look up data in any way you want,” says Jackson.
Is ConnectedHQ better than Nimble? Or any of the other tools on the market for organizing social-media content? Everybody will have a personal favorite, a tool that just seems the better fit, and that is the one to use.
Picture this: you are sitting in a customer’s office, and he or she asks, “When companies upgrade among your product offerings, what is most likely to be the reason the upgrade will fail, if it, in fact, fails?”
You can hem and haw. Offer to get back to the customer later. Or you could send an email to SAVO Group and get an instant response that is based on how past answers were scored by reps in similar situations. “This helps you look brilliant in front of the customer,” says Mark O’Connell, CEO of SAVO Group, a developer of tools for better managing the moment of sale. He adds that the “system gets smarter over time the more it is used. This is social selling; you are leveraging the collective smarts of your company.
“Companies are gated by a small number of people who have all the facts. How do you leverage them into higher levels of productivity? And how do you make the information a rep needs in the field easier to lay hands on? That is what SAVO is about.”
Consumer-facing Internet sites that, in a search for the best information, post questions and then score answers put up by other users are popular. SAVO, in effect, supercharges this by using it to streamline a company’s presentation of information about its products and services.
Key to SAVO’s solutions is the belief that “technology has changed what we are willing to sit through and what customers are willing to sit through,” says O’Connell. What reps want is information as they need it, and that is crucial. No rep wants information just for the sake of having it. And SAVO tools, particularly on mobile devices, are designed to deliver what is needed as it is needed. “It’s a kind of mobile knowledge-management system,” says O’Connell.
A typical question inside SAVO: what is the best, highest-rated sales presentation on this product family? Ask that before calling on a customer, and of course, interest in the answer is high. “These tools really make you the smartest in the class,” says O’Connell, and the plus is that every rep who uses these tools also gets elevated to smartest-rep status. And that is a real win.
Look in the Apple Apps store, and it’s evident that Sybase, now a subsidiary of SAP, has been an early mover. Sybase Mobile Sales & Workforce, a key app, delivers SAP CRM data (accounts, contacts, opportunities, and more) directly to a rep’s mobile device, either on an iPad or iPhone.
There is a reason SAP has pounced on mobile: “It’s become pervasive. It’s a whole new ball game for sales and marketing people,” says Dan Mahowald, vice president of enterprise mobility at SAP.
New devices empower new activities by mobile workers, he says, and companies that do not get this will be left behind. He cites the example of a sales rep who, immediately prior to a call, gets a video on his or her iPad or other tablet that shows how best to sell these particular products or services to companies much like the one being called on. There is no long white paper, no huge PowerPoint deck, just a crisp, informative video that ideally both informs and inspires the rep.
“None of that was possible before these new mobile devices,” says Mahowald. “We envision the sales organization becoming more of a publisher with the mission of equipping the sales force with current info. Quick stories are told using audio and video. Now is the time for companies to rethink how they deliver content to sales reps and what content gets delivered.
“We are studying how mobile workers work, and we are reengineering the experience. New devices are letting us incorporate dimensions that had not been offered before.”