Winning Communications

You’ve just been assigned a new territory but you’ve never sold to some of the types of companies in that territory. Wouldn’t it be great if you could tap into some of the knowledge and expertise of other salespeople in your company with just a few keystrokes? That’s the theory behind Participate for Sales, a new software and services solution from that runs behind company firewalls for security. Salespeople can type in queries and, using a natural language query engine, the system will retrieve answers to similar questions and such documents as successful sales proposals, and it will offer the opportunity to pose questions to the community if the items retrieved aren’t sufficient.

“Participate for Sales is a way to exchange questions and answers, to see who the go-to person is on certain issues,” says spokesman Bill Perry. “There’s a profile of every person in the company and their expertise and how they prefer to be contacted and how often they want to be contacted.” A Community Manager monitors the exchanges, looks for trends so the most commonly requested information can be disseminated throughout the sales teams and encourages experts to contribute if they’ve been silent for a while.

Does it work? Ask Ace Hardware, which called on to set up an online community that resulted quickly in $1.7 million in paint sales. How? Mike Dooley, a hardware dealer from Bullhead City, AZ, who had been trying for months to win an industrial paint contract with Harrah’s and its network of casinos, learned after some digging that Harrah’s was purchasing paint from Dooley’s competitor because their product had a “direct-to-metal paint” rating, something Dooley had never heard of. A query to the Ace Hardware community revealed other salespeople hadn’t heard of it either. Was this a new, high-tech rating that would threaten sales?

Ultimately, someone suggested Dooley send a sample of the competitor’s product to Ace’s paint lab. Their findings? The “direct-to-metal” rating was actually a clever marketing ploy. Titanium is what helps bond paint to metal, said the lab technicians, and the Ace product contained more of this element than the competitor’s product. Dooley reworked his sales presentation and won an exclusive, $500,000 contract with Harrah’s. He then went back online to the Ace Hardware community to share his strategy and success with other dealers, who promptly followed Dooley’s lead, racking up a total of $1.7 million in paint sales.

Since creation of the online community, Ace has achieved more than a 300 percent ROI, solid proof that opening the lines of communication in your company can pay big dividends in dealing with customers.