Incorporate these four strategies into your next presentation offer to guarantee more sales.
Business intelligence is projected to grow to a nearly $26.9 billion industry by 2021, but its solutions are only as good as the data behind it. IBM determined that inaccurate data took a $3.1 trillion bite out of the U.S. economy in 2016. That’s why decision makers require spot-on data and efficient, streamlined systems to maintain it. Otherwise, they’ll end up with what I call a “rat’s nest”: dirty, duplicate, or dead information that obscures useful insights for making smart decisions.
Too many sales teams (and other departments) enter data by hand but create fresh entries instead of searching their systems and updating existing accounts, which muddies their data sets. Manual data entry isn’t ideal — it can be costly, time-consuming, and open to misinterpretation.
Let’s say a prospect from IBM fills out a website lead form and enters “IBM” instead of the full company name. And let’s say that an account existed under the full name, International Business Machines Corporation, so that the entry listed under the abbreviation results in data fragmentation and confusion. Next come duplicate account records with notes, tasks, and contact information haphazardly attached — a total rat’s nest.
The best way to keep data clean is to use a globally known, unique identifier, or a “data backbone.” My company prefers to use URLs as identifiers. They’re free, globally recognizable, high-quality data points that enable you to efficiently gather information on a business’s industry, online activities, and functionality. For example, Cisco is a company that also goes by Cisco Systems, Inc. and Cisco Precision Tools. If sales containers required users to type in one unique URL, http://www.cisco.com, for all those different branches, it’d be much more difficult to create duplicate accounts, which helps keep data clean. Perhaps more important, URLs facilitate communication between people, systems, and even departments. Whether it’s the customer relationship management platforms used by sales teams, enterprise resource planning software used by purchasing teams, or the account-based marketing technology employed by marketing teams, the business intelligence platform can recognize a unique URL and attach it to clean, usable data. Unique identifiers let you know you’re pulling from the sources and contacts you’ve intended to track.
Establishing a data backbone is one part of the business intelligence equation, but fleshing out the ribs (contact information, credit history, competitive intelligence, etc.) can make data seem overwhelming without a good process for managing it. The following strategies can help you improve your business intelligence through better data management:
Clean data construction is the way forward, and to ignore the need is to sacrifice your competitive edge. A strong backbone is the key to riding the growing data wave to prosperity.
AppSumo’s founder on how persistence, planning, and a no-fear attitude are the key to getting more subscribers
Retailers are beginning to cash in on the 2.32 billion smartphone users around the world.
In 1950, Alan Turing, already famous for helping to crack the German Enigma code during World War II, devised the Turing test to define intelligence in machines. Could a computer, Turing asked, fool a human into thinking he was interacting with another person, or imitate human responses so well that it would be impossible for a person to tell the difference? If the machine could, Turing proposed, it could be considered intelligent. Turing’s thought experiment spawned scores of science-fiction tales, such as the 2015 hit movie Ex Machina. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous algorithms are not only passing the Turing test every day but, more importantly, are making and saving money for the businesses that deploy them.
CenturyLink is one of the largest telecommunications providers in the United States, serving both small and large businesses nationwide. The collects thousands of sales leads from the businesses it serves, and it wishes to interact with them in the intimate, personal manner consumers have come to expect. Pursuing those leads more effectively would accelerate the company’s growth, and converting and upselling a larger percentage of hot leads (people who have expressed interest in the company’s services by filling out a form, clicking on an ad, or emailing the company) would boost the company’s bottom line.
Accordingly, in the latter half of 2016, CenturyLink made a small investment in an AI-powered sales assistant made by Conversica to see if it could help the company identify hot leads without hiring an expensive army of sales reps to comb through the leads. The Conversica AI, a virtual assistant named Angie, sends about 30,000 emails a month and interprets the responses to determine who is a hot lead. She sets the appointment for the appropriate salesperson and seamlessly hands off the conversation to the human.
The potential customer gets a prompt and helpful outreach from Angie, and the reps — who may each have 300 accounts — save time because Angie vets the inquiries to identify the ones with the most potential. The reps also become more efficient because Angie routes the right leads to the right reps. In the small pilot CenturyLink ran, Angie could understand 99% of the emails she received; the 1% that she couldn’t understand were sent to her manager.
According to Scott Berns, CenturyLink’s Director of Marketing Operations, the company has approximately 1,600 sales people, and the Angie pilot started with four of them. That number soon rose to 20, and continues to grow today. Initially, Angie was identifying about 25 hot leads per week. That has now increased to 40, and the results have certainly validated the company’s investment. It has earned $20 in new contracts for every dollar it spent on the system.
Tom Wentworth, Chief Marketing Officer at RapidMiner, a company that provides an analytical tool for data scientists, had a problem that was similar to CenturyLink’s. Like many software companies, RapidMiner offers free trials, and Wentworth was struggling to serve the approximately 60,000 users who come to the company’s site each month for the free trial. Many of the visitors using RapidMiner’s software, and needing help, are not paying anything for the service. So, how could Wentworth help them in a cost-effective way?
The company had a popular chat feature on its site, but its salesforce was overwhelmed — and spending a great deal of time — sorting through the chat sessions to find potential customers. It was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Wentworth approached a friend who suggested he try a chat tool called Drift, which would ask a visitor initiating a chat, “What brought you to RapidMiner today?” The visitor would respond, and the Drift bot would provide one of seven potential follow-up answers. For example, a visitor might say, “I need help,” and Drift would send him or her to the support section of the website.
Drift was relatively easy to set up. Wentworth, like CenturyLink, started small, running the tool on a few of RapidMiner’s smaller web pages to test how helpful it was.
In less than two weeks, he had deployed it on every page.
The Drift bot now conducts about a thousand chats per month. It resolves about two-thirds of customer inquiries; those that it cannot, it routes to humans. In addition to Wentworth, who is monitoring the tool’s interactions, two co-op college students support the inquiries part-time. Wentworth told me that Drift is generating qualified leads for the sales team by making customers. “It’s the most productive thing I’m doing in marketing,” he said.
Every day, Wentworth reviews conversations people have had with Drift. “I’ve learned things about my visitors that no other analytics system would show,” said Wentworth. “We’ve learned about new use cases, and we’ve learned about product problems.”
This is the strength of an AI agent that can elicit information like a person, rather than an analytics tool that simply finds patterns in the data it collects, like a machine.
In 2016, Epson America, the printer and imaging giant, piloted the same Conversica AI assistant as CenturyLink. Chris Nickel, Epson’s senior manager of commercial marketing, was drowning in all the leads he was getting for the company’s diverse line of products: big printers, projectors, scanners, point of sale solutions, and industrial robots. Epson America was getting 40,000 to 60,000 leads per year from trade shows, direct mail, email marketing, social media, print and online advertising, and a successful brand awareness campaign. The leads would pour in, and whether they were good, bad, qualified or not, they would all be turned over to salespeople whose availability to follow up was inconsistent.
After implementing the AI assistant, Epson’s leads are now followed up promptly and persistently until their AI assistant gets a response. “Because the outreach to leads takes 6-8 times, Conversica is a true force multiplier for our sales team,” say Nickel. After a lead is passed to one of Epson’s partners, the AI assistant follows up to make sure the customer was satisfied. Sometimes, the response to that follow-up identifies a new sales opportunity, such as “everything went great, and actually we are looking to buy another 60 projectors,” giving Epson the opportunity to quickly capitalize on a new sales opportunity before the competition. Or it can uncover an unresolved customer support issue, such as “I’m having a problem with my projector.”
As Nickel told me, “Before, if we gave 100 leads to the reps, we might get a couple of responses from customers. Now, if we give 100 leads to the AI assistant, we get 50 responses.” Epson reports that the official response rate with the AI assistant is 51%, representing a 240% increase from the baseline established at the beginning of the pilot, and a 75% increase in qualified leads. According to Nickel, that has produced $2 million in incremental revenue in just 90 days.
Because the AI tools that Epson America, RapidMiner, and CenturyLink deployed are offered as-a-service, it was easy for these companies to conduct pilots, and then scale up. Clearly, it’s worthwhile for companies to test AI-powered chat or email tools to see if they can convert more leads, and improve their understanding of what customers want and need.
When it comes to AI in business, a machine doesn’t have to fool people; it doesn’t have to pass the Turing test; it just needs to help them and thereby help the businesses that deploy them. And that test has already been passed. As one CMO told me, “AI tools are the only way I can scale ‘helpfulness’ to a global community of 200,000-plus users with a team of two.”
U.S. companies spend over $70 billion annually on training, and an average of $1,459 per salesperson — almost 20 percent more than they spend on workers in all other functions. Yet, when it comes to equipping sales teams with relevant knowledge and skills, the ROI of sales training is disappointing. Studies indicate that participants in traditional curriculum-based training forget more than 80 percent of the information they were taught within 90 days.
As alarming as those numbers are, they shouldn’t come as a surprise if you consider how sales training is usually conducted. On-boarding, for example, is usually a one-off session in which reps are expected to absorb large amounts of information in a limited amount of time. Then, further training is usually limited to new production introductions or annual “kick-off” meetings to set quotas, where reps are flown in, given information and marching orders, and “fired-up” by a motivational speaker or exercise (more hot coals, anyone?). Further, on the off-chance that training is consistent and continuous, reps aren’t usually provided with coaching or given serious performance evaluations during which development (not only compensation) is discussed.
Although curriculum-based training — classroom-type courses typically focused on a selling methodology and activities like time management — has its place, it should only be treated as a foundation.
To increase retention and effectiveness, companies should offer reps additional training at times of need, provide them with access to supplemental material that reinforces what they’ve already been taught, and allow them opportunities to practice their skills in time frames connected to actual buying processes. They can do so by using the same technologies that are “disrupting” their customer-contact activities: videos and mobile apps that reps can view on their devices before, during, and after training initiatives.
In addition to providing reps with easier and timelier access to information, videos and apps improve comprehension when someone hears information, they remember about 10% of it three days later, but, when a picture is added, retention increases to 65%.
Here are some ways to incorporate better technology into training:
Before. Salespeople must learn about strategy and sales tasks at your firm, not only a generic sales methodology. They must learn how other functions affect, and are affected by, selling activities: for example, product management, marketing, pre-sale application support, and post-sale service. They don’t need to know how to do those jobs. But increasingly they do need to know what those jobs are and how they affect customers.
Because of this, on-boarding should be treated as an on-going process, not a one-off event. This can be achieved through a smart combination of on-site and on-demand videos that can be used anytime and anywhere while delivering consistent messages to your reps.
Consider Salesforce Commerce Cloud. To supplement their quarterly “boot camps” for new hires, the company uses a mobile platform to give sales reps access to the most relevant content, product positioning, and messaging. As one new rep testified, the videos quickly brought her up to speed on company messaging and customer stories. As a result, she felt more connected to Sales Commerce Cloud and confident in her corporate knowledge and relevant sales tasks before her start date.
During: In order for reps to develop new behavioral skills, they must practice a behavior multiple times before it becomes comfortable and effective. And it has to be related to a relevant task. If salespeople are motivated by a deal, they’ll be more incentivized to learn. In other words, in order for training to be effective, you’ll need to deliver the content at a time of need.
Technology can help make this happen, allowing reps to continuously learn from mobile content that is customized to their needs. When combined with traditional training, this approach helps reps turn product, market, and selling factoids into coherent narratives and behavioral models.
For example, Pacific Life Insurance Company, which sells insurance, retirement products, and mutual funds to financial advisors via its field wholesalers, uses video coaching. This allows its wholesalers to record their practice pitches and share them with their regional sales managers (RSMs), who give feedback from their mobile devices when and where reps need it. This helps Pacific Life leverage its scarcest resource: face time with advisers.
Additionally, each wholesaler must articulate a positioning statement for a particular investment product via a five-minute video. Regional sales managers then select the best videos and use them as examples of engaging sales presentations. This helps the wholesalers refine, rather than improvise, their presentations, established best practices, and creates consistency. It also builds confidence in reps, increases their competency, and establishes continuous improvement process.
After. Like other professionals, salespeople improve by identifying specific areas where they must improve and then receiving clear feedback on performance. Feedback is crucial to getting people to practice the right things, eliminate bad or outdated habits, set priorities, and clarify accountabilities owned by the rep versus the manager or the firm — all keys to effective sales leadership.
Technology can help extend the reach of good sales managers. Pacific Life, for example, faces an increasingly common challenge: How can sales managers effectively coach a geographically-dispersed salesforce while minimizing time taken out of the field for training? Mobile video coaching has allowed RSMs to coach wholesalers without the need to be in the same time zone. It also enables managers to identify potential weaknesses and improve wholesalers’ message delivery, rather than have them practice on advisers.
Unlike many today, we do not intend to oversell the power of technology. Selling is not reducible to a two-minute YouTube video or a 17-minute TED talk, and managers who can’t or won’t do coaching and performance reviews will be ineffective regardless of the technologies they employ. Since companies already spend a ton on sales training, the leverage resides in how you spend that time and money, not how much.
A little sales email kung-fu to help you secure the meetings you need to grow your business.
Stand out from the competition by avoiding these common sales mistakes.
Combine a tried-and-true approach with something unexpected
No matter how good your product, without an effective sales strategy… who cares? Not your potential customers.