Now that the holidays and the 4Q rush to close business is behind us, it is a good time for sales executives to think about their team’s performance and how it can be improved. Of course, the big buzz in 2011 was around the emergence of social business, so now might be the time to explore if social technology can help your sales processes.

At IBM, we have been working over the last couple years with our own sales team and many enterprise customers to help transform sales processes with social technology. We have seen it applied to lead generation and customer relationship building with social media and we have seen it used internally for social collaboration -- both with consistently positive results. I’ll focus on the latter, internal social collaboration, because it has fewer cultural obstacles and therefore could help you impact your results in the first half of 2012.

Tools to Help Sellers

Discussions of internal sales processes with VP of Sales usually begin with them saying, “We have a Sales Force Automation (SFA) tool for doing that.” It is true that billions of dollars have been spent on SFA tools and they do a great job of tracking and managing the data associated with the sales processes with functions like account management and opportunity management. However, what these tools miss is that the selling process, especially B2B selling, is highly dependent on internal collaboration across the sales, technical, legal, delivery and executive teams. Without tools to help accelerate that collaboration, the existing SFA applications are not helping sellers to close more deals or bigger deals.

The Right Resources on Every Deal

The constant churn of sales staff creates a common problem. A large deal in the pipeline looks great at first, but as you get closer to the end of the quarter a major deal breaker comes up. Maybe the wrong product was proposed. Maybe a competitive threat resurfaced. The root cause of many of these problems is that a new sales representative did not engage the right employees early on in the sales cycle. It simply takes a long time to develop a rich internal network and the experience to apply best practices on every deal. However, that time can be significantly shortened with social analytics that can actually recommend what employees should be in your network based on your activity and profile. The social analytics can also recommend documents and communities that contain the best practices or competitive sparklers. The result is that everyone on the sales teams quickly discovers where to get the expertise they need to close a sale faster.

Just in Time Collaboration

Once you have the right people and resources engaged on an opportunity, the team needs to execute quickly to present a proposal that will beat the competition. This means they need questions answered quickly, they need access to the most current version of a document and they need quick consensus on a “Win Plan.” IBM sellers and the extended teams have been using communities and real time communications to accomplish this part of the selling process for years. They have communities for specific industry sectors, for specific customers and specific opportunities. In the communities, they can get access to all the latest files and other content related to the sale in a wiki or blog. They can get questions answered in a discussion forum or link to a real time chat session so the whole team can contribute. When needed, they can quickly host a web conference to polish the final presentation or proposal. The additional benefit is that knowledge generated in the community can then be applied to the next deal -- it is not lost in someone’s email inbox never to be used again!

Small Changes – Big Results

The key thing to remember about applying social technology to the sales process is that small changes can have a big effect. Shortening the time it takes a sales representative to find an expert, get a question answered or locate the most current version of a file means that they have more time to engage with existing customers or prospect for future deals. Today’s leading social software can also be easily integrated with your existing SFA solution so you can harvest additional value from your prior investments.
 

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