Few market watchers today will deny that the revolution in customer empowerment is in full swing, and is rapidly spreading from consumer to business environments. In an age when a single tweet can bring down years of brand-building labor, how is a modern seller best provided with an opportunity to restore equilibrium to the buyer / seller dynamic?

There is little doubt that the digital-era customer experience has changed everything we once knew about the trading of goods and services. Think about the generations-old experience of purchasing a car: before the mid-1990’s, the seller held all the power, and did a remarkable and frustrating job of confusing customers about the most elemental fact involved: the actual price of the vehicle. As Consumers Reports, Kelley Blue Book, Yelp, and ultimately social media rose in popularity, the pendulum of knowledge and influence swung dramatically toward the buyer. Today, we mostly explore and price out cars online, and then sometimes drop by a dealership to handle the paperwork.

Much as this democratic, user-generated content revolution has spelled trouble for the classic car salesman, so too are enterprise B2B sellers challenged by the well-documented “hidden sales cycle” that allows their prospects to do significant homework before facing off in a 1:1 conversation. With better-informed and savvier buyers, enterprises and their front-line reps need to re-think the sales information engine that drives continuous revenue.

Strategy One: Establishing An Integrated Sales Data Path

Fortunately, enterprise sales leaders and operational managers recognize this situation. New Aberdeen research published in The 21st Century Buying Experience: Say Farewell to the Sales Cycle highlights “customers are demanding better service than ever” as the leading (62% popularity) business pressure among all survey respondents. With the radical change that has taken place in the buyer’s journey, the Best-in-Class companies from this research are the quickest to take action, nominating “integrate multiple internal sources of data into a single view of each customer” as their leading strategic action, with a 63% voting rate. This approach is a logical manner in which to corral an exponentially growing number of customer data silos that many businesses now own: marketing automation systems, CRM platforms, contact center deployments, and help desk operations. With these multiple and often conflicting “versions of the truth” about prospects and customers, companies find it more difficult, not less, to stay a step ahead of their buyers – unless they figure out how to create a clean, accurate, visually efficient snapshot of the customer for their sales reps and managers.

CRM alone is not a solution here, as it traditionally does not align all business motions to the customer’s buying journey. Indeed, Aberdeen’s Sales Effectiveness research introduces a multitude of integrated technologies that enhance the power and reach of core CRM, creating a better user and customer experience. Still, simply throwing technology at sales challenges is not effective without a solid underpinning of strong data management.

Figure 1: Maturity Of Customer Data Integration By Best-in-Class

This is where top-performing sales organizations play out one of their many best practices to achieve stronger business results than under-performers: more aggressively integrating all customer-facing enterprise applications into a true, accurate, unified 360˚ view of prospective and current spenders. Figure 1 demonstrates that while the majority of companies are relatively weak in adopting this approach, a direct correlation between business results and application integration is proven.

This efficiency can play out in many scenarios that well-integrated enterprises are better at leveraging data for their own, and customers’ benefits. For example, consider that a senior seller at Company A is nearing a deal with a key buyer at Company B, and they develop a scope-of-work document that heads to legal or procurement colleagues within both companies. It is then discovered that a long-gone employee from B neglected to pay a small invoice from A, and that unbeknownst to the seller and buyer, the two firms are actually in small claims court and forbidden from doing more business with one another until the once-forgotten case is resolved. The fallout? A deal is lost or delayed, a quota missed, a desired product not acquired, time has been wasted, and reputations have been damaged. Had the selling organization connected the dots earlier, perhaps the accounts receivable and sales teams could have collaborated, and turned the debt into an up-sell component of the now-stalled deal.

Think of the 360˚ customer view this way: building out a data-driven customer lifecycle management approach that ensures that the best message is delivered to the right buyer at each watershed moment – prospect, hand-raiser, lead, opportunity, purchaser, renewal – in their customer journey. This nirvana does not, of course, take place without significant attention paid to core competencies that underlie the technologies. Consider the findings in Figure 2, which present a number of best practices that top performers adopt more frequently than weaker sales organizations:

Figure 2: What Exactly Does Customer Data Integration Require?

Here, the data supports a well-known trend in enterprise customer management: the blurring of traditional marketing, sales, and service job roles. It is common knowledge, supported by frequent Aberdeen research, that contemporary marketers, once held accountable for sheer prospecting volume, are now compensated on and tasked with generating sales revenue. Sellers, too, are now adding “micro-marketing” capabilities to their personal tool sets, determining the flow and content of messaging, assets, and social media output that to which their buyers and accounts are exposed. Hence Figure 2 supports the idea of total customer data integration by connecting front- and back-office applications; normalizing parent-child account relationships, and also stop-gap measures to prevent the Company A / B scenario above. In fact, the current research data shows that companies that aggressively integrate enterprise and desktop applications achieve 22% stronger customer retention (73% vs. 60%) rates, and also see 22% more sales reps achieving annual quota (44% vs. 36%), when compared to firms that do not adopt this core competency. On an annual basis, too, firms that connect all external party records to the CRM and unified internal data repository out-perform non-adopters around increasing customer retention, CRM adoption, average deal size, reps achieving quota, and average net client annual spend.

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