If you haven’t noticed it yet, then you aren’t paying attention – your customers are empowered.

Empowered - photo credit: SAP

In the highly mobile, highly networked, highly social period of the last few years, customers have become vastly smarter about products and services.  This is true in consumer markets where consumers share and compare with their friends on Facebook, and review real-world experiences with products before they purchase.  But it is also true in every facet of the enterprise and it is not slowing down.

Customers are much more familiar with the successes and shortcomings of your solutions.  They know how much discount to request, and they know the reality of customer references.  “Checking out” a story is vastly easier with LinkedIn – just call someone who has done it.  They will give you the real story!  Your organization doesn’t control access to information, to customers or to past experience with your solutions.

So how do you counter-act this trend?   If your sales teams are “outgunned,” what do you do?

The answer is to empower your sales team by fusing access to analysis, experts and real-time decisions.   In many respects, it takes a network to address a network.  Whatever assets your customers have access to needs to also be available to your sales teams.

  • If your customers can call and network with other customers, why can’t your sales reps?
  • If your customers have access to pricing, discounting, and delivery information, why don’t your sales reps?
  • If you customers have access to experts, references and deep understanding of fit and features, why don’t your sales reps?

Like the US Military, sales reps need immediate access to actionable intelligence.  They need to shrink the OODA loop that they experience with their customers.

  1. Observe.  With tools like Insideview or other social selling tools, sales and marketing can discern patterns, needs or issues at their customers that are a good potential opportunity for their solution.  There is more market information in the public domain than every before, from detailed company analysis, events, “open source” intel from Twitter and public forums, and detailed reporting and employment influence hierarchies that are all readily available to field teams.  Gathering this is job one, and often falls to the end sales rep.
  1. Orient.  Natively social communities provide an excellent solution to the problem of orientation.  How do sales teams understand a situation?  How do they take raw, observational intelligence from the field and immediately understand it’s importance?  Social, sales support communities bring the experts to the problem.  Posts draw immediate assistance from the people who know.  Sales reps can be sales reps – they don’t need to be product managers, engineers, operations, customer service or legal professionals.   In a commercial context, the team of experts applied to a sales opportunity is like the intelligence “fusion” capabilities of Special Forces – the ability to reach back into the org and apply deep expertise in real-time is a fundamental capability of any fast institution.
  1. Decide.  New social collaborative selling tools make decision faster than ever.  Sales teams and their management hierarchies don’t need to be isolated by geography, travel or time.  New issues and opportunities can immediately get.  Unlike email, all observations are in context of the customer.  Perspective matters and these tools explicitly preserve the usefulness of this information by preserving context.  It is the promise of classic CRM, but updated to the new world of social, mobile and collaborative working styles.
  1. Act.  New advancements in the “connected cloud” (see Lars Dalgaard’s announcement at SAP Sapphire) provide a fast, integrated, company-wide response to customer issues and opportunities.  It is never enough just to TALK to customers – your organization must DELIVER and work fundamentally as ONE TEAM at every level and in every geography.   Delivery means that stock is available, the price is specific to the customer, and that service levels are aligned to customer needs.  Acting with purpose is the moment of truth – it is where the new insights of a fast sales team is delivered for real.

It is a great lesson from an unlikely place.  If the US Military can dance, so can your company.