The New Mobility

The mobile salesforce – a bunch of road warriors, living in their cars and in hotel rooms, rarely coming in to the company’s offices. Needing to be self-contained, the organisation has historically kitted them out with the obligatory mobile phone and laptop – the two core mobile tools.

Or at least that’s how it used to be. Those company-issued phones do not present the look the sales person wishes. The laptop is too slow and clumsy for the 10 minute meeting they have managed to negotiate with a prospect. More to the point, the applications that they would run on the laptop if they could get it up and running quickly enough are just not what they need – they are slow, overly complex and don’t provide them with the insights needed to get the job done.

Today’s sales person is far more likely to source their own devices – the latest smartphone, tablet or whatever. They understand that first impressions count – they want to be seen to be at the leading edge by their prospects and customers. However, they do still need access to the information and tools to get their job done.

This is where organisations are currently failing. Although in many cases, the sales person can use the organisation’s web site as a tool to visually take the prospect/customer through various offerings, the sales management software used is far less likely to be fully ‘mobile friendly’. In some cases, it will still be a client/server system, dependent on Windows at the client side.

Even where such tools are is cloud-based, they may be too complex for the sales person to use effectively. Multiple actions needing to be taken to find key information, a lack of context as to what any information needs next in terms of action and an incapability to apply intelligence to the sales process can lead to sales people taking short cuts. They may not use all of the software’s capabilities – or may not use it at all, defaulting back into their own comfort zone of spreadsheets and hand-written notes.

Any software approach has to be capable of being seen by the salesforce as adding sufficient value to their day-to-day use. For example, the tools must be usable across a range of devices – adaptable for different screen sizes, accessed from different operating system and over various network connections. Key information has to be readily accessible – the sales person should be able to get to what they need to see within two or three actions.

Just using sales management software as a simple ‘systems of record’, where the sales person’s data is held for future retrieval, misses the point of what sales management software should be doing. With the risk of repetition (but the point needs to be made repeatedly), the software has to add value – it should help the sales person in their job by adding contextual information as required.

For example, sales management tools should be able to understand all the stages of the sales process and provide guidelines as to what steps should be taken next to optimise the possibility of a full-value (not just a one-off) sale. In some circumstances, the advice could be to abandon the sale. The prospect may not be in the right position to close a deal at this time, and bailing out at the right stage can not only save time for the sales person, but also create a more positive relationship with the prospect so that a deal will be more easily closed when the time is right.

This contextually-aware advice needs to be provided for the sales person as a continuous capability as they are working. Therefore, although they may have sales and customer details via a tablet while sitting in their car in the car park just before seeing the prospect/customer, they may be using the tablet to show the prospect/customer something in the meeting itself. The sales person may then, need to access the sales software from their smartphone for further information and advice during the meeting.

Such flexibility is becoming a necessity. Organisations that try to be prescriptive as to how their salesforce operates will find that it becomes self-defeating. Having a policy of using specific devices with software that dictates a desktop-bound model will minimise the effectiveness of the sales force.

The sales person needs to be able to work in the way that suits them best – with the devices that they want whether these have been chosen for function or look does not matter. The sales person needs to have tools on those devices that gives them the best capability to prioritise and enact their work processes. Simple sales pipeline tools no longer provide that capability. What is now needed is easy to access systems that provide advice on the next steps along the sales process. This is not just a case of the ‘sales funnel’ approach of taking a large number of prospects and fining them down to a set of customers. It is about maintaining the relationship with even those that are refined out of the process at an early stage – thus ensuring that the possibility of selling to them at a later date is retained.

Just bear in mind when reviewing the approach in managing the salesforce – they are not the same as desk-bound employees; they have different needs that are badly catered for by standard, off-the-shelf systems. Look to vendors who can provide the maximum value to the salesforce, whether this is directly from the sales management software, or as an additional layer on top of the organisation’s existing system.

Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom

Clive trained as a chemical engineer, worked on anti-cancer drugs, car catalysts and fuel cells before moving in to IT. He has worked on many office automation projects, as well as COSHH, document management and knowledge management projects. Latterly he became a consultant and then an IT industry analyst through META Group in the US (now part of Gartner). He is currently Services Director at Quocirca.