By Tim Riesterer, CEO, CMM Group

What’s My ROI on Sales Tools?

Marketers spend a lot of time and money creating messaging, tools and training for sales people. Unlike lead generation campaigns and demand management programs, where you can track impact on suspect, prospect and customer activity, our “sales support” investments are much harder to measure.

But, the day of reckoning is near. We are going to have to demonstrate an ROI for this big-dollar budget item. Especially when statistics like these continue to pop up:

– Up to 90% of what marketing creates for sales support goes unused in the field
(source: American Marketing Association)

– Sales people spend 40% of their selling time creating their own messaging and tools
(source: CMO Council)

– Sales people forget 85% of the content and skills within four weeks of training
(source: ASTD Journal)

– 70% of marketers give themselves a “D” or “F” for the quality of sales support
(source: B-to-B Online)

Intuitively, we know that product launches and sales people require a raft of coaching and customer-facing communications tools. But, we are apparently creating the wrong messages and tools according to these statistics.

What’s the Problem?

Over the past five years, we’ve been able to trace the problem with sales support ROI to four main causes:

1. The messages and content don’t reflect the conversations that sales people want to have with customers and vice versa.

“Customers want to know what we can do to help them accomplish their goals, they don’t want to know what we have to sell them.” Sales Manager, Manufacturing Company

2. The sales tools don’t work the way a customer decision process or sales cycle works.

“There are moments of truth at each step of the customer decision-making process that require tools which are relevant to that interaction – not tools that fit some sort of marketing or brand guidebook.” Sales Operations, Professional Services Company

3. Sales training is not provided in a way that busy, road-warriors who have to be “expert” in multiple products and markets want to learn or learn best.

“Sales people are just-in-time, opportunity-specific learners. They learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it, and they only want to learn as much as they need to learn for the specific opportunity. Field Marketing, Technology Company

4. Our online technologies (CRM and Intranets) are not centralized, clear and intuitive in terms of helping sales people quickly find the right content they need to advance a deal.

“I need to uncover client needs and then respond with something that shows how I meet those needs. There’s nothing in my CRM system that helps me do that and our sales intranet is a cesspool of information.” Sales rep, Financial Services Company

Is it worth fixing?

A recent survey and executive whitepaper produced by CSO Insights called: “Optimizing Sales Performance with Consistent Message Management,” took a stab at correlating company sales results with their ability to communicate consistent messaging to, and through, their sales force.

Of the 1,300 + companies surveyed, only 87 said they would consider themselves “world-class” at connecting their marketing and customer messaging to and through their field sales people. When the sales results of those 87 companies were compared to the rest who said they were very good, average or below, here’s what they found.

World-class companies:

-Outdistance others in quota achievement by 25%
-Win rates 20% higher than average sales forces
-3x more successful in proposals closing to a sale
-Significantly better cross-selling and up-selling
-5x better at avoiding excessive discounting
-Significantly more effective new product launches

In response, the authors of the survey and paper said: “Whether these firms are more disciplined because they embarked on the consistent message management journey or they were willing to go down the consistent message management path because they already had a more structured corporate/sales culture, the results are inescapably the same: they’re getting a much bigger bang for each sales and marketing dollar.”

What is does it take?

So, what do the companies who rate themselves world-class in consistent message management have in common? The following four things, which just happen to correlate with the four problems I mentioned earlier:

1. They build customer-relevant messaging based on decision-maker roles and goals.

2. They deliver sales tools specific to the tasks at hand in an identified buying cycle.

3. They make sure all necessary content is available in a single, central repository.

4. They “push” content based on selling situation vs. “pull” from a mass of content.

Customer-relevant messaging

Companies that want to drive more consistent, high-quality customer conversations are building messaging based on targeted decision-makers and their most pressing business objectives and challenges. Instead of always starting with our company and our products, we must set the customer context, and then map how we best respond to these situations.

This literally means creating “conversational roadmaps” for each of the repeatable business objectives we can identify filled with messaging about the objective, problem and potential solution, as well as the value we can create and proof points that validate.

Buying cycle-relevant tools

If you want sales people to stop building their own tools and diluting your brand, you must take the time to truly understand the customer buying cycle and selling activities that take place within it. Ask sales people what they are trying to accomplish at each step.

Find out how and where they are conducting that interaction. Determine what kind of messaging and at what level they need it in order to prepare, conduct or respond. And, diagram the most appropriate type of tool to deliver that information.

Single, online repository

Your sales people should only need to go to one place, online to find everything they need to help create, cultivate and close deals. Too many databases, microsites, binders and presentations in too many locations causes an immense drag on sales productivity, drives up frustration and creates huge gaps in consistency and potentially accuracy.

Review all of your sales resources, consolidate the most useful and valuable into a single online repository and work with sales people to organize the content in a way that is intuitive and meaningful.

Push vs. Pull

After everything becomes available in one spot, you are ready to consider the ultimate in just-in-time, opportunity-specific accessibility. Recognizing that sales people can’t be expected to know everything about everything our company does, leading companies are transforming their intranet experience to serve up information and push it to sales people vs. making them search and pull and hope they got the right stuff.

This often takes the form of an “interview” interface that asks sales people to answer a couple simple questions about their customer scenario, such as market segment, decision-maker, business needs and solution groups). Based on the answers to those questions, the most appropriate content from the site is filtered, customized and dynamically pushed to the sales person.

Additional ROI

We call this process Customer Message Management. And it is a disciplined approach to helping companies increase marketing’s impact on sales effectiveness. You can read more about the process in the book “Customer Message Management” (Thomson and AMA).

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with the following ROI stories from companies that have made the effort to upgrade their marketing and sales support:

• Two months after launching their new messaging, tools and intranet, an IT infrastructure company reported closing a deal 8 times larger than any previous deal — in 1/3 the time of a typical sales cycle.

• In a pilot study, prior to the full launch of new messaging, tools and intranet experience, a professional services company identified increases in close rates between 14-24% in those regions that had access to the new content and those that were using the traditional materials.

• Finally, a financial services company reported a decrease in “time to first sale” for new reps from six months to six weeks. They credited how quickly sales people could be “situationally fluent” about customer needs and how their company solved them versus the traditional product sales training methods that forced them to learn the features and infer how they helped meet customer needs.

Tim Riesterer is CEO of CMM Group. He co-developed the Customer Message Management (CMM) approach for creating more customer-focused messaging and sales-ready marketing, communications and sales support. He is co-author of an AMA-sponsored book on Customer Message Management, and is co-host of the AMA’s internet talk radio show – Marketing Matters Live.