Last week I read Using Your Sales Force’s Competitive Intelligence Wisely. The source of this sales intelligence is business customers, and the reps who are the most likely to receive it are those who have formed strong customer relationships and focus on long-term customer satisfaction and placing the customer’s needs first while developing solutions to help the customer to reach their goals. These are the sales people that go above and beyond to help the customer.
Armed with this competitive information, a flexible rep will adapt their selling style and work on better solutions for the customer. Low-adaptive sellers often fail to use customer information to more strongly position a product to meet the customer’s needs, so the customer gets a negative impression of the company’s products, and also don’t see the value of sharing so they stop.
The value of good intelligence through the sales channel is precious to those in product development, strategic planning, marketing and customer service. However, it can be challenging to get sales to share with marketing, the obvious conduit to push good data to other sources in the company. The article suggested that engaging sales in collaboration to develop the company’s strategy can promote communication.
The key to success in communication to and from sales is to understand your company’s sales culture, and what might be fun and engaging for them to be cooperative in sharing what they learn in a timely manner. Sales has a shorter term focus than most in the company, and they keep score so you need to give to get. At the very least, you need to thank them publicly within the company, and show them how better decisions for product development or marketing strategy were modified for the better, thanks to an individual sales person’s contribution. They also love publicity about a big sale that was made. Perhaps a competitive tidbit that they learned or shared, helped make the sale.
Go to where sales is to get them to engage. Sales managers communicate at least weekly through a teleconference or digitally on what’s happening. Become a part of this process by contributing content that sales values. Most value news about their customers that you dig up. That gives them an excuse to make another sales call and look knowledgeable. Sales people like to look good and be in the know. They also value information from their peers. Maybe you can facilitate more sharing among peers, even informally.
Most companies have annual or quarterly sales meetings. Insert yourself as a speaker, a panelist, an attendee, however you can best serve them.
Many sales people travel extensively, so they have time in the car or airplane to write, tape or text about what they’re learning. This is when they learn the good stuff: make communication easy for them. Some companies let them call in and leave a recording of what they learn or maybe even a human being answers the telephone and engages in conversation to promote even more real-time intelligence sharing. Others use a text bulletin board.
Many do sharing through their sales force management software since sales uses this extensively in the course of doing business. While this sharing might not be in-depth, it is usually enough for the intuitive person to probe deeper with select sales people and detect patterns that sales alone might not have put together. Their job is to make the sale, not to put all the marketing pieces together. This is something you can share back with sales and sales management. If you get sales management on your side, good sales people will often cooperate.
Exercise your creativity to incent sales to share. A colleague had a PC bag designed that was truly classy. She would give them out sparingly to sales people who gave her excellent leads. They became a status symbol and it was common for the sales person to display the bag in his office rather than use it.
You can have a contest each quarter and give the winner gift certificates on Amazon, dinner for 2, a sporting event, something that you know they will enjoy. You cannot compete with the money they make on the commission plan, but they appreciate the recognition and the treat.
When I worked with sales, they most appreciated that I was responsive to them when they were in touch for competitive data, since many others were not. In return, they supplied me with incredible competitive information. However, this took a couple of years to develop as it takes time to build relationships and you have to earn their trust.
Be creative in how you communicate with sales. Change up your ideas and keep them fresh. Recognize how many touch points you can have with sales, and where you can be the most useful. I guarantee they will open up over time.