Streamlining sales

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A plethora of sales and marketing automation products provide pragmatic solutions for everyday activities, such as tracking sales calls or marketing campaigns.

But the most-needed systems, analysts say, are ones that improve cohesion between sales and marketing departments by streamlining and coordinating communications.

Sales software vendors (pdf)

"Eighty percent of marketing efforts to generate leads are wasted and ignored by sales," said Boston-based Aberdeen Group senior analyst Harry Watkins. "Sales spend 25% of their time re-creating—often badly—customer-relevant collateral that marketing should have created in the first place."

According to Watkins, this combination derails efforts on both sides, costing companies millions of dollars annually while destroying the time and focus needed to effectively drive sales and revenue.

Aberdeen believes large users are now over their initial adoption of sales and CRM software, and that the market will see prices fall as small vendors enter the marketplace and large players reduce prices in response.

"Today’s applications are generally more process driven, allowing easier automation," said Scott Nelson, VP-research area director with the Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn. "Nowadays, sales automation tools have the capacity to meld multidimensional functionality. This might see a convergence of various aspects, such as supply chain management, enterprise resource planning and CRM."

These are clearly the directions being taken by market-leader Siebel Systems Inc., San Mateo, Calif. "The biggest change has been the rise of analytic applications, which work hand in hand with marketing," said Daniel Lackner, VP and general manager of marketing automation products at Siebel. "If you think about what marketers should be doing, they should be analyzing the results of previous initiatives and campaigns, and then using that insight to drive new executions."

Unfortunately, Lackner said, this continual, iterative loop rarely happens. Marketing will "pull out the same messages and approaches tried last year and re-apply them," he said. The industry segments that are most advanced in tying together marketing and sales applications are high-technology and financial services, he said.

Lackner said one focus of these sectors is lead management—first qualifying and then tracking the status of leads once they are passed from a call center or a Web site to sales. "Companies are spending a lot of money on this," he said, adding that only by tracking the success of these leads can companies hope to measure return on investment.

Siebel is already producing vertical versions of its software for different industries. What’s more, its year-end release of Siebel 7.7 will include a "task-based assistant" that will help users configure the software to use the best practices from Siebel and the user’s own organization. "So, the user could click on the task assistance, and it would open up a list of tasks needed to accomplish a goal," Lackner said. The tool will also create all the necessary routings and approvals.

Big payback

Linking marketing and sales to lead optimization does provide an enormous payback, according to research conducted by Boston-based Yankee Group last year. Yankee found that in a b-to-b environment, an 11% reduction in dropped/lost leads, combined with a 1% improvement in lead-to-order conversion rate, increased annual gross profit by 136%.

Lead optimization included things like making sure the lead arrived with the right sales rep, in a timely manner, and then enforcing discipline in the sales group to guarantee that these leads were followed up.

Yankee cited the following as problems that allow leads to escape what it dubbed the "sales funnel": Disparate sales and marketing systems; poorly defined roles and processes; poor lead qualification; no visibility into marketing effectiveness; poor processes for keeping cool leads warm; wrong territory assignment; and limited lead acceptance and follow-up.

The shift toward improving lead management was also underscored by last summer’s Marketing Under Siege survey, sponsored by BtoB, The CMO Council, GlobalFluency and Aberdeen Group.

The study, which surveyed more than 350 marketing professionals, concluded: "Generating leads and closing sales have eclipsed branding/market awareness as the most important ways marketing organizations now measure their performance—a clear indicator of the trend towards tactical activities."

Pricing, too, has transformed the software application marketplace, trending away from expensive high-end packages toward more cost-effective tools, a point underscored by Gartner Group analyst Scott Nelson.

Nelson said price cuts by software vendors are occurring in response to today’s budgetary constraints. "Some vendors are offering their applications free of charge, aiming to gather revenue from long-term maintenance fees," he said.

"Web-enabled applications proliferated about three years ago, though some vendors such as Siebel were late to follow," Nelson said. These apps are seemingly cost effective and convenient, but they can present problems for a user’s sales force should they be offline for any reason."

According to Nelson, the problem with these applications occurs when the strategic motive for purchasing them isn’t matched to the structure of a user organization. "Many of these applications are purchased with an eye to providing an improved information pipeline for senior management, yet the application is often not that user friendly for sales representatives."

Satisfied users

Still, there are satisfied users who challenge any skepticism of sales and marketing applications.

Dallas-based 7-Eleven recently sought the services of Oracle Corp., a familiar player in the b-to-b supply chain management arena. The Oracle E-Business Suite will supply 7-Eleven with an integrated system to automate vendor collaboration throughout its 6,000 operations in the U.S. and Canada.

As a b-to-b supply chain management solution, Oracle’s Internet-based Procurement Suite enables 7-Eleven to fulfill purchase orders, requests for quotes (RFQs), quotations and receipts, helping to ensure that the company receives the best prices from assorted product line suppliers and distributors.

An Oracle customer for five years, 7-Eleven’s decision to upgrade to the Oracle E-Business Suite 11i was based on its successful history with Oracle Financials and the Oracle database.

"7-Eleven has evolved into a massive global enterprise," said Keith Morrow, CIO and VP-information systems at 7-Eleven. "To keep pace and control costs associated with our ongoing corporate expansion, as well as improve critical supplier relationships, we needed an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution that required minimal customization and maintenance."

Also tapping into the virtues of supply chain management tools is Wolverine World Wide Inc., a global marketer of branded footwear in Rockford, Mich.

While Wolverine’s choice of the mySAP Business Suite solution also affects its business-to-consumer operations, the application has distinct b-to-b benefits, helping Wolverine create an IT platform that consolidates its operations across all of its brands.

"We anticipate this system will improve the consistency of information across our global operations," said Jim Weston, CIO at Wolverine. "Establishing a common IT platform and adding tightly integrated supply chain management, CRM and financials capabilities with mySAP Business Suite is expected to allow us to conduct all of our customer transactions, financial reporting and planning and forecasting over a single system."

Not all of today’s applications are complex, multifaceted supply chain solutions. Some are simple and effective tools, such as proposal-writing aids. Chris Haendiges of Sterling Commerce, a leading provider of b-to-b commerce solutions, opted for Pragmatech’s Proposal Express and the Proposal Automation Suite. The applications contain a tracking system that can significantly enhance the quality and consistency of business documents among sales teams.

The proposal process can be very time consuming and tedious. Sales people want to go out and sell a product, not spend hours writing documents. The apps, from Pragmatech Software Inc., Amherst, N.H., have improved productivity and promoted time effectiveness and communications procedures between sales and marketing departments," Haendiges said.

Vendor evolution

If sales automation applications continue to be somewhat off-putting to their intended users, at least vendors have simplified how their solutions are deployed. Many sales automation vendors have embraced a hosted application architecture.

But Kaiser Mulla-Feroze, director of product marketing at San Francisco-based, said that while there was a clear trend toward hosted offerings, it would be incorrect to see this as a panacea.

"A number of traditional CRM software companies are jumping onto the hosted CRM bandwagon," he said. "However, the point to note is that these companies are doing nothing to solve the underlying complexities of installing, maintaining and upgrading CRM software."

Mulla-Feroze said these systems have a client-server architecture, despite a Web facade. "As a result, the [total cost of ownership] or implementation time frame is no better than with traditional software," he said.

Ultimately, the evolution of today’s sales and marketing software will bridge the disparity between sales and marketing entities. They will help empower the sales forces, of course. But they will also support broad corporate strategies, such as branding.

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