Francis Fischbach attended the first Sales 2.0 conference in November of 2007 and blogged about it in “Inside Sales 2.0: A Report From the Front Lines.”

Inside Sales 2.0: A Report From the Front Lines

While at the Sales 2.0 Conference on Tuesday, I attended a panel presentations titled “Inside Sales 2.0: A Report From the Front Lines.” Below are some questions and answers that I found interesting.



Question: Can you describe your inside sales team?

Stephen: There are four groups; corporate accountants, a federal group, and two regional groups broken down by product line.

Shelly: Our sales force is comprised of 50 reps who are geography based.

David: Before the merger with Veritas, we decided to make everyone sell the entire product line. We soon found out this approach would not work. We had too many products for any one person to know enough about to answer customers’ questions. We now have four different layers of product segments mixed with inside and field people.

Question: What is the biggest difference in inside sales from enterprise to on demand?

Shelly: There is not much difference. This goes back to the focus of what are your objectives? Its either owning a market, owning a product or owning some segment of the opportunity, be it by deal size and applying the right execution against it.

Question: What were the biggest challenges you faced with inside sales?

Stephen: The biggest challenges we faced was from all of our mergers and acquisitions. After several acquisitions we offered a wide range of products pricing from a 35 cent label on a cartridge to a 250k enterprise tape library. It was too difficult to incorporate two different strategies and models to sell the product groups so we scrapped everything. We developed new process, new techniques and found new people.

Question: How has the growth impacted your inside sales team?

David: We have had several hyper growth phases. Some happened through our own product sales and some happened through mergers and acquisitions. Employee job security is always a factor in any M&A. In order to manage the acquisition process and empower our employees, our sales managers have their sales teams develop the business plan. This way the employee is working to a plan that they believe in, instead of giving into a process to hold a job.

We found this to be an effective approach because with each acquisition, we had to learn a new set of products and processes. We sat through endless meetings learning how one another did things. However, in the end, this made us more communicative across all departments.

Stephen: We are always interviewing people whether we have positions open or not. This way we do not miss an opportunity on finding a super star. It is important to be aligned with your HR department and educate them on the type of people you are trying to find. We are continuously training, not just product training but real sales training. We are always rebuilding our sales process to meet the needs of the customer.

Shelly: We had a capacity issue. We did not have enough reps to meet our customers needs. Therefore we opened locations based on where we could find pools of talent and customer demand.

Question: Which tool(s) have made the biggest difference for you?

Shelly: We broke our sales process up into three groups: small business, mid-sized, and enterprise level. My secret to laying the infrastructure for a group is to have a solid CRM system for everyone in the company who is customer-facing. This enables us to keep the communication open.

David: I think that the most important thing is building the right foundation by valuing your people and valuing your customers. It’s not the technology. Once you have that culture where collaboration and valuing your people is part of your thinking, then you can bring in technology to help drive it further. Buying the SuccessFactors application has helped us incredibly: it allowed us to align our goals with tracking and reporting capabilities. We can profile our people and see who’s who in the zoo and who should we be promoting.

Stephen: Besides SuccessFactors and a CRM system, instant messaging has been huge for us in terms of being able to communicate with the customer on a real-time basis.

Three lessons I took away for startups:

  1. Organize your marketing and sales in alignment with how your customers want to buy. In particular, requiring each salesperson to be super knowledgeable about the product line is probably unreasonable.
  2. Think about what each employee can own as an area of responsibility, for example a market, a product, or an aspect of a sales opportunity.
  3. Think about using IM to communicate with your customers if they are open to it. One point that wasn’t made is that, like e-mail, it’s nicely self-documenting and easier to manage and recycle than a phone call.

Postscript: SKMurphy Perspective on Sales 2.0

Jim Sterne of Target Marketing wrote a great book in 1996 called “Customer Service on the Internet” that’s now in it’s second edition that outlined how savvy firms were allowing customers to satisfy their service needs using the Internet. The implications for the sales process were clear then. The challenge that many startups face is that they are still on the “sales learning curve” and can’t effectively anticipate enough of their prospect’s questions to quality them without a conversation.

Craig Klein writes

Isn’t Sales 2.0 about building new pathways using technology that give the customer self serve access to information and letting the customer “pre-qualify” themselves by virtue of their actions before a sales rep spends time with them?

I am not sure we have a good definition for Sales 2.0, perhaps by the time we get to Sales 2.1 or 2.2 things will have settled down a bit. The Sales 2.0 that the blog post title refers to is just the name of the conference, and like “39 minute cleaners” just because something has a particular name doesn’t imply a warranty or guarantee of results. Not every self-titled next generation or paradigm shift actually obsoletes established practice: if and when “Sales 2.0” actually arrives it will be called “sales” for the same reason that very few people refer to cars as “horseless carriages.”

However, we are big fans of the cluetrain manifesto and the perspective it offers on the impact of Internet-enabled communication on customer development–sales, marketing and business development. I worry that the premise of your definition–“pre-qualify based on self-service access to information before a sales rep spends time”–sounds more like an attempt to avoid a conversation that could form the basis for a relationship, a relationship that might lead to a sale.

In our experience, it’s incumbent on startups to initiate conversation. Not the typical “sell, sell, sell” approach that established firms encourage in their sales teams to “maintain control of the conversation”–that’s an interrogation–but one where you are genuinely committed to understanding the prospect’s needs and are open to letting them teach you something new about your product.

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