It strikes me that a number of Sales 2.0 vendors (including CRM vendors) are missing the point about the value of content/knowledge/information in the systems they provide. While there are great examples of valuable information being made available in a Sales 2.0 world, many of the more established firms just don’t seem to get the fact that platforms or infrastructure are all very good, but unless they’re coupled with quality content, their value is questionable. Think of the printing press without any books to print, or the cable TV network without any shows to air. Youtube without videos? LinkedIn without members? Jigsaw without contact information?
Last week I heard that one of our competitors had withdrawn their Sales 2.0 knowledge management solution from the market. The reason? Well it transpires that after 15 months on the market, the company had failed to find one customer.
I had an opportunity to see a presentation on the product offering about a year ago, and it had a host of interesting features. Great ways for companies to add and access information, powerful taxonomy capabilities and pretty decent usability features. But no content! It was left to the customers to populate the system with whatever knowledge they felt added value to their sales teams. No one chose to play.
Earlier this month I had an opportunity to speak with two of the leading CRM companies about their sales effectiveness solutions. “What are you doing about built-in value added knowledge or contextual knowledge or sales advice”, I asked. In both cases the response was the same. “We’re not in the sales knowledge or content business. It’s just too hard to stay on top of that and keep it relevant”, was the almost identical response from the two executives I spoke with. One was honest enough to say that the purpose of the CRM system, in the context of the sales person, was just to maintain contacts and manage activities. “We don’t attempt to add any value through sales best practice knowledge.” Is it any wonder that sales people frequently question the value to them of using a CRM?
When you look around at software solutions provided to other professions; financial, legal, HR, medical, etc. you can readily identify built-in knowledge that helps the user carry out their jobs. Not so with many sales systems. Is it just that the universe of sales professionals is too broad? Do we need to get more specific about what selling means in different industries to be able to provide content or built-in knowledge that’s specific enough to be valuable? Maybe there is some merit in that argument, but in a way it’s just a cop out.
It’s worth reflecting for a moment on the “it’s just too hard” comment from the CRM company executive. Are sales people not worth the effort? As I’ve said before, nothing happens until someone sells something. Just because it’s hard to do, doesn’t mean it should not be done. Implementing systems that make manufacturing 10% more efficient will generally have less of impact on a company’s well being that achieving a 10% producivity gain in the sales force. Most things that are worth doing to gain a competitive advantage are not easy. It’s just the way it is.
You may have seen a recent press release we issued from The TAS Group, announcing 11,000 subscribers to our Dealmaker platform. We’re pretty proud of that, and we think that one of the primary reasons for the success of Dealmaker is that it helps the sales person succeed by leveraging the built-in knowledge, delivered in context, to guide the sales person to progress the sale. And yes it’s hard. And yes, we’ve invested millions of dollars in the underlying infrastructure, knowledge and intelligence. And yes, we intend to continue to invest in building in easily accessible, context sensitive, best practice. We think our end-users, the salesperson and his (or her) management deserve that. Professional selling is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Those of us who profess to help need to face up to the task at hand and deliver sustained value. Otherwise we will continue to carry the ignominious badge of “No ROI delivered – again.”