The availability of comprehensive product information and market data contributes to improved sales performance. Product information should provide a solid background on the features and benefits of the products being sold. Market guides should convey market data and insight to assist sales representatives in achieving high levels of market penetration. Additionally, the sales force should always be informed about the details of ongoing marketing programs. The Internet is a very effective communications channel that can be leveraged to provide sales reps with immediate access to the most current information.
It is nothing new for sales representatives to grumble about too much information. The solution is to ensure easy accessibility. A good overview is essential, and an effective search capability makes it easier to locate the appropriate information. Inform the sales force about the resources available to them, why they are useful, and how to find them. If the information is important, the reps will use it.
There are always potential risks in publishing sensitive material. These risks are greatly reduced by using appropriate security measures, however. Any commercially sensitive, company confidential, or other material meant only for internal use should be clearly labeled as such and maintained in an area that is accessible only by password.
It is important to carefully manage information that is offered via self-service mechanisms. Inform the sales force when new information is made available, and follow up to ensure that it is being utilized. Consider implementing a feedback mechanism to ensure that information is getting through and fulfilling the need.
With comprehensive product information and market data, sales reps can demonstrate a high level of professionalism and expertise to their customers. The result is improved sales performance and ultimately, increased sales. Market guides are an essential part of this process. An effective market guide provides useful market data and insight to help the sales force achieve high levels of market penetration. It is also important that to keep sales reps informed about the elements of ongoing marketing programs, so that they can take full advantage of the opportunities these programs offer. Create effective sales guides that cover information and details on the following areas:
- current marketshare data, for the company and its competitors;
- trends and concerns within the market, and strategies for addressing;
- the advertising and direct marketing programs that are currently operating;
- advice on how to make the best use of leads that are generated from these campaigns;
- customer promotion and incentive programs that are operating or upcoming;
- requirements for establishing or maintaining a customer database marketing operation;
- database marketing operations that are occurring within their own customer base;
- up-to-date customer contact records, to avoid misunderstanding or duplication.
The Internet is a very effective channel for communicating information to the sales force. By leveraging the Internet, you can increase efficiency and provide high quality materials at lower cost. Use the Internet to publish critical up-to-date product and market information, as well as to simplify administration, and expedite order processing. Implement an Internet-based system which allows sales reps to access real-time stock and pricing information, as well as shipment and back-order details.
Additionally, networked teleconferencing and Web casts can be used to deliver quick and easy product briefings or training sessions. These options provide great benefit to sales teams without requiring significant investment of time or travel.
The more complex the product or service, the more difficult it is for the sales force to stay current. The problem is even more acute when products and legislation change rapidly. Keeping sales reps up-to-date is vital to their success, however. It is far easier to effectively support a sales force that is equipped with laptop computers and Internet connections. Reps can use laptops to store and present information on a wide range of products and services, and this information can be updated regularly from a corporate database via the Internet.
A practical sales training program will include step-by-step suggestions to guide a sales rep through the process of analyzing a customer's needs and developing the right package to meet those needs. This kind of training can be very effective when designed and delivered using available software programs. This allows sales reps the flexibility to access the training via the Internet using their laptop computers.
If sales employees can locate much of the information they need on the company Web site, the time employees spend asking and answering requests for information decreases significantly. Sales reps can then focus more of their efforts on the real job of selling, rather than on an endless quest for useful information. Because the Internet is available 24x7, sales employees can also check information and place orders whenever it is convenient, rather than being constrained to standard office hours.
Organizations must keep their sales teams current with information about new products, new marketing campaigns, and new service initiatives. Customer-facing employees sometimes struggle with the volume of material that they continuously receive, so important information needs to be distilled and presented effectively. An electronic newsletter can be a good mechanism for presenting information in an action-oriented way. An effective newsletter:
- is short and to the point, written in an easy-to-comprehend format;
- makes key details available at a glance, as well as required action or key contacts;
- leads with a brief summary of all the news in that issue;
- is published regularly and contains easy references to information contained in earlier editions;
- puts concise information on product launches, marketing campaigns, and sales developments just a click away;
- contains essential facts for sales and customer service, plus key contacts and links for further information.
Avoid allowing the sales force to become out of touch with marketing activities. It is an awkward and potentially damaging situation, for example, if a sales rep is caught unaware of current advertisements or promotional offers during a client meeting. It is essential to ensure that the sales force is fully informed about all customer-facing activities.
The Internet is an efficient mechanism to deliver real-time information to the sales force. Be sure to take advantage of this capability; provide access to the latest information on product releases, marketing programs, pricing, delivery, and other customer issues. It is vital to ensure that content is kept current and that the sales force is made aware when new or updated materials are available.
Members of the sales force need to focus the majority of their time on making sales calls; do not waste their time on unimportant meetings. Consider replacing some meetings that cover routine matters with teleconferencing or other alternative communications that do not require time-consuming travel and/or in-person attendance.
American Marketing Association: www.marketingpower.com