Sometimes convincing the CIO to support sales efforts can be the hardest sell of all . . .
Professional Advantage, which sells financial management, ERP, CRM, e-business, retail and business intelligence systems to mid-size companies, knows high-powered sales teams have dreamed for years of being able to draw on "a single source for truth". Sales director Jonathan Klug says the company accepts it will never achieve total IT integration. Still, he says, the company sees coming as close to that Holy Grail as possible as its only hope of achieving that "truth".
"We are high-value, so it's not like we've got hundreds and hundreds of transactions in terms of sales processes," Klug says. "We're an IT company. We know it's difficult to get complete integration of everything, but we're sort of moving towards that. And I think the most important thing is to have your CRM system integrated into your office accounting system. You need one source of truth so to speak. We're pretty close to it. We've certainly got customer relationship management systems in place, but we haven't yet interfaced them into our sales system."
Professional Advantage is not alone in mounting determined efforts to tightly align the sales organizations around the customer's wants and needs as a key competitive differentiator. Sales directors are keeping a keen eye out for new ideas and execution models that can help their sales professionals become better customer focused, magnify the impact of the materials they create and let them extract greater benefit from their daily activities. Many are counting on their CIOs to help them deliver, and there are signs that CIOs have been slowly gearing up to better meet their sales directors' needs.
"The sales guys want very solid information about customers - a consolidated customer database, transaction history and historical information they can use to help in the sales process to mount campaigns and so on," says Terry Shipham, Bearing Point's managing director for Enterprise Solutions. "And that typically provides the real challenge for major corporate IT groups because that information is often in many systems.
"Corporate IT people have these important production systems, which they have to look after and maintain, that are expensive to replace. Often there are disparate databases, and data that is not necessarily complete or in great shape. And the operating units, including sales, want to implement things quickly and don't see why they can't. They're on IT's case, saying things like: 'We can buy this contact database for our laptops and then go out and capture this stuff now. Why do we need to wait for something at the corporate level?'"
The upshot, says Shipham, is that if delivering solid information to sales can be problematic, failing to do so can be equally so. Frustrated sales directors will go off and buy their own systems and software to manipulate extracts of information from the corporate system and remote solutions for field staff, both of which may potentially cause a raft of difficulties for the CIO.
Yet the pressure from sales for better systems is very understandable. Sales management is in pain, says Kevin Chieff, the founder and managing partner of US consultancy Soft Skills. Sales management is under pressure from the president, the CFO or the board, but unable to produce a reliable real-time forecast and facing excessive turnover in the ranks.
So in organizations where it would be unthinkable for the accounts department to set their own standards, many sales directors are still being allowed to run their departments as mini-fiefdoms, implementing their own IT systems and loudly asserting their ownership of their own data. This is untenable and CIOs should be able to demand the same level of compliance from the sales department that they do from their accounting department, Chieff says. That means insisting on centralization of all data into a secure common database accessible by those with a need to know, it means imposing mandatory software standards and on ensuring sales management uses that software and the resulting intelligence.
IT's traditional role has been to help sales folks report what they sold, with figures typically processed through the accounting function and detailed in the accounting and profitability reports churned out at month-end. This information has been of limited use to salespeople because it reports after the event, which is not particularly helpful in planning future programs.
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