Nigel Cullington, Head of Marketing for Upland Software’s ESM Cloud, explains how data can help companies continue operating during the pandemic.
After many difficult months and a long summer, lockdown has finally eased in the UK and in other parts of the world. Children have returned to school and some employees are coming back to the office, trying to find some semblance of the ‘old normal’.
It is, however, only a semblance. The pandemic has utterly changed most businesses, which have had to alter their working practices to comply with public health requirements. Events as commonplace as face-to-face meetings, historically essential to closing sales deals, are a distant prospect for many companies as people limit social interactions.
Perhaps few business functions are as deeply affected as the most outward-facing parts of any company, namely sales and marketing. The established practices of sales and marketing professionals will no longer work under the ‘new normal’, with the experience radically shifted for both buyers and sellers. These departments know better than anyone else how many deals have been parked or dropped due to the changed circumstances.
Ring the changes
Organisational structures have changed too. Many companies have been forced to lay off staff and restructure their companies to survive, or roles have changed to accommodate everyone’s changed circumstances. Professional networks built up over years have been rewired in unpredictable ways, and for many sales professionals it will be unclear who they should speak to if they want to sell their companies’ products and services.
To take a practical example, the office switchboard is now obsolete. Many staff are continuing to work from home or commuting intermittently, leaving thousands of landlines unanswered, while mobile numbers continue to be hard to come by, largely due to reasonable concerns about data privacy and work-life balance.
As such, contacts are harder to reach than before. And if you can’t get in touch with somebody it’s hard to sell them something.
These changes are profound, and sales and marketing professionals must adapt to them to keep producing results, as formerly reliable techniques no longer work. At the same time there are frequent predictions that lockdown restrictions will return in some form, so businesses must be prepared for further fluctuations in how they work and what kind of relationships they can expect with current and future customers.
At such a volatile time, the importance of accurate, accessible and reliable data has scarcely been clearer, especially around the map of influence and decision making. Information has always been important to businesses, but firms must now ensure they are constantly updating their relationship maps, making note of the best people to speak to on a given topic and the unique approach required in each case.
With increased homeworking having already accelerated businesses’ migration to cloud platforms over on-premise systems, the opportunity presents itself to create integrated IT solutions that follow both buyer and seller through every stage of the sales process. At the same time businesses must figure out new relationship maps, as well as how to navigate and foster influence to help them on the road to recovery.
Equipped with the right data, sales and marketing professionals can draw on industry templates, visual representations, and content tailored to each prospective client. Tailored messaging is much easier to generate by leveraging datasets across different platforms, and is essential for building trust among current and prospective customers, as well as deepening established relationships.
As opportunities develop and more information is collected, solutions can be customised to meet the needs of any business – often marking the difference between making or missing a sale. Moreover, linking disparate datasets can yield insights into clients’ businesses that the human eye finds difficult to spot, generating further opportunities for both buyer and seller.
When distributed data is brought together under the right systems sales cycles receive a boost as the information is put to new uses. In the case of existing and prospective relationships within the buyer organisation, being able to use this data to set out a map of influence will help sales teams find the right person to address, at the right time, and – crucially – with the right issue.
Customers are justifiably sceptical of the buzz around automation, but rightly applied it can speed up a range of sales processes, for example the drafting of sales proposals, RFPs and the relevant request for information responses. Any time saved leaves your team with more resources for proactive proposals and deal signing, bringing on new customers and making you more money at a time of tightened budgets.
The ability to serve up relevant and consistent assets at the opportune moment is also relevant in channel programmes. Feeding the right data into a channel sales platform can plug the right content into sales professionals’ workflows, helping them better target and deliver for customers.
All the above makes for happy customers keen to advocate on your behalf. Integrated cloud systems supplied with the right data can give the revenue team appropriate customer references, and manage and maintain them in a central library for perusal through searching and analytics tools.
A different plan
Sales and marketing professionals have already realised that things have changed in the wake of the pandemic. As is often the case with technological advancement, those unwilling or unable to adapt risk being left behind as they cling to the working patterns familiar before lockdowns were imposed across the world.
The good news is that the correct data, funnelled through the most advanced CRM applications will enable sales and marketing professionals to adapt to these uncertain times, without straining an already diminished budget. Having accurate information in the right hands has always been a boon to business, but right now the imperative of such tools is impossible to dispute.