My buddy Geoffrey James is one of the most insightful sales pundits around. For more than a decade we have borrowed one another’s ideas to hone our edges in our respective fields. In “The Future Of Sales Technology,” his end-of-the-year Sales Source column for Inc.com, James hints at profound new touchstones of marketing.
Let’s look at three of the five trends James discusses, and explore what they tell us about how marketing and, more specifically, personalization, will be different in 2013.
Cold-calling is all but dead, so pick your targets carefully: Voicemail and federal regulations have all but killed cold-calling, and salespeople have already migrated to more effective “known-person to known-person” communications. The technologies that make better communications possible for sales people already seem trivial: We refer to them collectively as social media. That’s no news to anyone in marketing.
But in the rush to implement social-media marketing techniques, it’s easy to miss the nugget of gold in James’ prognostication: “Known-person to known-person” means more than just personalization of a marketing message. It means a dramatic investment in the one-on-one experience.
My main message to job hunters, for example (because what better example of personal marketing is there than job hunting?), has always been to use technology to get personal—not to blitz the market with your message. There’s no way to get personal with 400 employers that are advertising jobs. The investment in known-person to known-person interaction is huge, so you must pick your targets carefully. And when you pick your targets carefully, guess what happens? You can get a lot more personal. There is no need for cold-calling. Face time becomes the new personalization.
Lightweight tablets replace desktops and heavy laptops, and put more people face-to-face: James gets to the bottom of the story about how tablets are replacing other computers in sales: “The days of. . .inside sales teams [are] drawing to a close.” This phenomenon also tells us a lot about our customers: They’re untethered from their desks, too, and they’re far more likely to have access to the Internet anywhere they are out in the real world.
I think the implications are far bigger than James hints. When computing and communications power are truly portable, people will get out and around more, and information and analytics are still at their fingertips. They will be more likely to hit the road and have more informed person-to-person interactions and experiences. I already see this making them more successful in whatever they’re doing—selling, negotiating for a job, and making purchase decisions. The customer is no longer where she used to be, at home or in the office. Customers are anywhere they want to be.
The big question now is: Are you using technology from behind your desk just to push your message, or to get out more, and to get face-to-face with whomever you’re addressing?
Data and analytics enable more talent: James says “sales management will become more data-driven.” Maybe he’s not spending enough time with CMO.com readers, who know this has already happened. But he hones in on what may be the biggest payoff of data and analytics in sales: the development of better sales people and more of them.
“Top salespeople,” says James, have “talent that tends to be unusual in the general population.” Now, he suggests, “a data-driven approach to sales management. . .allows companies to retarget sales training to making average performers slightly better than wasting time trying to turn them into stars.” In other words, sales managers can have more good salespeople thanks to technology, thereby saving them from the rare temperamental “superstars” who are tougher to manage—and find.
In my world—recruiting and job hunting—this means data and analytics, combined with truly portable computing and communications power, enables good-but-not-great employers and job hunters to profit from more and higher-quality face time. Analytics enable us to target customers better. The growth of analytics in sales and marketing enables almost anyone to address virtually any objective better. You don’t have to be a star. But it also enables customers, employers, and job hunters—“buyers” all—to choose one another more wisely.
The bottom line is that face time is a precious marketing advantage, and getting it is very costly. The profound message in James’ column about sales technology is that today we have the tools we need to choose our targets. But what’s the end game? Does personalization mean e-mail and ads tailored to our interests? Or does it mean an opportunity for real, shared personal experiences between buyer and seller?