It has long been an accepted principle in progressive businesses that they must positively differentiate themselves in order to secure competitive advantage and grow profitable sales.
It is difficult to stand out from the crowd when everyone is tweaking the same factors. Therefore, different and modern thinking needs to be applied if real competitive advantage is to be achieved and maintained.
The Internet means we are all becoming informed buyers that no longer rely upon sales people to pass on information before we make decisions to buy. Customer relationships increasingly begin, and flourish, with little or no human interaction.
Technology is both driving and facilitating massive change to the way we buy. Consequently, selling practices must adapt if a company is to survive.
It has never been easier for startups to disrupt markets. And it is easier than ever for people to find these new companies and buy from them, increasingly with little or no human interaction. Buyers now expect:
Companies that do not change will begin to lose market share as competitors, particularly new entrants, build businesses based upon these expectations.
Regardless of how fast change occurs, the new ground for competitive advantage is to be found in customer relationships. Increasingly this will not be face-to-face or even involve any human interaction.
The experts in this kind of relationship are probably not in your Sales teams but within your IT and Sales Operations teams. These professionals understand both the problems and the opportunities for change that technology can bring. Channelling this knowledge and embracing their ideas for new ways to be better will enable you to outperform the competition.
Organisations that are open to change, know that they have a window to gain market share from those that fail to adapt to new business conditions. Fewer realise that this need not mean huge capital investment.
Within such businesses, an increasing number of people are learning two persistent things their market opportunity requires. It needs them to:
To achieve this consistently the organisation needs to become more agile and nimble. Technological advances and specialist web applications that can be integrated faster and easier will help. Those in the know are using this to drive new ideas for sales process and performance gains - cost effectively. This is why IT and Sales Operations teams are increasingly influential in driving revenue growth and cost reductions.
Despite what the large, established software businesses promote, it is no longer necessary to introduce a costly new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or upgrade an old Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Rarely will this enable the competitive advantage and sales growth demanded. Instead, existing investment can be leveraged with the introduction of specialist web based applications that plug gaps and extend functionality. And they are being introduced at much lower risk, faster and with a higher return on investment than larger IT projects.
Many are realising that the quickest way to gain competitive advantage is to look at what (in a perfect world) customers in their chosen market would like in order for them to easily decide to buy from them.
This is an important shift; for example a customer centric emphasis, that encourages and helps a customer to buy, rather than an internal sales centric approach. They then seek specialist solution providers that build upon and enhance their existing systems yet enable the significant changes necessary to achieve the intended aim of the organisation.
One of the most effective solutions to enable new ways to differentiate is Configure - Price - Quote (CPQ) applications.
CPQ applications plug into existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. They also offer basic CRM functionality where there is no existing system to plug into. Importantly they enable an organisation to begin a transformation; automating and speeding many tasks. At a high level it will allow an organisation to enhance its process for:
A good CPQ solution will remove the shackles of an existing CRM and ERP system, freeing an organisation to extend its thinking and reach across the entire ‘Lead to Order’ process.
A customer centric buying process where true and sustainable competitive advantage can be developed might include:
For those looking for sustained competitive advantage the following considerations are necessary:
So for those that are serious about gaining a competitive advantage then it might just be the right time to embrace Sales Operations and IT thinking into your ‘Lead to Order’ strategy and process.
And for those that don’t believe change will come any time soon, then this approach will still add value, and make selling easier and more effective - for now anyway.