“Buyers want a shortened sales cycle?” You’re not dreaming, but you do need sales enablement tools

A recent post at the IDC sales productivity blog cites proprietary research that revealed that IT buyers want to reduce their buying cycle length by 40%. If this doesn’t fall into the category of “nice problem to have,” it’s hard to imagine what would. But what is really interesting is what additional findings from the research revealed: the solution to the problem falls squarely in the crosshairs of sales enablement. When asked about the primary vendor cause of buying cycle delays, almost 50% of respondents cited the salesperson’s lack of understanding about their company and industry.

Salespeople should be busy selling, not doing industry and company research. Even if they had the time, most do not possess the research, analysis, and synthesis capabilities to do this work effectively. However, creating a market intelligence capability that is able to feed the sales force insights on prospects and industry trends would deliver the results desired by the buyers, would keep the sales people focused on developing the relationships, and would put market intelligence gathering in the hands of people who have the skill set to execute this most effectively. Similarly, the needs of the 15% of the buyers who cited a lack of preparation for meetings and poor follow-up could be addressed the sales enablement resources: meeting preparation and follow-up are precisely the issues presentation and email templates help to resolve.

This situation is a classic example of the cloud’s silver lining. The buyers are unhappy with the service being provided, but enduring their satisfaction is within the grasp of any company that is willing to invest in the tools the sales force needs to deliver what the buyers want. Indeed, this research suggests that the company that makes the investment to develop strategically sound sales tools will successfully and positively differentiate itself in the minds of buyers.

QR Codes: Don’t Hesitate, But Do Think

No one who sends out any significant quantity of response-driven direct mail should neglect to test the use of QR codes. Period. Given the continuing growth of the use of smartphones, it’s a strategically sound opportunity to improve response rates by facilitating the connection between a mailed piece and an electronic response. Recent data from comScore MobiLens highlights the opportunity: 14 million mobile users in the US scanned a QR code on their mobile device in June 2011 alone.

That being said, the devil, as always, is in the details. Just sticking a square filled with dots on a DM piece is a waste of effort if you don’t think through what the objective of including the QR code should be and your expectations for the entire user experience that will be activated through the code. For example:

  • Are there certain segments of your audience that are more likely to respond to QR codes and how and when are they likely to scan the codes? To answer this, you’ll need to assess what percentage of these segments own smart phones. Then you’ll need to determine the likely scenarios in which they might use those phones in response to the presentation of a QR code?
  • If the code will be used as mechanism for increasing awareness of a product or service, are you sending the QR code user to a mobile friendly website? Is the information easily and comfortably accessible on a mobile device (e.g., web pages as opposed to pdfs, which are still often hard to view on mobile phones)?
  • Will you be using the code for lead generation? If so, is your lead capture form built to be completed on a mobile device?

Working through these kinds of questions should not dissuade you from using QR codes, and it’s important to remember that the process won’t guarantee that a QR code will provide significant lift to your DM efforts. But by investing the time in planning, you will ensure that your test of integrating the QR codes will be an accurate read of their current potential impact for your audience.

Treat growth projections with caution

Recently, there has been a lot of coverage on the emerging mobile commerce sector, with various stakeholders launching trials and developing initiatives to develop a strong market position. In addition, there have also been numerous projections on the expected growth of this market in the coming years. Some of these projections are quite reasoned, but others are more outlandish, and appear to expect that in a few short years, mobile commerce will displace cash, checks and plastic.

These exaggerated growth projections garner headlines for the research firms as well as companies sponsoring the research.  However, in many cases, the reality tends to fall short of the projection.  For example, future projections of card spending made in 2005-2006 were not realized, as the industry was hit by a largely unanticipated financial crisis and economic recession in 2008-2009.

Growth projections typically suffer from a number of deficiencies.  One of the main problems is that researchers start their research by thinking of themselves as the average consumer, which then leads to biases in the research process. In addition, researchers often tend to take an overly-optimistic “blue sky” view, which does not factor in forces that can compromise the growth trajectory. One of the most powerful of these factors is inertia. Consumers typically need to have a compelling reason/motivation to change behavior, and will not automatically adapt behavior just because a new technology hits the market.

It should also be noted that the industry and general business press tend to use these projections from these research firms/analysts/sponsoring firms to fill column inches, without checking back to see if previous projections by those same firms were actually accurate predictors.

Getting back to mobile commerce, there is indeed reason to believe that the rapid penetration of the smartphone and consumers’ increased comfort with mobile apps augur well for strong growth in the mobile commerce market. However, we also need a sober assessment of some of the factors that may impact that growth; in addition to inertia, these include security and privacy concerns, regulatory developments, merchant acceptance, general economic growth, emergence/evolution of competing payments methods, and the need to develop a business model that will satisfy all stakeholders.