“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.

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.

Market Research Pitfalls, Part 2: Avoiding the “now what do we do with this information” problem

How often have you been presented with market research that, even if well executed, leaves you saying “that’s great, now what do we do with this information?” In our experience, this happens with remarkable frequency and stems from the fact that those responsible for commissioning and even conducting the research fail to keep in mind the most fundamental tenet of any research initiative: you have to be able to articulate how the insights gained will affect future strategy decisions.

Like any investment, research should be justified through its impact on the top and bottom lines. The exercise of building the case for strategically important research should lead to the development of valuable insights because building the case requires defining exactly how the research will impact strategy. Thinking through and committing to a set of strategic insights enables the design of more efficient research because it forces the definition of what should—and shouldn’t be—included in the research objectives. If you can’t articulate how an element of the research will deliver insights that can lead to meaningful, strategic decisions, you shouldn’t include it.

Developing a strategic justification for each question pushes aside superfluous questions and forces the research instrument to be lean. In this regard, the exercise serves as a powerful tool for beating back the almost inevitable requests for additional questions that don’t deliver on the strategic objectives. As with the overall research objectives, any additional question that fails this “describe the strategic insight” test should be targeted for elimination.

Defining the strategic justification for every research initiative and all its components may seem to be too significant an effort, but the investment will deliver multi-faceted benefits in both the short and long terms. Articulating the strategic value and impact of the research and questions reduces waste in the research design phase by pushing aside extraneous elements and questions. This, in turn increases the efficiency of the research as it leads to more precise surveys and interviews that enjoy a better completion rate and more reliable data. Finally, this exercise ensures that when it comes time to report out on the research findings, the link between the insights and strategic issues is easily and powerfully expressed—which strengthens the organization’s confidence in the value of the research and ability to apply it.