Information technology: tools for better sales and marketing
Why is it that most businesses, except for the very smallest, have used computerised accounting packages for years but few are experienced in the use of sales and marketing systems? Yet, if you ask almost any manager of a small or medium-sized company what his or her greatest challenge is, they are more likely to talk about attracting and retaining customers and even getting decent sales staff than knowing the status of their bank accounts.
As SMEs become more confident in the use of information technology, one of their priorities must be to use computing tools to give them a greater understanding of their markets, customers and prospects. Most organisations begin by trying to cut sales costs by automating existing processes. Current sales and marketing systems use is therefore dominated by supporting field sales through lead handling, telemarketing, direct mail, personal time and activity productivity, and management.
This should lead to better quality customer contact, sales activity reporting and marketing intelligence but rarely does. Why? Because to achieve the greatest benefits from computerised sales and marketing systems, organisations should look to change the way they approach the market and sell.
Appraise your sales and marketing systems on the basis of measurable business goals such as increased sales and gross profit margins, reduced costs and enhanced competitive positioning. Computer-based systems should address sales and marketing objectives such as the development of new business, existing accounts and customer loyalty, as well as campaign planning. IT can also assist processes such as market and product segmentation, competitor analysis and marketing communications.
Installing a structured and visible sales and marketing system on a previously unstructured operational area frequently exposes flaws in procedures, data flows and quality of management information. As a result, systems are often upgraded or changed once installed, due to better understanding of the system capabilities and requirements. Probably the shortest time to implement a small self-contained system is between one and three months, with the average being four to six months. Larger integrated systems need longer - anything up to 18 months.
A friend, who runs an import distribution company, recently told me that he had achieved a four-fold increase in profit over an 18-month timescale since rolling out his system. His advice? Run a formal pilot project, which can then, if a variety of milestones are reached, evolve into a scaled roll-out. This allows time to iron out 'bugs' in the package and the process in a controlled environment, devise training and support programmes, and develop a benefits appraisal method and system.
Rob Wirszcyz is head of the Computer Services and Software Association.