The question that comes up in every sales performance improvement provider evaluation we are involved with is this: How will the sales training provider enable their methodology, processes, and approach be integrated with the client’s CRM system? Out of the box CRM will not get the job done in the cases we’ve seen. In fact, it tends to automate the chaos that exists in many sales organizations and demeans the salesperson by forcing them to comply with onerous activities that have no direct value for them.
A sales methodology and the associated processes must be built first and the technology solution customized, tailored or modified to support the salesperson’s use of that sales process. Or, even better, the vendor provides a software application that sits in front of the CRM system that gives salesperson the tools they need to effectively and efficiently manage sales opportunities or key accounts.
There are four alternatives that a sales training provider has with respect to providing support for their methodology in the client’s choice of CRM systems:
- Ignore the issue, leaving it up to the customer to figure out.
- Develop and maintain the software themselves.
- Join the Dealmaker Partner Network and avail themselves of The TAS Group’s solution, such as InfoMentis, Huthwaite, and Think, Inc. have done, among others.
- Engage with White Springs, a software company that provides CRM front-end solutions to more than a dozen sales training providers, as well as directly to end-user companies.
Dave Stein: More than a dozen leading sales training providers use White Springs as the foundation for their technology-enabled selling solution. What is it that your company does for them?
Chris Hens: Simply put, we enable our partners to easily integrate their training content into any CRM/SFA platform. Our compelling value is that our partners don’t have to invest a lot of money in the technology and dedicate themselves to a limited choice of CRM/SFA platforms. We build their applications one time and then integrate them into whatever platforms their customers have implemented. This model allows our partners to quickly deliver integrated solutions and actually start making money within weeks or months rather than years.
DS: You’ve got a long history in the sales effectiveness business, Chris. How did you wind up as a principal at White Springs?
CH: Well, I don’t know about the “long” part, but certainly I’ve seen a lot. Interestingly, we are now doing with White Springs what we wanted to do as far back as 1999. I was with a sales training firm called OnTarget when we were acquired by Siebel. The premise of that deal was that sales training/methodology content should be embedded into sales force automation so customers could drive the greatest effectiveness from both the technology and the training content. So, we were right in the middle of trying to make these two things work together 10 years ago.
The problem was that there was little flexibility in either model. As a result, our solutions were less than compelling for the user and really didn’t end up selling very well. After several years of engaging with our top clients trying to make things work, it became apparent to a lot of folks that there needed to be a better way. That’s when I ran into Gary White (founder of White Springs). He showed me a better model and allowed me to be a part of his company.
DS: In addition to the sales training providers, White Springs has end-user companies using their technology as well. Can you share with us some details of an implementation?
Actually, all of our technology ends up with end-users. Currently, our sole route to market is through our partnerships. We do, however, have many customers who have asked us to augment the original applications (White Springs likes to call them applets) by integrating the customer’s own home-grown or even other third-party tools or content. The typical implementation for us involves our partner first engaging with the customer to position the integrated solution. White Springs provides pre-sales support to help guide the opportunity to closure. Once it’s closed, we take over and integrate the applets into the customer’s CRM system and provide ongoing technical support. The average SaaS (On Demand) implementation takes less than 24 hours to embed in the customer’s environment.
DS: Where do you see all this going? What should sales leaders be looking for on the horizon?
CH: Embedded learning. That’s the buzz-phrase for me. We know that a great deal of learning is retained when it is done in context. So, we need to bring learning into the sales person’s daily cadence, making it relevant and useful in real-life scenarios and interactions. This type of “just-in-time, in-context learning” is where I believe we will see a lot of focus in the next few years.
DS: Any advice to sales leaders who don’t know which end is up from a technology perspective? How can they leverage technology for increased sales performance?
CH: This may sound a little strange coming from a software company, but I often say to prospective customers, “Please, PUHLEEAASE, don’t get hung up features and functions in a ‘cool tool.’” The key is to stay focused on the reasons you invested in sales training to start with. Technology should be the means to that end. It should be simple, enable the users to engage the content effectively and ensure that customers can manage the learning process. It’s funny, though… even when we try to focus prospects on those tenets, they invariably want us to show the whiz-bang features or discuss “wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if-it-could-do-this” futures…sadly, the sizzle still sells.