Free Research Paper on Web 2.0:
From Sales 2.0 to Integrative Sales and Marketing Management
Sales 2.0, “the use of innovative sales practices, focused on creating value for both buyer and seller and enabled by Web 2.0 and next-generation technology” (Seley & Holloway, 2009, p. 5), does not appear to be just another temporary managerial hype. In fact, buzzwords such as Web 2.0 and social media underlie a revolution in the ways by which people communicate with one another, interact with companies and make purchasing decisions. It would be wrong, however, to think of Sales 2.0 and the platforms on which it operates as yet another marketing communication channel. It essentially involves some radical changes in marketing and sales operations, mainly because the increasing transparency and rapid interactions that characterize Web 2.0 help to dissolve differences among different parts of the organization and require common action (Greenberg, 2010).
This research paper reviews some of the main ways in which organizations should lead the required changes, while giving special emphasis on the actions needed to be taken by sales managers.
The Shift to Sales 2.0
Traditional models of sales management saw salespeople as those rather expensive and highly communicative personnel, who constituted the interface between the company and its (typically the most valuable) potential and existing customers. Marketing managers would therefore use market insights gathered and reported by their peers at the sales department as additional inputs in their decision-making process. Under such models, decisions and policies (such as market offerings and messages) would take a unilateral nature, going from the marketing department to salespeople and through them (along with other, also unilateral means of communication) to the customers. Direct interaction with the latter would therefore occur merely by the salespeople and limited by the boundaries of the company’s marketing and sales policies.
Emerging concepts and practices in the fields of marketing, sales and customer services redefine the means in which companies interact with customers. These changes subscribe to the notion that customers’ value perceptions have shifted from the extent to which market offerings might satisfy needs and wants to establishing long-term bilateral relationship with the company and/or the brand. These expectations arguably represent maturity in many key markets’ attitude towards marketing practices, and are driven by the premise of Web 2.0 – growing transparency and integration of people and processes under the influence of content sharing platforms (Spool, 2007).
The Effect of Sales 2.0 on the Organization
The translation of these new value perceptions and expectations into appropriate marketing practices demands very significant adaptations in terms of companies’ priorities, structures and practices. In addition to the main approaches to markets such as engaging customers’ referrals and managing an ongoing conversation with the market (see, for example, Greenberg, 2010), there is a clear need to conduct quite a few changes in companies’ internal affairs. It is possible to identify four main domains of internal change, namely strategy, process, people and technology (Seley & Holloway, 2009), in which the traditional boundaries between sales and marketing seem to dissolve:
Sales 2.0 strategies capitalize on customer engagement at using all levels of the organization, in particular through integrating the work of marketers and salespeople. This implies, for example, that the traditional emphasis on fieldwork should be moderated in favor of more diverse channels (most notably the Internet), thereby reaching more heterogenic targets. By the same token, the use of direct contact (e.g. though social media) may help to widen the contacts within a specific firm in B2B marketing. That is, instead of holding a conversation with one or few key decision makers in the customer’s organization, sellers may want to raise awareness to their offers and/or gather valuable information by ‘talking’ with other stakeholders, such as the employees who would be the end users of the products and services in question and members of budgeting teams.
Greenberg’s (2010) calls for a buyer focused sales process that essentially deal with establishing flexible solutions to emerging problems is arguably a rather small development of existing approaches to sales, albeit an essential feature of Marketing 2.0.
Earlier practices of customer focused selling (such as solution selling) established bottom-up selling processes, under which customers’ acute needs (‘pains’) affect not only organizations’ offers and positioning, but also their structures, value frameworks and levels of specification (see Eades & Kear, 2006). However, as information from customers flows more rapidly and extensively as a result of increased means of communication, the organization must be much more flexible than before. In order to gain competitive advantage, thus, firms have no choice but to translate customers’ feedback from all interfaces (including salespeople, CRM and user generated content) into immediate action (it should be noticed, however, that higher responsiveness does not mean that marketers should not act proactively).
The need to become more flexible and to integrate work among different departments might challenge some traditional sales force management practices, which measured people according to direct contribution to sales and/or specific measurements of efficient performance. As work shifts from individuals to teams and long-term profitability becomes more important than short-term achievements, individual contributions (principally in terms of quantity) must be weighted in reference to group performance, building of relationships and knowledge sharing (Seley & Holloway, 2009). Moreover, without very careful planning of the inputs they use, sales force automation systems (their importance notwithstanding) might decrease performance, as the amount of work and learning required to support relationships with customers tends to grow overwhelmingly and disrupt the workforce. Failure to manage comprehensive relationships with customers, on the other hand, is very likely to jeopardize the organization’s image, sales and/or competitive advantage.
Integration of Technology for Successful Sales 2.0
The final domain that must be considered is technology. Although there is no silver bullet to align different organizations’ marketing and sales operations with each other and with their rapidly changing environment, it is possible to identify three main points to consider:
First, the need to align so many forces (both internal and external) requires specialization and a high degree of innovation to address the changing nature of the organization as well as trends in the field of Web 2.0. Sources of information and operating platforms are expected to grow in the future and demand tool-specific working methods – microblogging strategies, for example, cannot work for forums (Zarrella, 2010). Hence, most organizations might prefer to focus on their internal workings and core capacities rather than overleveraging their (naturally suboptimal) Sales 2.0 capabilities, thereby outsourcing such tasks to specialized service providers.
Second, although many features of traditional sales management systems (such as stage analysis and short-term performance appraisal) are still important, emerging technologies should be able to support the new age of relationship marketing. Perhaps the most significant change is the growing importance of qualitative data from Web 2.0 platforms. Essentially, these data deal with users’ comments and insights on the various matters that interest the firm, which would typically be found outside of the latter’s communication with its customer base (e.g. in social media).
Finally, content sharing seems to become a key component of organizations’ data management systems (Greenberg, 2010). Wikis and newsfeeds might be a good start (ibid.), albeit probably far from being comprehensive enough. To facilitate engagement across the organization and especially to sustain an effective workforce, some parts of the organization must ‘live’ (i.e. put a major emphasis of their work) in Web 2.0 environments just as they used to do fieldwork and/or other traditional marketing and sales practices.
That is, since it is rather unlikely that CRM and ERP tools can be as dynamic as Web 2.0 environments, change agents in firms (often dedicated salespeople) should promote organization-wide work processes on Web 2.0 platforms. Such a change would not only create a natural flow between teams and this emerging environment, but also give people a hands-on experience with customers’ thinking, expectations and problems.
Traditional concepts and practices that separated the various stages in firms’ pre- and post-sales operations seem to lose importance in contemporary markets. Customers and stakeholders can and want to interact with various facets of the firm, whereas the latter is equally interested in the opportunities offered by Web 2.0 platforms. Similarly, emerging means of communications that enable collaborative environment may help to solve some of the most acute problems of big organizations, most notably inefficiencies that are caused by overlapping work and inadequate use of companies’ resources (such as marketing intelligence and communication). Even if some of the tools to do so are yet to be established as effective, the case for the use of collaborative technologies to integrate many of the firm’s internal and external operations is strong, and innovation in this direction may bring about significant competitive advantages for organizations that are willing to engage in this endeavor.
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