Selling In The Information Age

In a recession you need to recognising poor sales performance fast. However many companies fail, not because they don’t know what good performance is but because accurate information on poor performance is difficult to obtain. If poor performers blame market conditions, how do you, as a sales manager, respond? Recognising weaknesses is vital; underperformance compromises the company and its implications are felt across the organisation. Investment and growth may be delayed, companies lose competitiveness and profitability suffers. Unfortunately underperformance is more common than we think.

Forecasts are developed using a mixture of analysis and experience. In many cases experience takes precedence over analysis. This works well in a static situation but in a rapidly changing world fundamentals change. Experience gained in one environment may not be useful in the new. This is particularly true at the beginning of the 21st century where advances in technology combined with greater connectivity is fundamentally changing the way we communicate.

Some companies still use traditional sales methods; telemarketing, trade shows and direct mail. These techniques, effective in the 1970s and ‘80s, are producing decreasing returns. And some techniques are being legislated against.

The result is targets set well below what is achievable and many opportunities being missed. When sales organisations adapt external communications to take advantage of technology significant improvements in performance are delivered.

This paper identifies where sales inefficiencies exist and explains what practical changes can be made to deliver improved performance.

Matching activity to opportunity

Many organisations waste time and money chasing opportunities which either don’t exist or where there is little chance of winning.

Inappropriate investment of resources harms the organisation in two ways: money is spent on ‘lost causes’ and good opportunities are not followed up. These issues are not restricted to the sales department. Marketing budgets are frequently eaten up on campaigns and activities which deliver little or no measurable ROI. In a perfect world all marketing and sales spending would match the likelihood of purchase.

The diagram below matches the percentage of sales and marketing budget (which includes salaries, car allowances benefits) with the likelihood of success.

Where and when to invest

Measuring marketing return on investment ROI is fraught with difficulty and can be very subjective: you can get the data to tell you what you want to know, not what you need to know! Professional associations measure standard rates of return across several markets. Knowing what works and what does not is important if you want to match your marketing spend to likelihood of success.

Direct Mail

Who knows what gets read, by whom and how much gets thrown away?

Most of us have received cold telephone calls which start with a salesperson saying; ‘I’m just following up a letter I sent you….’ and have no recollection of any letter or direct marketing piece. The Direct Marketing Association’s own surveys report that 23% of recipients felt strongly that direct mail was an ‘intrusion’. A further 50% threw it away without reading. Whilst this does not provide ROI information, it tends to reinforce the impression that Direct Mail is an unpopular medium. However, it is not in the interests of a large and established direct mailing industry to acknowledge the fact that Direct Mail is not welcomed and often provides limited ROI.

In its glory days – the mid eighties – targeted, clever DM campaigns could produce response rates of 6-7%. Twenty years later, creative agencies produce highly innovative (and costly) mailings which might deliver a 2% response. If you are relying on Direct Mail to ‘warm-up’ your marketplace before embarking on a telemarketing push then the effect is likely to:

• Annoy at least 20% of your database.
• Get thrown into the bin by 50%

Often the Sales manager’s response to decreased effectiveness is to increase activity – irritating even more executives and further harming their company’s reputation.


Cold calling is so unpopular that professional salespeople will often get an agency to do it for them. Their argument being: ‘I am too an expensive a resource to be employed making appointments.’ This is true. However, if telemarketing was an effective way of making appointments all salespeople would be happy to do it. Anyone who has experience of cold calling knows that it has limited effectiveness. The volume of calls that have to be made before a reasonable number of appointments are booked is huge. The Direct Marketing Association also acknowledges that 70% of recipients felt strongly that telemarketing was intrusive.
So, if you want to make yourself unpopular with 70% of your marketplace, plan a telemarketing campaign today!

Trade Shows

Salespeople know that building rapport increases the chances of success. Meeting potential customers at a trade show or exhibition is seen as a golden opportunity. Shows are a popular medium for positive marketing. It gets the company name ‘seen’ in the desired markets, organisations can promote their messages, products and services.

Marketing Directors can also accurately measure ROI. The cost of the stand is known, as is any extra promotional material, salaries of sales staff manning the stand etc. Leads generated can be tracked and revenue measured.

But exhibitions can be expensive, especially if they involve sales staff. Often the show will cover its cost but examining ROI will often show that it is an expensive method of lead generation.
Optimising Investment

Good salespeople are frequently the company’s most valuable marketing resource. Their time is too valuable to be wasted on poorly qualified leads. In a perfect world only those leads which represented good opportunities would be presented to salespeople. Achieving this goal requires intelligence and education:


‘Hard Facts’

Before passing to sales resources objective ‘hard’ information about potential clients should be known:

• Number of Employees
• Turnover
• Industry
• ‘Fits’ your profile of an ideal client
• Influencers, decision makers and buying teams
• Budgets and projects
• Current equipment, suppliers and competitors

‘Soft Facts’

How individuals act provides a greater insight into intentions than assumptions based upon age of contract, type of company or industry.

Understanding the behaviour of individuals, their response to certain questions and opinions helps salespeople to complete the picture of potential clients. The sort of ‘soft’ information that can be discovered includes:

• Potential business ‘pains’
• Point in the Buying/Decision cycle
• Opinions
• Current estimate of business efficiency
• Degree of happiness/satisfaction with current supplier/situation


Buying decisions are often complex; requiring the education of many influencers. Detailed and carefully constructed arguments need to be developed and accepted before investment decisions are made. Ideally leads passed to salespeople will:

• Know and respect your company as a thought leader
• Understand the issues that your product or solution addresses
• Be predisposed to implementing a solution based on your products

Ensuring your salespeople only arrange meetings with potential clients where qualified opportunities exist maximises efficiency and creates an environment which optimises sales performance.

Communicate to deliver qualified leads

It may be something we all strive to achieve; yet true relationship marketing to groups of individuals is something that has, to date, been impossible. We may be able to direct targeted direct mail based upon assumptions but true relationship marketing requires a two-way discourse (preferably in real-time). Traditional Direct Marketing methods cannot achieve this.

Technology and techniques have been developed which enable us to build relationships with individuals in a given target market. In addition, by profiling their interactions we are able to segment by behaviour i.e. identifying individuals’ interests: their propensity to purchase or their stage in the buying cycle. This has a significant impact upon further interaction, business planning and sales efficiency.

Content or Information led marketing relies upon good quality, useful information being made available to the target market. (e.g. risk of switching supplier, new solutions, technology etc.) Interested individuals will then access that information. We can track this activity. The benefits are:

1. The information your organisation provides improves its reputation and profile in the marketplace.
2. Your reputation for thought leadership is enhanced.
3. You can identify individuals and organisations moving into the buying cycle by behaviour.

In much the same way as an experienced shop assistant knows when a customer is interested in a product and ready to make a purchase, so the behaviour of individuals on line can be interpreted and qualified.

Building a relationship requires two-way discourse. By using the eMarketing channel, this discourse takes place in a safe and familiar environment – most executives are used to accessing information from the Internet. A series of interactions (white papers, surveys, webinars) builds up trust and helps organisations identify real requirements. Sales professionals are then in a position to contact individuals and engage them in meaningful discussion.
Using eMarketing to build trust and understanding develops leads from cold without resorting to expensive intrusive and unpopular methods such as telemarketing.

Leads are developed through a series of interactions to a point where telemarketing and direct mail can be targeted by behaviour. This process educates and qualifies the lead, providing intelligence that supports salespeople and maximises the chance of success.


Advances in technology and communications have helped companies to communicate better with their target markets. This means organisations can identify those prospects who, through their actions, indicate an interest in their solutions.

Being presented with qualified, interested, leads changes sales efficiency: sales professionals no longer have to spend several hours a week ‘prospecting’. In addition, the lead’s on line behavior will indicate business problems that need solving.

Traditional lead generation methods – direct mail and telemarketing cannot provide qualified leads. Organisations setting sales targets based upon these techniques are likely to be setting their targets too low. Conversion rates based upon eMarketing generated leads are significantly higher. Individual performance is more visible: lead conversion can easily be measured and results published.

Through using appropriate marketing techniques at each stage of lead generation and conversion budgets can be ‘right sized’. i.e. Money is invested in proportion to the likelihood of ‘close’. Traditional mechanisms: telemarketing, direct mail and shows are expensive and may not be the most sensible use of valuable marketing pounds.

Useful or just Nuts?

This article is designed to promote thought and comment. If you think it is useful then please pass it along to your colleagues, make comment or get in touch.

Marketing Digitally since 2001, APM Digital clients include; Technology Companies, Professional Service Organisations, Manufacturers and Wholesalers.

One Response to “Selling In The Information Age”

  • Ty:

    That is pretty helpful. It provided me a number of ideas and I’ll be placing them on my web site soon. I’m bookmarking your site and I’ll be back. Thanks again!

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