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3/14/2012
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4 Steps IT Must Take With Their Sales Teams

IT isn't doing enough to help drive revenue. Here's how it can become more relevant to the sales and marketing teams.

Step 1 Admit it, IT just doesn't get sales

It's tough to admit you don't really get the sales process, but IT teams just don't have a ton of sales experience to build upon. Only 12% of the 6,381 IT managers who responded to our 2012 InformationWeek Salary Survey have held sales or marketing positions. And IT's relationship with marketing is weaker than most: 27% of the respondents to our Global CIO Survey describe the result they get working with marketing as poor to neutral, worse than their relationship with any other discipline (see chart, below).

If you've never carried a bag, it's hard to understand the personal frustration and hardening of the soul that occur over years of chasing accounts. Understanding your company's sales process is essential if you're going to be of any help, in part because you'll uncover the many undocumented steps and tasks involved in the sales cycle.

Start off by doing some field work: Shadow a salesperson on customer calls, work trade shows, even help write proposals and respond to RFPs. IT often makes these sorts of sales-related tasks low priority: Just 18% of the IT execs who responded to our Global CIO Survey say "meeting with external customers" is one of the top three areas where they spend their time. But if you don't think getting involved with sales is part of your IT job, you need to rethink your role.

Case in point is Bob Grawien. The CIO of school products manufacturer School Specialty recently worked the booth at the company's national sales conference, talking to the company's field sale reps about everything from the economy and school budgets to CRM and e-commerce strategies. It wasn't a symbolic gesture. Grawien was there for the entire five-day show, getting direct feedback from sales reps, suppliers, and customers.

"It's an invaluable data point," Grawien says. The bad economy has brutalized the education sector, but School Specialty has found pockets of growth, leveraging its e-commerce and growing online curriculum products. "We need to be in lockstep with the sales force, understanding what's working and what's hindering their progress," he says. "This type of interaction not only gives me on-the-street feedback, but it also helps me assess what role the larger sales force can play with all our technology expansion plans."

One area you'll really want to get a grip on is the sales-conversion model. That is, to bag a sale, how many prospects does the sales team generally need, how many touch points, and how long does that process take? At many companies, this model is instinctively understood, but IT can help bring some rigor to it. Are we going to reach our sales goal mainly by reaching more prospects or closing a higher percentage of deals? This analysis can become a huge piece of work, especially for companies that sell to multiple customer sets.

Sales-conversion models are typically done for one type of product and usually aren't created outside the sales organization. Getting involved with this effort will not only give you insight into the amount of work that goes into the sales relationship, but it also will help you identify where sales tools are lacking. To close more sales, does the sales team need better tablet-based tools that will let them present sales materials more effectively? You don't want to leap to the first tech solution that comes to mind. Take time to intimately understand the sales process and the frustrations your sales team is dealing with.

chart: Percentage of IT execs who describe their relationships with these departments as poor or neutral

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