Friday, November 20, 2009

The Shiny Object

So I’m in the Admiral's Club on Friday evening at SFO after a long week at Dreamforce, salesforce.com’s annual user conference. In his opening address, Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com, mentioned that some 19,000 people were attending Dreamforce this year…and the lines for coffee and restrooms fully supported that claim.

Dreamforce is an interesting dichotomy of people, process and technology. The people range from senior sales executives to junior IT managers, marketing people, finance and operations – anyone with an interest in running salesforce.com applications in their organization. The processes covered during the event span sales, marketing, customer support, development and many others. The technology coverage is similarly broad.

From my perspective, Dreamforce does the sales profession a disservice with its laserlike focus on technology to the near-exclusion of consideration of business needs and process improvement. In his opening remarks, Marc rolled out a new set of features soon to be available (maybe) in the salesforce.com environment, features that add “Facebook and Twitter-like” utilities to the SFA environment.

Why? Because they can. Because the company has been in love with consumer-type apps and Facebook in particular over the past few years. Because it’s cool. Because Marc wants to be notified anytime an opportunity is updated.

Salesforce Blather

This new set of features may be launched in the spring (or maybe not, depending on some unidentified factors), called Salesforce Bla ^h^h^hChatter. Just what I want – my people spending more time typing and networking with one another rather than engaging with prospects and customers.

I’m not taking a potshot at the company…I’m a firm believer in the salesforce apps and the value that they provide to sales organizations. I’m also a firm believer in process before technology, and I’m at a near total loss to understand the value to salesforce.com’s primary users (sales people and their managers) of this new functionality.

They’re Not Alone

In the Expo Hall at Dreamforce, I was heartened to see many new exciting applications that advance the science of selling. Many of these applications quantify and present the results of selling and marketing activities, allowing for substantially better understanding of the performance of the organization. Yet in the Expo Hall, these offerings were arranged in a bazaar-type format, with little rhyme or reason to their placement. Attendees wandered the aisles browsing from one booth to the next, listening to the pitches of each, without building any context of how they might work together, or the relative importance of the problems to be solved.

Without context of the overall organization, these offerings seem like so many more shiny objects to be collected in one’s basket and taken home. In too many sales organizations, technology is selected in the absence of underlying process. Many select the apps without having laid the groundwork of good process and as a result, the technology merely automates chaos.

As we approach 2010, the sales organizations that invest in better processes – focusing on sales force specialization and performance, better interaction between marketing and sales, and increasing investments in customer intelligence – will be rewarded with higher growth rates than their peers.

The market has been ruthless over the past year, culling the weak from the market. It will be no different over the next few quarters and beyond, and those most adaptable to change (ref Charles Darwin) will be rewarded with not only survival but increasing success.

It's People-Process-Strategy

In many conversations with fellow sales executives, marketing executives and others involved in the selling and marketing processes, I found a general awareness of and focus on the triumvirate of people-process-strategy (Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, Bossidy). Buy Execution on Amazon

If we work together to solve the problems of sales productivity, we have the opportunity to truly solve our customers' business problems, as opposed to baffling them with irrelevant talk of features, specifications and plumbing.

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