Growing Sales with Smarter Systems

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Technology has a long and storied history of over-promising and under-delivering. How paperless is your office today? Despite not yet achieving the paperless office, making ongoing process efficiency improvements is the real promise technology holds. If you think about it, paper is simply an output. Someone makes the decision to click print. The real process burden, and laborious time suck are the inputs. In the sales process for instance leads and prospects still have to find their way into the system.

For many salespeople data entry is the bane of their existence. Essentially every business process application is still ruled by the database today. No matter how much you pay for a CRM, ERP, or BI application, the notion “garbage in, and garbage out” still applies. The mouse click certainly saves a walk to the filing cabinet. Yet, regardless whether the data is analog or digital if it’s “misfiled” it’s still useless.  

There’s no shortage of seductive ideas singing to the ears of many business leaders. Technology will always be Sirens of Promise. Sometimes social change and key trends happening in the workplace, that are also impacting the overall economy don’t intersect with precisely with the technology of the day. Despite environmental challenges, we’re still hitting the print function as much as ever. Outputs aside, there’s no questioning the exponential growth in technology, and it’s subsequent value to driving the knowledge economy.

As machines and computers keep evolving they’re both forcing, and enabling people to specialize in what we’re best at, using our brains. Thinking for a living is no longer exclusive territory. Knowledge work, and the knowledge economy is reshaping business, and how we actually conduct business. Eventually, many of the best, and most widely available jobs in many countries will be knowledge work.  All of the administrative or brute labour jobs will eventually be replaced by a machine and a software application.

The concept of the knowledge economy was first introduced by Peter Drucker in his book “The Effective Executive”. Before every office desk was adorned with a workstation and monitor, in 1966, Drucker defined the knowledge worker as someone who “works with his or her head, not hands, and produces ideas, knowledge, and information.” Even when the office had a space dedicated to the filing room, knowledge was being deemed a core asset.

Someone who works with his or her head, not hands, and produces ideas, knowledge, and information” – Peter Drucker on Knowledge Workers

However, knowledge work now really exists in a value spectrum. Very low on this value spectrum are input tasks such as:

  • data entry

  • transaction processing

  • workflow assignments

Allocating resources to these type of low value tasks in organizations is a drain, and in many cases still needs to be done. Simply pushing paper and following basic instructions doesn’t take a significant amount of brain power, and conceivably can be done with better software. While seemingly routine, there are many higher value tasks requiring deep technical, product, or customer knowledge (sometimes a combination of all of the above) to fulfill valuable roles such as:

  • providing technical or customer support

  • handling unique customer issues

  • addressing open-ended inquiries

  • finding a fit between your companies offering and a potential customer’s needs

One of the biggest challenges many organization have is capturing, documenting, and storing much of the knowledge residing in their employees heads. Equally challenging is having an effective process for transferring or communicating knowledge between employees, company divisions, and even customers. It takes a well defined process to ensure workers are contributing and expanding the knowledge assets of a company. In many cases companies can identify the knowledge assets which have commercial or monetary value, and create patents or other forms of restricted intellectual property. More importantly there’s significant value in the people who now are like knowledge alchemists; they can turn nuggets of data or information into pure gold for an organization. These knowledge workers occupy the very high end of the value spectrum.

The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year…  – Gordon Moore, Intel Co-Founder

The exponential growth of technology is driving up the value of knowledge. Consider the impact Moore’s Law has had on hardware and now mobile devices. An iPhone now has more computing power that the systems used to put Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969. Then factor the rapid proliferation and accessibility to broadband; according to a recent report it is suggested “that in 2015 approximately 3.6 billion people will be able to access broadband services, 50% of the world’s population.” Michael Philpot, Ovum analyst and co-author of the reports, commented “that Broadband access is now as important as other essential utilities such as gas, water and electricity. In the developed world it has become a basic requirement and penetration is above 60% of households in many markets.”

“Broadband access is now as important as other essential utilities such as gas, water and electricity. In the developed world it has become a basic requirement and penetration is above 60% of households in many markets.” – Michael Philpot, Ovum Analyst

Devices are more powerful than ever. Network pipes now moving larger amounts of data faster than ever before, and when you add advanced software to this whole mix, suffice to say the knowledge workers role will continue it’s rapid change. The notion of the consumerization of IT isn’t a myth. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is rapidly becoming the norm, and a challenge for many organizations. The distinction between many peoples personal lives and professional lives is getting blurry. Smartphones and tablets have won over the consumer, and these consumers being employees want the same power in their hands for conducting day to day business activities. It’s not about playing Angry Birds during a coffee break, it’s actually about having tools and applications to make them more productive.

One day we’ll witness the elimination all the non-value adding tasks that people currently perform.  For instance there will be a day where sales reports and forecasts are longer subject to the human touch. Simple tasks that involves going through a list and copy/pasting items into a report will be replaced by smarter software applications. There’s no inherent value in a human performing these types of tasks.

Today, the world’s largest bookseller, Amazon, is a software company. Today’s largest video service by number of subscribers is a software company: Netflix. – Marc Andreessen, VC & founder of Netscape

In 2011 Marc Andreessen offered a compelling world view of how the business landscape is shifting quickly and dramatically when he penned “Why Software is Eating the World”. As he points out, “today, the world’s largest bookseller, Amazon, is a software company. Today’s largest video service by number of subscribers is a software company: Netflix. Today’s dominant music companies are software companies, too: Apple’s iTunes, Spotify and Pandora.  Today’s fastest growing entertainment companies are videogame makers—again, software. The best new movie production company in many decades, Pixar, was a software company. Photography, of course, was eaten by software long ago. It’s virtually impossible to buy a mobile phone that doesn’t include a software-powered camera.”

Essentially there’s not a business model nor business process that software isn’t now disrupting nor capable of disrupting in the furture. We have access to more knowledge than ever, we can create more value than ever  by using our brains, and at the same time our machines and computers keep getting smarter. Think Siri, think Watson. Artificial intelligence is leaving a bigger mark everyday. We’re not simply talking about Watson sending Ken Jennings home as a defeated Jeopardy champion.

As a recent Intel research paper pointed out, “Watson can ingest more data in a day than any human could in a lifetime. It can read all of the world’s medical journals in less time than it takes a physician to drink a cup of coffee. All at once, it can peruse patient histories; keep an eye on the latest drug trials; stay appraised of the potency of new therapies; and hew closely to state of-the-art guidelines that help doctors choose the best treatments.” Watson is then able to suggest a range of potential treatments by confidence level which provides doctors with an effective tool to more efficiently help patients. Because systems like Watson can continually ingest an enormous amount of recent and relevant data, the system itself will outstrip a human’s ability to keep current with all relevant information.” There’s no escaping the reality that machines are getting smarter, but the upside is they’re getting more capable of making us smarter and more productive.

Knowledge is now flowing in multiple directions throughout most organizations and is no longer a tightly held management tool. The most successful organizations recognize that innovation is only found by creating a truly collaborative environment. The Internet is a global information sharing tool, enabling real-time, mobile communications and making knowledge one of the worlds most valuable commodities. It’s not just enough to have knowledge though, it’s knowing what to do with it that really counts. Imagine the day when we have our own personal Watson easily navigating huge swathes of data, and turning it into actionable valuable information. Everyone in an organization will be conceivably making faster, more accurate, and more insightful decisions.  

Deals made [at GE Energy Financial Services] using the new approach have generated returns 40 percent higher than the old, unstructured one did.

McKinsey highlights a real business case where “GE Energy Financial Services, which specializes in lending for large energy projects, has worked to boost the productivity and quality of decisions in its loan underwriting. A managing director with responsibilities for the unit’s marketing and investment strategy brought together GE analysts and researchers, who extracted typical decision rules from experienced company executives. The rules were embedded in a semi-automated decision system that scores prospective deals and recommends that they be approved or disapproved. Junior analysts can use the system to determine whether a deal is likely to succeed—without taking it to a credit committee comprising senior business unit executives, who can of course override the recommendation if they wish to do so. Deals made using the new approach have generated returns 40 percent higher than the old, unstructured one did.” In all fairness one has to park their inner Luddite and agree that in this case technology is driving a unquestionably impressive outcome.

New technologies are also making making inroads into disciplines long reserved for those people whose tasks centered on expert thinking and collaboration. In another example, a major academic medical center is employing “smart forms” that present physicians with all the available information about a particular patient’s disease on one screen and even produce first drafts of notes about their interactions with patients for medical records.

It’s difficult to argue with the vision shared by Intel with the suggestion that “Smart Systems” will emerge and collaborate with humans, changing the nature of work, and driving a re-imagination of work content and work process. A second wave of consumerization via services, “Servicification”, will usher in changes to corporate IT organizations in a way more impactful than the first. The magnitude and speed of disruption will be propelled by short software development cycles and simplicity in wide deployment of services and apps quickly. Hardware changes driven by the iPhone and iPad in the first wave of consumerization will seem long-lived in comparison.”

The new partnership between humans and machines will open opportunities for people to focus on uniquely human strengths. Higher level “sense-making” skills will be increasingly valued as we leverage data to create unique insights critical to decision making. The CRM system is evolving beyond the database. We envision the future of sales software as being a truly “Smart Application” that will tie together all the tools of the trade and automate the non-value adding processes.  This state of true sales automation will create the next generation of super-human salespeople by enabling them to outthink and outwork their competition while doing less work.

The “Smart System” will change the way humans/salespeople do their work. While the Sirens song can be seductive, we see this future aligning with our mantra “Grow Sales, not Paperwork.”

  • Alexandra Greenhill

    Hey Collin – one of the longest blog posts I have seen in a while – but loved the vision! You should consider submitting these thoughts as a ChangeThis Manifesto.

    • Alexandra Skey

      Agreed! I like the longer posts, when they’re meaty and concise – they read more like articles or mini-white papers, more educational.

  • Alexandra Skey

    Awesome visuals and CTA at the end Collin, this is by far your best post yet. I think your shift in strategy is really working. Great content – excited to read more like this!!

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