Tech Solution Solves Sales Messaging Problem

June 1, 2006

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

Remember the Tom Hanks movie, Apollo 13 in which Hanks says, “Houston, we have a problem”?

Hanks plays astronaut Jim Lovell, who captained the ill-fated lunar mission that survived an oxygen tank explosion because of split-second thinking and immediate access to a world-class knowledge base on the ground in Texas.

I met Lovell once at a small corporate dinner years before the movie was released. People told me Lovell was a famous astronaut. There was no way I could “Google” Lovell. The Internet didn’t exist. I just smiled and listened to Lovell and made small talk.

Seeing me speechless, Lovell simply joked about not knowing what to do with the toothpicks from the hors d’oeuvres. He laughed and said he always puts them in his coat jacket pocket. There I was, face-to-face with one of the heroes of the Space Age, and I’m talking about toothpicks.

If only I had had the right information, known whom I was speaking with, and had put together the right messages to share at the right time. I could have learned so much about an historic event. Lovell didn’t mind. He’s a wonderful guy, but it was my loss for being unprepared.

Marc Benioff, CEO of San Francisco-based Salesforce.com, wants to be certain none of his sales executives ever is stuck like I was with Lovell. Benioff wants his sales executives to have access to the right sales materials and the right sales messages whatever the situation, at the moment they need them. He wants his team to have access to a knowledge base like the one Lovell had in Houston, guiding his crippled space capsule home.

Benioff and Salesforce.com are the global leaders in the red-hot space of sales automation tools. Yet Salesforce.com doesn’t offer access to an online library of sales collateral. Salesforce.com doesn’t provide the opportunity to customize PowerPoint presentation templates so that sales executives can be prepared regardless of what products or services they are selling.

So Salesforce.com turned to two Chicago-based entrepreneurs at SAVO Group, a 60-person venture-backed startup that’s built a technology product called Sales Asset Manager (SAM). SAM is an on-demand sales enablement platform that companies use to organize their sales materials and make them more accessible to their reps.

SAVO was founded in 1999 by John Aiello, 37, and Drew Larsen, 38, two University of Illinois graduates who sought to use technology to improve sales-force execution through more consistent delivery of the right messages, and by making the best-selling materials more available.

Says Aiello, “Our tools let customer-facing professionals quickly access the most current, consistent and customer-relevant selling materials. Our platform, our messaging and our content development services are making us a leader.”

Adds Brett Queener, senior vice president for business operations for Salesforce.com, “Salesforce.com selected SAVO after a thorough evaluation of the marketplace.”

SAVO’s clients include a leading cast of companies that offer a complex matrix of products and services. They serve ADP, FedEx and SPSS, to name just a few.

Mark Nystuen, executive vice president of branding and communications at Chicago-based LaSalle Bank says, “SAVO helps us streamline our business development process. We began working with them in 2001 as a way to share product information across our network quickly and effectively. Today, the platform has evolved into an online, one-stop marketing toolkit that does everything from housing sales materials to helping our relationship managers share best practices. For an organization of our size, such a technology is critical to meeting customer needs.”

Aiello likes to quote statistics. He says, “Some 85% of messages are delivered to the market through a sales team. Yet less than 25% of heads of marketing and sales think their sales teams are doing a good job accurately and consistently communicating targeted messages to their customers.

“As much as 40% of a typical sales rep’s time can be spent creating presentations, customizing messaging and getting ready to engage the customer,” Aiello adds. “Meanwhile, only 10% to 20% of salespeople are creating the ‘best’ message for their prospects.

“What we talk about in the marketplace is a math problem,” he goes on. It’s a problem he’s rapidly trying to solve through technology.

I once saw a presentation from a banking industry executive who was struggling with his IT department. They were trying to give all of their customer relationship managers access to detailed information about all the bank’s products. That information was like gold. It was a real corporate asset--money in the vault--but hard to reach.

Creating access used to mean developing a customized software system. The software development work is daunting and difficult for one lone company to tackle. Aiello and Larsen recognized the problem, raised venture capital and built a technology solution that’s working to unlock those communications assets.

I just wish I’d had SAM before that dinner with Apollo 13 mission commander Lovell. I might have sold him on getting me a trip to visit NASA headquarters in Houston.

Michael Krauss is a partner with Marion Consulting Partners based in Highland Park, Ill., and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Marionpartners.com or news@ama.org.


 

 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners