Forget the PowerPoint: B2B Sales are Quickly Migrating to Tablets

Spend Matters welcomes another guest post from David C. Wyld, Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University.

My family has had to adjust to significant technological changes in the way our high-schooler studies and learns this academic year. His high school, like more and more primary and secondary schools across the country and indeed around the globe, have gone to mandatory iPads for all students this academic year. Yes, there have been, shall we say “complications,” as students, faculty, administrators, and parents have begun to learn in a 21st-century environment with all books, notes, papers, study guides - everything - contained on that device. Gone is the sight of students sleepily walking into school lugging 20-pound bookbags stuffed with heavy textbooks and binders for all their classes. Now students carry light messenger bags or simply the iPad itself (covered, of course, with the mandatory hard plastic, almost teenager-proof cover).

For me, after getting over the fact that a mandatory iPad policy came with a mandatory several hundred dollar “rental fee,” it didn’t take my wife and me long to become big-time converts to the “tableted future” of education. There are amazing things that can be done by kids and their teachers with iPads or similar tablets. And to the school’s credit, they had great administrative and faculty leadership that “bought into” the tech change and converted from paper to paperless and from completing worksheets and writing/testing/drawing on paper to using appropriate - and quite cool - apps to do the same, but better. And for my son, overall the tablet-enabled educational experience is, hands down, a better one - and one that is more in-tune with the ways the rising generation learns, lives, and communicates.

Now, putting on my management consultant/professor hat, getting high-schoolers, middle schoolers, and even kindergarteners today to use the best, most modern technology is not just important from an educational standpoint. Rather, training tech-savvy students is even more consequential today as handheld technologies are coming into the mainstream of how progressive organizations of all stripes conduct business. Going out for a bite to eat? Restaurants are replacing those plastic shielded menus with iPads. Dropping your car off for service at a car dealership? You are more than likely to be greeted by a tablet-carrying service rep. Going to the doctor or being carted into the emergency room? You will more than likely be assessed by a nurse or medical assistant who will take your vital signs and enter them on the tablet. He or she can even have you use your fingers to sign on the iPad that you have received the HIPAA information for the 63rd time!

Yes, the future of business is quickly moving to a tableted future, and in the B2B arena, we are seeing this as well - just not perhaps as fast as in consumer-oriented markets. Tablets are becoming not just an accessory for sales representatives, but rather a vital tool that can be used in imaginative ways to enhance their interactions with procurement professionals. While anecdotally we have seen this trend developing for some time, it has accelerated over the past year in particular as prices for tablets have come down dramatically (well, except for one Cupertino -based company’s offerings), a new study provides interesting insights into how tablets can and are being used effectively - and imaginatively - by the sales forces of B2B companies.

Still, there are many laggard companies, sending their salespeople out into the field to do business with corporate clients without tablet technology, which means the legacy two “P’s” that have been the staple of sales over the past decade - papers and PowerPoint - are still being employed. In many instances, a tablet could make the salesperson more informative and improve the interaction from the standpoint of the corporate buyer as well. It makes me think of Alec Baldwin’s famous monologue, which is one minute, R-rated, but quite true course on selling from “Glengarry Glen Ross” on that matter.

The sales consultancy Corporate Visions has an ongoing research program in which they work together to survey over 700 marketing professionals engaged in the B2B environment, looking for emerging issues, trends, best practices, and challenges. In their most recent report, Corporate Visions teamed up with SAVO, which describes itself as the leading provider of sales enablement solutions, to produce The State of Mobile Enablement.” This research drilled down with B2B sales professionals in an effort to see how companies and their front-line representatives were taking advantage of mobile tablet technology “to be better prepared for, and more effective in, their customer conversations.”

What they found was quite interesting, in that there appears to be a wide gulf developing in the B2B marketplace between “new school” and “old school” firms that have far different sales philosophies and execution strategies. On the one hand, there are a significant number of firms and their salespeople that are riding the tech wave and fully integrating tablet technology into they way they work and interact with their current customers and prospect companies. This amounts today to a quarter of all B2B companies’ sales forces. However, on the other side of the equation, fully three-quarters of B2B sales forces report that they have not been issued tablets for sales purposes by their firms, and, quite alarmingly, over 80 percent of the salespeople surveyed from these mobile tech-laggard firms state that their respective companies have no plans in place to move toward tablet-enabled sales tools.

While the survey did not appear to specifically ask these sales professionals as to whether or not they were using their personal tablets in their sales efforts in our increasingly “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) world, the stats on the three-quarters of B2B companies not employing tablets likely means that due to the nature of the proprietary information, programs, and presentations firms will typically arm their external salespeople with, these organizations are indeed seeing little tablet penetration and usage in their front-line representatives interactions with client companies and sales targets.

The Corporate Visions/SAVO report goes on to chronicle the many ways that mobile tablet technology is being used today to enhance not just the effectiveness and efficiency of salespeople in the B2B environment, but the experience of the procurement executives, staffers, and actual end-user customers in client companies as well. Amongst the salespersons actually equipped with tablets, they reported using their devices in the following ways:

  • 63.5 percent: Walk through (swipe through) a sales presentation live in front of a customer
  • 60.3 percent: Demo a solution live in front of a customer
  • 51.6 percent: Perform various CRM activities
  • 50.2 percent: Log into a tablet-friendly portal to access and download sales collateral
  • 48.4 percent: Watch a video of a sales message or presentation being modeled by an expert
  • 46.1 percent: Customize or edit a sales presentation before customer meetings
  • 42.5 percent: Actually “whiteboard” a message
  • 40.2 percent: Send sales campaigns, collateral, and product information to customers
  • 38.8 percent: Review coaching documents to help prepare for sales calls
  • 32.4 percent: Share and find best practice content and tips from colleagues

Finally, the people behind “The State of Mobile Enablement” believe that tablet use by B2B firms will also be a crucial factor in helping companies fight against the still high rates of new product failures in the marketplace. The ability of enterprises to quickly deploy uniform content, tools, and yes, coaching, to the members of their sales force, especially if they are widely dispersed across the country or even around the world, is a chief benefit of tablets that should not be ignored by B2B companies. Corporate Visions/SAVO clearly expressed that the still tech-laggard majority of B2B firms in the marketplace are thus ignoring a huge opportunity to make their sales efforts more effective and their customer interactions far better by not taking advantage of tablet-enabled sales, engagement, and retention tools.

In the end, I have to agree with the experts from Corporate Visions and SAVO, as I believe that tablet technology is just as big a game changer in B2B sales as it is a disruptor in everything from my son’s learning environment to your visit to a restaurant or an auto dealer. The ability to do so much on the fly makes tablet technology an indispensable tool for corporate salespeople and buyers who rely on them as a touch point for customer service, problem resolution, order updates/modification, training, etc.

Making sure that salespeople have today’s best tech tools to best serve their customers today should be a top priority for any company looking to succeed - and survive - in today’s hypercompetitive marketplace. If a salesperson walks into a potential customer’s office, weighed down with binders or brochures and armed with even the smallest of projectors to deliver their sales presentation via PowerPoint, they will face an uphill battle to win over savvy corporate procurement interests today.

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