Ring, Ring…”Hello Betty (insert your receptionist’s name here), this is John (insert your salesman’s name here). I’m getting ready to meet with Frank at Acme (insert customer name here) and I need to know what equipment he has on rent, how much business he’s done with us recently, and if he has any past due invoices.”

Does this conversation sound familiar to you? If your company has field salespeople or if you regularly visit your customers at their offices or job sites, I’m betting you have been involved in similar conversations MANY times through the years. A successful salesperson should be prepared to speak intelligently about a customer’s business activity, but what information is critical and how should the salesperson get that information?

If you want to win the trust of your customers and prospects (and earn their business), you need to know something about them before you meet with them. Some information is gathered through research, some is anecdotal, and still other information is based upon the facts related to prior sales/rental history and service history.

Use the internet

A great deal of information is available publicly and can be gathered via the internet. A quick search using your favorite search engine can produce a host of information that will help you relate to your customer/prospect. For example, what products does your customer sell? Who are their customers? What are others saying about them? Have they received any awards or commendations? What changes in their business have they announced?

Personal Experience

Other information is gathered as you interact with your customers and prospects. Over time, you will learn something about the individuals you work with, such as personal likes/dislikes, industry experience, family details, etc. Getting to know the individual personalities that you deal with is important, but make sure you get the details right! If you have trouble remembering personal information between visits or conversations, write down the information (or input it into your ERP software) and review the specifics before the meeting.

Gather Financial Details

Finally (and this is the point of this article), some information is stored in your ERP Software (your rental software) and is very important to have access to before a meeting. What data is useful? At a minimum, you should know: What equipment does a customer has on rent? Are they doing more or less business with you than they have in the past? Are they paying their invoices? In addition, if you have quick access to contract, invoice, and service details, you will save multiple phone calls to the bookkeeper and you will be able to resolve more issues in the field.

Word of Caution:

Having an access to Aged Receivables data = Good

Having access to OUTDATED Aged Receivables data = BAD

If you are going to have access to customer data, you need to make sure it is accurate and up to date. Given today’s technology, there is really no excuse for you not to have real-time access to the information. Smartphones, laptops, and notepad devices (e.g., Apple iPad) coupled with a WiFi and/or Wireless connection to your ERP software opens a new world of access that can improve your ability to serve your customers.

Real-Time vs. Static Data

You may be saying, “I don’t need real-time,” because I download (or enter) customer information  in to a spreadsheet before I make a sales call.” That’s good, but have you considered these issues?

  • What about changes that have occurred since your worksheet was last updated?
  • What if the information you have doesn’t include the level of detail that you need?
  • What happens to the customer data if your salesperson quits (and takes the spreadsheet with him) or if the laptop or paper file is lost or stolen?

If the customer information is accessed via an internet connection, you should technically be able to get access to any customer data, whether it is current or historical in nature. Plus, since nothing is stored on your local device, the data is secure from loss or theft.

Provide Access to the RIGHT Data

Many software products today will allow you to use standard remote access technology (e.g., Terminal Services or Citrix) to access your ERP solution via the internet. While this is a step in the right direction, it is not ideal. In order to make the data usable, it must be easy to access and the screens should be purpose built to provide quick and simple views to critical data with the ability to drill into the summary data for additional detail if needed and it should be accessible from multiple device types. The small size of some smartphone devices will greatly limit your ability to get value from access to the data if the screens are not optimized for the type of device that is connecting to the ERP System. A simple, web based “dashboard” that is designed to display critical customer information and allow drill-downs to additional detail as needed is ideal.

Information is KING

If you can provide your sales staff with more and better quality information about the customers and prospects they are calling on, they will be more successful. Technology now makes it possible to arm yourself and your sales team with accurate and timely information and the tools available to access data is affordable and readily available. Give your company the advantage over your competitors and win more new business by having better access to customer information.

What do you think? Are you providing your staff with real-time information? If not, why? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.