Houston, Texas, May 1, 1995 - With the popularity of the Internet, productivity software, e-mail and thousands of other PC-based services are growing faster than Bill Gates can say "cash or charge?" The office is steadily becoming computer-literate. Looking to tap into the more than 100 million PCs currently adorning the nation's homes, offices and schools, savvy sales executives have added interactive floppy disk-based presentations and catalogs to their sales toolbox. According to Vic Cherubini, president of the epic software group, the diskette's power to entertain and inform customers while significantly reducing the sales cycle may soon relegate printed sales literature and overhead transparencies to the dust bin of selling history.
"Today customers are more sophisticated than ever before," he says. "By providing a blend of entertainment and information, sales people stand a much greater chance of getting a complex message across. I see the computer as a new platform to communicate complex product and service offerings in ways not possible with traditional media. By incorporating animation, sound and interactive calculations, salespeople can take the presentation to a whole new level."
Before the Call: A Disk That Asks The Tough Questions:
According to Cherubini, a diskette sent to a prospect can handle many of the tasks a salesperson would normally have to perform in person, which speeds up the sales cycle. He calls these programs "Intelligent Electronic Catalogs."
"Imagine capturing the knowledge of your best sales and technical people," Cherubini says, "and making their expertise available any time it was needed. With a disk-based solution, that is a realistic possibility. When customers use the program, they are led through a series of questions -- the same questions your most experienced sales representatives would ask during a sales call. As your customers respond to the computer-generated questions, the program formulates which of your products or services is best suited for their needs."
Once customers have responded to all the electronic queries, the program may suggest the best product for their needs or determine any problems and recommend a solution. But as Cherubini emphasizes, the electronic catalog is designed to help, not replace the professional salesperson.
"If a prospect has run through the program before a sales call, the salesperson who then visits the account can quickly focus on the prospect's needs. That reduces the number of calls needed to close an account. But there's no way any program can automate all the essential functions a salesperson performs on a sales call."
On The Call: A Salesperson's Best Friend:
To illustrate the point, Cherubini describes how a disk-based solution can aid a salesperson making a presentation.
"Let's take the example of a salesperson working for a company that distributes industrial products," he says. "Typically, distributors carry a number of product lines. Their salespeople usually have a breadth of knowledge about a wide variety of products, but not a great depth of knowledge of the individual products. When that salesperson makes a call on an engineer interested in specs on say, a new valve, he can use a notebook computer to introduce the engineer to that valve. On-screen appears a computer-generated animation of the valve. By pressing the 'Up' key, the engineer opens the valve. With the addition of the sound of fluid rushing through the valve, the prospect can 'experience' the product firsthand.
"So now the prospect has learned about the company and the new valve. This is when the salesperson can really unleash the power of the computer. The engineer asks, 'But which valve is best suited for my application?' To find out, the salesperson clicks on the 'Spec' key and immediately the computer starts displaying questions on the screen. 'What is your pipe diameter?' 'What is the greatest pressure you expect to have?' 'What are your peak flow rates?' etc. As the engineer responds, the salesperson clicks on the appropriate choices and the program configures the ideal valve design. Then when the last question is answered, the program creates a 'product specification' that can be viewed on the screen, printed or copied onto a floppy."
With complete sound, animation and interaction capabilities, the disk-based approach allows a genuinely limitless range of creativity and entertainment. Cherubini says that epic designed an interactive game for one client company inspired by the quiz show "Jeopardy!". Rather than being prompted with questions, customers had to choose among the various categories and dollar values. While the result may be the same when a salesperson leads the client through a typical paper-based needs analysis, the computer adds the element of fun to the process.
The Inevitable Cost / Benefit Analysis:
Understandably, all this fun and interactivity doesn't come cheap. epic's production costs for intelligent electronic catalogs range from $15,000 to $100,000. For certain sales organizations, the disk-based presentation's benefits far outweigh the costs.
"We typically target large industrial companies that manufacture complex products with long sale's cycles," Cherubini explains. "This is because a high-quality interactive catalog is expensive to produce. If the cost of a presentation can be spread over a large number of users, and if it can reduce the number of calls needed to close an account, it is relatively easy to justify the expense."
With interactive catalogs salespeople have a genuine opportunity to benefit from a new technology just as it becomes available. If you don't think it's worth the effort, just ask yourself, what if your competitors do?