In the 70s of the last century, the common technologies of today were invented. The cornerstone of the internet was laid in 1969 and the first mobile phone hit the market in 1973. The forerunner of mobile content was developed in 1977 and CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management) was developed in the early 1990s. The first approaches to technological support were therefore used in companies a quarter of a century ago.
With the development and usability of digitized technologies, both social and economic changes have taken place that has had a special impact on organizations. In particular, the so-called “Web 2.0” and “Industry 4.0”, which describe sophisticated innovations in digitization and a high degree of networking of technologies, have changed entire company structures and processes and created new jobs. The use of new technologies in organizations has established itself as an indispensable component for generating comparative competitive advantages, which are also used in the field of sales. The need is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness that new technologies make possible. They support sales activities and relieve routine activities, but they also lead to an increase in the complexity of the processes, which must be countered with the appropriate know-how and resource allocation. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often do not have the financial and capacity-related possibilities to use the multitude of technologies. However, due to the potential for SMEs to be able to compete with internationally active competitors, a selection of the numerous technical sales instruments that are tailored to the core sales competencies is an advantage. It is not the number of technologies used that leads to corporate success.
The Basic Technologies Behind Digitization in Sales
The sales department of a company deals with all design processes and the implementation of strategies, the objectives of which are to generate sales successes for the company’s products or services and to deliver them to the customer. Of great importance in this context is the integrated customer management, whose basic areas of responsibility are anchored in customer acquisition, the intensive maintenance of customer loyalty and indirect product development through the analysis and internal transfer of customer feedback. The individual sales representative comes into direct contact with the customer, represents the company’s services and embodies the corporate image during the interaction with the customer, the culture and the direct market position of the company. The main task of sales is the conclusion of sales-effective contracts, which enable direct measurability and evaluation of the achievement of services. Due to the quantifiability and the possibility of direct allocation of successes, employees in this division work in a highly results-oriented manner and are subject to the company’s direct control at all times.
The sales strategy
To ensure business competitiveness, sales are a strategic resource due to the constantly changing requirements and are therefore an integral element of the company’s success. To be able to react optimally and immediately in the event of macro- or micro-economic changes, the strategic sales management includes complete action plans for alternative future environmental constellations, but without referring to operational details. The sales strategy includes the basic alignment of all sales-related instruments to ensure a uniform understanding among employees and in the market. Therefore, the following decision-making factors of the sales strategy should be mentioned:
- Customer identification, segmentation, prioritization
- Definition of competitive advantages
- Customer relationship strategy
- Sales channel strategy
The tasks of operational sales are derived from the goals of strategic sales management and are based on Kuhlmann’s phase model, which explains the following sales activities. The sales phases serve in the further course to create a comparison with the benefit dimensions to be able to measure the efficiency of new technologies in sales. A mutual exchange of information takes place within the phases of the sales of the model, i.e, they are in a mutual relationship and are defined as follows :
- Customer identification, analysis, evaluation : The area of customer identification deals with the basic collection, analysis and evaluation of personal data and their categorization. Among other things, this is used for market segmentation and subsequent target group-specific contacting.
- Customer contact : The area of customer contact includes establishing and maintaining contacts via selected communication channels. The selection of the respective communication channel is made specifically for the target group and can imply both a personal doorstep visit and contact via social media. The most common contact methods include face-to-face and telephone calls, as well as emails, blogs, tweets and Facebook entries to maintain constant contact.
- Customer information : Companies can use the instruments of digitized sales to send out even more specific information that is tailored to their customers’ needs. Companies that are dependent on communication cycles can reduce this dependency using digitized media. With webinars, YouTube videos, downloads, virtual reality offers and simulators, more in-depth information can also be conveyed emotionally and daily.
- Checkout: The purchase transaction refers to the provision of goods and services that are processed via financial services or payment systems. Logistics and insurance services complete the checkout phase.
- After sales/service : If the service has been provided to the customer, the last phase of maintaining contacts follows. The connection to the customer should continue to be maintained to increase customer satisfaction and secure long-term customer loyalty.
Definition of digitization and new technologies
Digitization refers to the conversion of analogue values into digital data for further electronic processing and storage. Digital technologies expand the concept of digitization and are understood as the electronic entirety of all technologies that enable the creation, processing, use and storage of digital data. In the context of the digitization of a company, digital technologies are understood as instruments that facilitate company-relevant processes and support individual employees in planning, managing, carrying out and monitoring internal company activities. Digital technologies are used in the sales process at the levels of customer acquisition, support and loyalty, during purchase advice and the purchase process as well as for service activities that follow a purchase.
Selected Digital Technologies in Relation to Sales
Smartphones and tablets are among the best-known and most widely used mobile devices today. They usually have universal components such as microphones, loudspeakers, cameras and a touch screen that is used to operate the devices, but also technological interfaces that enable them to connect to the cellular network or other computer networks for voice and data exchange. Technical components of the data exchange are, for example, USB cables, WLAN, Bluetooth and Near Field Communication (NFC), which allow a radio connection with a targeted short-range. This can also be used to read radio tags, so-called RFID tags, which use radio frequency identification technology. In addition, mobile devices have magnetic field sensors that can be used as a compass, acceleration sensors and a GPS antenna. Together with the information from network connection data, this enables location to be determined both in terms of position and location in space. This results in many usage scenarios for the programming of location-aware applications.
Other sensors such as fingerprint scanners can be found in some devices. In addition, smartphones and tablets are equipped with an operating system that provides the application developer with functions that have been abstracted from the hardware. Due to the hardware components developed at the beginning, the developers discovered the possibility of using sensor data to find further possible uses for applications (apps). The camera in the smartphone is now used not only for pictures but also for face recognition and reading QR codes.
The rapidly increasing availability of mobile devices in recent years has led to a significant market displacement of notes and netbooks, which previously had a significant share in the hardware market. However, a slowdown in the number of devices is to be expected due to expected market saturation. Longer average product lifetimes and a slower innovation rhythm on the part of manufacturers also contribute to this.
Cloud computing is defined as the provision and use of IT resources, services and applications via the Internet. Due to technical progress in the areas of hardware, network technology and software, a company can order IT resources within a very short time to be given, to be used transparently via the Internet and then to be released again. Large companies, however, can also guarantee this provision concept of resources with their own data centre. In this case, it is referred to as a private cloud, whereas the use of external service providers is referred to as a public cloud. The hybrid cloud is used, for example, in the case of security-critical data. In this context, the sensitive data is processed via the company’s private cloud and other data-based orders are awarded to external service providers.
The public cloud describes the service of a public provider, which provides for the order-related processing and subsequent provision of data. The services are usually billed based on usage and in this model, the provider and user belong to different organizational units.
For data protection reasons, companies prefer to provide their services on the intranet themselves. Provider and user belong to the same organization.
Hybrid cloud is a hybrid of the two models mentioned above. Services from the public and private cloud are used jointly.
The services offered can be divided into three layers according to their functionality and objectives:
Software as a Service (SaaS)
This layer forms the basis of the cloud stack. In this case, the application programs are provided by the provider at the same time. The users can use the applications without local installation and the operator is responsible for maintenance and administration. Applications include CRM systems, Office applications, etc. (Examples: Microsoft Office Web Apps, Microsoft Sharepoint Online, Google Docs, Google Maps, Salesforce.com).
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
This layer provides a virtual IT infrastructure (computer, mass storage, networks). Users of this layer are responsible for the installation and operation of their applications themselves. For example, this includes storage systems for data backup and the synchronization of files between different computers (Amazon Simple Storage Service, Amazon SimpleDB, Dropbox).
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
This layer is an extension of the IaaS. It provides a complete platform (software and hardware), for example, to construct SaaS solutions or to integrate them with classic software applications. They provide development and runtime environments (middleware, tools) so that users can develop and test their applications (Google App Engine, Microsoft Windows Azure).
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the term for a large number of identifiable physical objects (microcomputers or system-on-a-chip, Figure 3-3) that are connected via standard communication protocols. Key components in this technological link are the Internet, mobile devices and the cloud. Just like mobile devices, they can also have a large number of components and sensors. The objective is to support the user almost imperceptibly during his activities with the smallest of intelligent objects. This also includes wearables devices (e.g. smartwatches) that are worn close to the user’s body, for example, to measure physiological data such as heart rate.
Radio tags, also known as RFID tags, were in the foreground at the beginning of technical development. To this day, the technology is used in inventory management and logistics to identify objects. The information transfer takes place passively and unilaterally while the label reflects its identifier to a recipient. Due to the technical development of mobile devices, microcontrollers, the internet and local radio technologies, active and bilateral data communication via radio transmission is often used today. This results in more frequent storage (eg in the cloud) and further processing of sensor data via the Internet.
In addition to the pure data exchange, these devices are intended to carry out automated processing and analysis of data without being dependent on manual input of commands. The advantage is a combined control of both physical and virtual objects, which enable optimized reactions to changes in the user’s environment through a combination and interpretation of a wide variety of data. One area of application could, for example, represent a reduction in the user’s energy expenditure by installing numerous objects in the house that record the data and, after processing, convert them into optimized target-related measures. The focus here is on closing an information gap between the real and virtual world by recording information about actual status values, which in turn are virtually translated into optimization measures.
The term social media has overtaken the Web 2.0 term since 2009 at the latest. Initially, Web 2.0 stood for the new, interactive web, which enabled every user to actively participate and was thus the basis for today’s social media. Social media encompasses technologies for social networking, communication, video creation and content sharing. This requires software systems that support human collaboration on the web. Employees can design the individual applications individually with just a few clicks. This improves communication, interaction and collaboration between different departments, business areas and locations and counteracts the increasing decentralization of knowledge.
There is a multitude of uses on the web, which are categorized as follows:
A blog is a website (or a part of it) with regularly published and chronologically sorted articles. Furthermore, blogs can take various forms. A distinction is made between private blogs, which report on personal experiences, opinions, sensitivities and activities, and corporate blogs. Corporate blogs focus on company-specific topics, such as communication with customers, business partners or your employees. Another form is the employee and trainee blog. This includes content that has been created by the company’s employees. In this context, the trainee blog is primarily the publication of impressions and experiences about the training occupation and company.
The microblog is a concise blog. This means that the length of the messages written in the microblog is limited so that the author is limited to communicating his core message. One of the most famous microblogs is Twitter. The messages themselves are called tweets and are limited to a maximum of 140 characters.
Social networks are based on the systematic structuring and maintenance of personal relationships via the Internet. For this purpose, the necessary functions for establishing and maintaining contacts as well as creating user profiles are made available. In general, such platforms support the identification of people with similar backgrounds/interests as well as the possibility of forming groups. Social networks are primarily used for private purposes but are also used to maintain professional/business contacts and for sales-oriented purposes.
The term big data describes a large amount of digital data that is produced using data-generating events such as transactions, social media or the Internet of Things. Big data opens up a solution approach for processing this huge and unstructured amount of data, analyzing it for regularities and deriving general validities from it. The data can be available as a data stream or as stationary data (e.g. company databases). Big data belongs to the business analytics (BA) area and pursues goals similar to business intelligence (BI). From a technical point of view, they differ in that BI essentially uses descriptive statistics to describe the available data more precisely, while with big data mainly inductive methods are used, to identify regularities that are valid beyond the examined data. BI works with data with high information content, while big data usually process large amounts of unstructured data with little information content. This technology is often used in the fields of science, security and customer data analysis to extract information from mass data.
With the use of new technologies in organizations, traditional processes have changed and corporate structures have been adapted. Classic sales strategies were also aligned with the process of digitization to optimally exploit the associated efficiency gains. This article aimed to identify the influence of digitization on the sales of an organization. More precisely, this implies the analysis of the process-oriented use of hardware and software-supported innovations about fundamental sales decisions and operational sales activities to achieve comparative competitive advantages and an increase in market results. It should be highlighted which new technologies support the respective phases of the sales activities in a way that maximizes benefits. The technical properties of selected digitized sales instruments are presented in this article in more detail from an engineering perspective. Further analysis will give a general overview of the potential associated with the use of technology and then the specific opportunities.