There are plenty of pundits that claim IT has reached utility stage, where having a lot of it doesn't mean much for competitive differentiation, just as having access to electricity doesn't give companies any extraordinary advantage.
Tell that to Gerald Shields, CIO at Aflac Inc.
Shields, whom I have had the opportunity to speak to over the years, recently joined Sanjog Aul, VP of programs for the Chicago Chapter of SIM (the Society for Information Management), and Aberdeen's Peter Ostrow for a compelling discussion on employing IT to boost sales effectiveness.
Shields explained how IT has helped better serve Aflac's 70,000 associates, mainly independent agents. The challenge is to introduce CRM and Salesforce technology to these agents, he says. “If you have a sales agent who's blowing the doors off with numbers, it's going to be really different to get him to do something different. Then if in the next year he doesn't make his sales numbers, he's going to blame it on the technology.”
The key to proliferating new technologies, Shields says, is not to target the top-tier performers, but rather, “some of the ones who are really good but are not making the numbers that want.” In other words, technology is best introduced to areas of the business where there are pain points—and not try to fix what's not broken.
Shields describes four areas technology deployments need to address:
1. Effectiveness: “We really work on technology to prove sales associates' effectiveness. I want to empower technology to improve their reach, their effectiveness.”
2. Efficiency: “Do it faster—less redundancy. Empower everything you need on that laptop unit or on your handheld.”
3. Attractiveness: “Here's a great example: we had a good-sized business that we were calling on, to offer our product. There was also a competitor calling on that same business ... our competitor pulled out a stack of papers and started going through all the paper on their products. It was a printed PowerPoint presentation. Our associate pulled out an iPad. Halfway through this presentation the customer said 'wow, just looking at this, obviously Aflac has better technology.' That attractiveness applies to the image of our company, and the image of our associate.”
4. Cost of entry: “I'm going to recruit you to be an associate, and one of our competitors is recruiting you to be an associate. It may cost them $8,000 to get set up with a PC, to get you set up with everything you need. We can do it for less than $500.”
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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