Startup Chief Says One Popular Sales Idea Is Totally Wrong

SAP showcased her at an event designed to persuade startups and big companies to play with new SAP tech tools together

Sanchita Sur (Photo: Allison Bell/TA) Sanchita Sur (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

Sanchita Sur says business-to-business sales representatives may be taking the wrong approach to increasing sales.

Sur, the founder and chief executive officer of Emplay, a Dublin, California-based sales tech startup, says too many reps are struggling to talk to too many prospects.

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"Fewer, higher-quality deals will get you there," Sur said Thursday, in an interview at the new SAP Leonardo Center in New York.

SAP Toolbox

SAP S.E., a company based in Walldorf, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, is one of the biggest software companies in the world. The company's Leonardo program gives customers a chance to use new types of tech tools — such as machine learning systems, tools for handling giant streams of data, virtual reality systems and Internet of Things tools — through the cloud, or giant networks of distant computers that SAP manages.

SAP wants to get big corporate clients interested in playing with the Leonardo tools, and it wants to encourage startup companies to help the corporate clients find something useful to do with the tools.

SAP is trying to match the corporate clients with the tech startups by setting up a network of SAP Leonardo Center offices, or Leonardo tool showrooms and idea hatcheries. The first four are in New York, Paris, Bangalore and Sao Leopoldo, a city in Rio Grande do Sul, a state in Brazil.

Google Fantasy Camp

The New York center is like a Google employee fantasy camp. It's on the 48th floor of a new office building overlooking the Hudson River, with elevators controlled by the QR codes on riders' ID cards or visitor passes.

SAP has put its new Leonardo Center in New York on the 48th floor of a building overlooking the Hudson River. (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

SAP has put its new Leonardo Center in New York on the 48th floor of a building overlooking the Hudson River, and all of Lower Manhattan. (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

The center itself features its own espresso bar, a foosball table, panoramic views of New York, an open floor plan that's good for training sessions (or parties), and booths where people who need to think can get work done.

The center, which SAP describes as an innovation center, also features employees with skills in areas such as the Internet of Things and machine learning. Managers hope to have people from startups, academia and financial services companies working together in the center at all times.

"You combine all the ingredients you need to innovate," Birgit Fien-Schmalzbauer, head of research and innovation for the insurance industry unit at SAP, said in an interview. "They're all here."

Emplay

Sur, for example, has been using proprietary data, analytical strategies, rule sets and pattern-detection tools, including SAP Leonardo tools, to develop systems that can predict which sales moves might work best in specific situations.

Rather than packaging the advice in the form of a book, or a collection of charts, Employ has built the advice into a coaching system that can give a sales rep advice as the rep goes through a sales process. Sur describes the system as the equivalent of a "sales GPS" system.

That system has been on the market for four years. CNA Financial Corp. is already using it, and life companies have shown serious interest in adopting it, Sur said.

The coaching system will probably work best for a large company that generates a large amount of sales data, and is offering many complicated, but prestructured, products, rather than for a small company that offers loose packages of services that reps create on the fly, Sur said.

Emplay is now developing a system that can use similar types of technology to scan a prospect's email, determine what the prospect is likely to need, answer basic questions, and generate a personalized email telling the prospect what she might need and what similar prospects have bought. The system brings a prospect to the attention of a live-human rep only when the prospect seems to have a serious interest in making a purchase.

While Sur and other Emplay employees were developing the coaching system, they found that system data contradicted a long-cherished sales idea: the idea that great sales reps have high sales because they talk to more prospects than other reps do.

Peter Dubowchik shows off a wall-size, touch-screen storm risk dashboard. (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

Peter Dubowchik shows off a wall-size, touch-screen storm risk dashboard. (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

In reality, the team found, system data suggested that the top reps tend to be the top reps because they go after better prospects, and because they offer the prospects they approach a wider portfolio of products.

Low-performing sales reps usually talk to about as many prospects as the high-performing reps do, Sur said.

Data Hunger

Peter Dubowchik, a solution manager at SAP's own Newtown Square, Pennsylvania-based U.S. headquarters, showed off a homegrown tech system SAP itself is using: a dashboard system that a corporate board can use to make data-based decisions on the fly, while in a meeting, without sending database administrators racing off to get answers.

One version of the system, on display at the New York Leonardo Center on Thursday, could combine streams of weather data and many other types of data to help funnel detailed, easy-to-grasp summary information to a property-casualty insurer's board.

The Leonardo Center version used a touch screen that was almost as big as the wall. An executive could stand by the screen and advance slides, or sort spreadsheet tables in a series of different ways, by tapping the screen.

SAP could easily create a similar dashboard for a life insurance company board that wanted to have an easy way to manage mortality or other types of risk, Dubowchik said.

One challenge is finding, or creating, relevant data streams, and another challenge is the fact that the existing data stream creators typically lack any kind of standardization, Dubowchik said.

Because of the lack of data stream standards, plugging streams into a dashboard system still takes a fair amount of time, Dubowchik said.

--- Read SAP Unveils Software for Doctor Data-Sharing After CEO Accident on ThinkAdvisor.

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