Salespeople are boundary spanners, in that they operate outside the firm and in the field. As such, they are the first to learn about what competitors are doing. An important function for them, then, is to report back to headquarters about their competitors’ new offerings and strategies.
Similarly, salespeople interact directly with customers and, in so doing, gather a great deal of useful information about their needs. The salespeople then pass the information along to their firms, which use it to create new offerings, adjust their current offerings, and reformulate their marketing tactics. The trick is getting the information to the right decision makers in firms. Many companies use customer relationship management (CRM) software like Aplicor or Salesforce.com to provide a mechanism for salespeople to enter customer data and others to retrieve it. A company’s marketing department, for example, can then use that data to pinpoint segments of customers to communicate directly with. In addition to using the data to improve and create and marketing strategies, the information can also help marketing decision makers understand who makes buying decisions, resulting in such decisions as targeting trade shows where potential buyers are likely to be. In other words, marketing managers don’t have to ask salespeople directly what customers want; they can pull that information from a customer database. (For an online demonstration of Aplicor, visit (http://www.aplicor.com/product_tour.php.)