If you think traditional features and benefits can be complex, consider the challenge for sales reps at American Express (Amex), where the problem wasn’t a lack of information but too much information – way too much information. To be precise, Amex salespeople sometimes spent from three to 18 hours sifting through multiple databases to collect, cut and prepare the information for clients. That was before the company partnered with a software company to develop the American Express SalesForce Online system to consolidate this sea of data into one single sales intelligence center. Now salespeople can not only access the information quickly, but can also deliver customized messages that exactly match individual customer needs. “Our salespeople are selling the benefits of accepting the American Express card,” says Lisa Gregg, Director of Sales Development. “But depending upon the application, the card may have hundreds of different benefits. A supermarket manager has different needs than a client in the furniture industry. We wanted to create a message to fit the specific needs of customers. Obviously a sales message that reflects the customer’s world is going to be more persuasive than a marketing message with boilerplate content.” American Express already had the information in house, but the existing system demanded that salespeople be versed in up to 12 different industries and knowledgeable about more than 100 different marketing programs. A daunting challenge.

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In order to help, SalesForce Online takes the best presentations and practices of the top salespeople and customizes them to each applicable market. The salesperson enters information about his target market, the type of account he’s calling on, and the customer’s specific needs. The software then prompts the salesperson to select from a number of choices, and the output may include an industry fact sheet, a sales letter or a PowerPoint presentation. If the salesperson opts to customize this information even further, he can add a PowerPoint slide or create a customized white paper. In order to create the program, Gregg and her team had to forge a close collaboration between the sales and marketing departments. “We formed a task force that prioritized the information and created messages that were quickly understood and benefit oriented,” she said. “We conducted a series of workshops with our sales and account managers and asked such questions as, ‘What are the needs of this industry? What messages resonate with these prospects?’” With this ground-level information in hand, sales and marketing collaborated to create a customer-focused message. Benefits? The sales force now saves 75 percent of the time it once spent preparing presentations and can focus that energy on the customer. Marketing can relax, knowing that the well-recognized and carefully crafted American Express brand is being communicated consistently to each potential customer. The company saves several hundred thousand dollars a year not printing marketing brochures that were obsolete the minute the ink dried on the document and is instead creating up-to- date and relevant documents dynamically customized to the needs of each customer 100 percent of the time. Impressive benefits indeed, but the biggest winners are the customers, who now receive customized sales messages based on their companys’ individual needs.