We are coming to the end of the Overachieving Your Sales Targets series. Over the past four articles we have looked at:
- Reviewing your previous performance to make the necessary improvements to reach your sales targets.
- How to categorise and target your customer base.
- Honing your sales and product messaging so that it resonates with customers first time.
- Succeeding in customer conversations – making it matter.
This article will round off the series by looking at a number of the key trends in the sales market and tools that are becoming increasingly used to increase sales effectiveness.
A report from OlgivyOne found that 69% of salespeople feel that the buying process is changing faster than sales organisations are responding. They feel out of their depth. And social selling is contributing to that.
Social Selling for uncovering buyer needs
Buyers might be more informed about what they are purchasing nowadays, but they are also more open about what they are thinking, because of social media. Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and many more platforms give salespeople access to their buyer’s world in an unprecedented way. Salespeople can now see what their buyers are publishing and talking about online. This enables sales teams to readjust their approach, strategy and pitch to match certain buyer situations and problems.
It can also be a more effective way of keeping on the bleeding edge of events as they happen rather than relying on traditional news outlets. This can help in times of volatile business activity, financial results publishing, or mergers and acquisitions.
The buyer may be more informed than ever, the difference now is that the salesperson should be too.
Connecting with buyers through social media
B2C marketers and sales teams are a few steps ahead of the B2B community, especially the enterprise space, when it comes to making meaningful client interactions through social media.
There a few reasons for this. 1) It’s just not ‘how things have been done’ in the corporate space and is pulling the rug out from under traditional marketers. 2) When B2C marketers connect with consumers on social media, they are connecting directly with the person buying that product. When B2B marketers connect with brands on social media, they are connecting with other marketers, not decision makers. Very often it descends into a web of social media managers, all pushing their messages at each other.
Yet the trends in social media mean that more individuals within companies are now using social platforms for more collaborative working; through forums, online support networks, LinkedIn groups.
Salespeople can utilise these platforms to position themselves as advisors and influencers.
Customer experience is king
Where we once had buyer journeys that focused on a sales cycle and its stages to completion, we now have customer experience. The advent of social media means that companies are now expected to track how customers interact with their brand from every angle; whether that’s seeing a promotional offer on a sign at an airport or contacting customer support via Twitter.
As more channels open up for a customer to interact with your company, the more channels there are to manage each customer’s experience. As Forbes puts it, “Customer experience is the cumulative impact of multiple touchpoints over time, which result in a real relationship feeling, or lack of it.”
The key to incorporating this into your sales process is by looking at ways that you, as a salesperson, can help improve the experience that your customer has when engaging with your company will become a key differentiator between you and the next sales person. It’s also a way to demonstrate value to your customer in an ever-changing supplier-buyer model.
Automation is critical
There is an increasing amount of sales enablement tools available, and many more in development – all of which are paving the way for greater automation within the sales profession. For the average B2B salesperson, this means that rather than researching customers, they can have realtime customer information sent to them (see Contemsa’s Sales Mail service: http://www.thesalesway.com/sales-way-mail/) or by using social selling apps that aggregate data into one location for easy access.
A recent study by CSO Insights reported that only 37 percent of a sales person’s time was spent on actual selling activities. The majority of their time each day was dedicated to administrative and account management duties – clearly this is an area that sales management can leverage automation focused apps to reduce the time their sales teams are away from customers.
There are now a whole world of enterprise applications and mobile apps dedicated to improving client engagement, such as Showpad that supports content delivery to sales teams during customer presentations and pitches. On the sales enablement and learning side, newcomers such as Wranx are offering innovative approaches to helping sales people learn and retain knowledge in fast-changing sales environments. Their acceleration and gamification approach to sales learning is one to watch.
Sales and Marketing departments are converging
Social media has made publishers and journalists out of sales people. Now, sales people can publish their views, perspectives and recommendations and become marketers in their own right. They can also use the feedback they collect from customers to turn back into marketing departments for instantaneous, real-time marketing.
We are seeing an increasing number of sales people leveraging LinkedIn’s publishing platform to connect with customers and position themselves as thought leaders. The important way to really make an impression through personal sales driven marketing efforts on LinkedIn is to focus on customer issues, trends or strategies rather than touting your own product. Think about what you like to read, and then try and take elements of that to spin into your own posts. You wouldn’t be enthused by a “go to my site to see more facts about my product”, so why do you think your customers are?
As sales and marketing converges, both teams need to spend more time in each other’s camps to become more informed on what the buyer needs and when.
CRM is about insights, not just info
CRM systems have become complex, massive beasts, sometimes with decades of data tied up in them. CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, is widely used as a tool to understand and manage consumer behaviour and is main goal is to increase your profitability and boost your sales. According to Forbes, however, CRM usage is declining. Is this a result of a less stringent approach to managing the sales process or is perhaps the CRM software we are using not relevant to the current world of sales anymore?
The answer might be in the fact that sales behaviour is becoming more and more complacent when it comes to updating CRM and tracking opportunities through it. CRM systems are also becoming incredibly complex in the range of information that sales teams are expected to collect, and maybe this just doesn’t address the current needs of sales people.
Death of the B2B sales person
So, do these factors mean the death of B2B sales? Some industry analysts argue that field sales teams and even telesales are no longer needed to make a sale and are consequently undervalued, especially when compared to more modern customer communication alternatives such as social media.
Well, in truth, the role of the B2B salesperson is changing and evolving with the rest of the business world. The focus is now upon business value rather than product features. To succeed, sales people need to focus on analyzing their customers’ businesses and how they can continually maximize the value they provide to clients.
We should pause a moment to review that statement, as the term is repeated regularly without much thought. “Continually maximise the value you provide to clients”. We take that as a given, but how many of us actually do that? How could we reimagine our product portfolio to make it work for our customers, rather than work for our assumptions about what our customers need? Think about the challenges your product solves. Are you overestimating the scale of challenge created for the customer by not having your product? What could make the product more compelling – what new, simple extras could be added on to take it from a standard product into a ‘how did we live without it’ service? Sometimes those extras are simple additions that are easy for you to add, but make a big difference for the customer.
We looked over the latest sales trends and tools of 2015 and what seems to be a prominent theme is fluidity. Sales processes are ever more versatile and difficult to predict, which requires flexibility on the side of sales people, as well. To address the constantly evolving nature of the sale industry, sales management has to be aware of how customers think and behave and be flexible enough to mould to their customers’ journeys, based on real data and not just our own assumptions about what clients want or need. Our culture is now used to the “always available” phenomenon and, because of that, salespeople must learn to leverage social media in order to deliver value. Following these trends, the focus over the next year will be on customer experience and Forrester argues that it will be the new competitive focus area that you’ll have to address with your complete and undivided attention. It will become the benchmark by which sales people and suppliers are judged by buyers.