How does sales survive the digital revolution?
New buying behaviour from an online society, informed and all-powerful customers, globalization leading to greater competition...... now commercial business finds itself at the centre of a digital revolution.
With the growth of Big Data, social selling has become a powerful strategy that can help sell ideas, establish credibility and win customers.
Making the numbers work
Traditional sales functions are easily recognised for their conventional structures and adherence to the basic principle of performance metrics.
Mechanical, easy to monitor and report; but risks activities being driven by ‘quantity over quality’.
Experienced sales people know their metrics of course, while the new breed of Social Sellers may regard metrics as being one-dimensional unless intelligence is applied.
If you were not conforming to this framework during the Monday morning sales meeting, you were discredited.
These rules became the structure around which many sales activities were built.
Change is upon us
Yet in recent years, surveys have revealed significant trends indicating these metrics are becoming less and less effective with Gleanster Research also revealing that only 25% of leads are legitimate and likely to advance to sales.
Putting a value on this, according to The B2B Lead, lost sales productivity and wasted marketing budget costs companies at least $1 trillion a year.
So how did this change happen ?
Getting past the gatekeeper and then meeting the boss is not enough anymore; decisions are based on multiple influence points that need to be met to win the deal.
Other factors can be external company influence (advisors, consultants and networks) all of whom can play a part in any decision making.
>In a typical firm with 100-500 employees, at least 7 people are involved in buying decisions.5
>Average sales cycles have increased 22% over the past 5 years due to more decision makers becoming involved in the buying process.6
If we look closer at the buying behaviour from an increasingly online society, 57% of the buyer’s journey is completed before the buyer talks to sales.
In addition, according to Mike Derezin, LinkedIn VP of Sales, “In today’s digital and data driven age, online is how perceptions are shaped, so for anyone working in sales today, it’s a real miss to not make it core to their strategy”. 4
From small limited companies to large international groups, there are fewer individual decision makers!
We have moved away from the logic that the “customer is king” to the “customer is all powerful!”
With the internet, buyers instantly have access to information so they can:
> Compare offers across the market in just a few clicks
> Benefit from unbiased user feedback
> Test products before even acquiring them
We are no longer talking about a sales cycle, but a procurement driven cycle, whereby the buyer can reject all forms of business communication, they perceive to be marketing manipulation.
The importance of information
If being informed was an asset in business, today it has become an essential component.
An effective sales person has to know and understand their customer’s needs, their market and possible challenges and this is best achieved through a consultative/trusted advisor approach. They need to develop a greater awareness of the customers’ expectations and possible influences that might affect the decision making process.
Closing deals is an ever growing challenge. Many deals have become projects with long decision cycles and complex procurement processes.
Having become less influential throughout the decision making process, the proactive sales person needs to make themselves more valuable.To manage this issue, the sales person can turn to data to help close the deal.
> Finding relevant information that helps influence and reassure contacts, turning negative aspects into positive effects.
But to achieve this, the effective sales person has to become a data scientist… and then the problems start, because undoubtedly there is too much data out there!
> Internal data: colleagues, CRM, company’s intranet…
> External data: blogs, social networks, press…
The purpose being?
Finding an area of interest which enables them to develop their relationship with the customer that will help them do their job more successfully.
They can impose their own timescales and assessment processes and this can mean that speaking to someone in sales has often become their last resort and one of the final actions in their buying cycle.
Finding the time
This wealth of information now available on the internet and social networks is undeniable. However monitoring this data is not just time-consuming, but also hugely challenging for any business and their sales people to manage.
Yet having lots of data is only the start, understanding how to turn it into meaningful insights that can be actioned is really what is needed.
This inefficient use of time and lack of insight into the available data is neither sustainable nor desirable for any company that is striving to grow their business.
Limited time v Unlimited data: the unsolvable equation
Sales people often have little option than to make arbitrary choices and skip specific sources of information that might affect potential targets or contacts. Running the risk that strategic information is missed….a contact’s job role changes, new relationships with a competitor are forged or influential market related news is released…..
These risks can become key factors that may result in the loss of both new and existing business opportunities.
Every thorough sales person strives to understand when and why their prospect has reached a decision.
They look back at the sales process, study the history and review their proposals and the competition, in an effort to find the missing piece of information; the factor that made all the difference, that justified the loss of the opportunity or even showed that there had been little chance of success from the very beginning.
Had this information been identified earlier and acted upon, a change in sales strategy could well have proved more successful. Frustrating for the sales person as the information is all out there, it’s just a question of finding it!
The next step
In 2015, the Forrester Cabinet went as far as to predict the loss of 1 million US B2B sales people, in favour of self-service e-commerce by 2020.
Whether or not you choose to believe this statistic, there is little doubt that data intelligence directly affects every sales person.
Whilst the fundamentals of selling and the questions being asked have not changed, the ability to adapt the approach to sales will undoubtedly play a significant role in determining success rates of the future.
As an ever evolving profession, the role of the sales person has become one that can be defined as a key consultant within the purchasing cycle!
COLD CALLS BELONG IN THE PAST, WARM CALLS BELONG TO TODAY
Take a consultative approach
The reluctance of decision makers to engage in discussions with sales people out of the blue is a good example of how the selling environment has changed.
Prospects expect their interaction with a supplier be one where they are listened to, their problems are understood and their expectations of achieving tailored solutions are met.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT MOMENT
With the cold calling route becoming less effective, we can see that prospects want to be the initiators of the relationship, or at the very least expect to be contacted in a context that is favourable to a discussion (when actively looking for a supplier).
If you contact a decision maker too early? They may have forgotten you by the time of decision...
If you contact a decision maker too late? The sale may well be under way or finalised with a competitor and the opportunity is lost…
IDENTIFY THE KEY BUSINESS INDICATORS
Recognizing the right signals for business (discussions on social networks, blogs, articles in the media….etc) has become an essential aspect to creating effective initial communication with a prospect as well as promoting lead generation.
To help create an engaged and positive response from your prospect, it’s good to personalise your approach with the contact with a warm call....
> I understand you know…
>You have worked at ABC Company, which is also one of our clients…
>I’ve just read your article on…
Decision makers can be sought through any available channel (email, phone….) A meaningful introduction can have a positive influence on your working relationship.
Warm calls give you the opportunity to approach the prospect with confidence... they may be expecting your call or information that is relevant.
THE EFFECTIVE SALES PERSON MUST LEARN TO EMPATHISE
More and more companies understand this and are changing the job title from Sales Executive to Solution Consultant or Partner or Account Manager….etc.
Aside from this change in vocabulary the change behind it is more profound and indicates a more thorough review of prospecting and sales methodology which consists of:
Using unoriginal statements such as “We are the leaders”, “we have the best products” or “we have 50,000 clients worldwide” is becoming a weaker and less effective sales pitch by the day. Prospects don’t want to hear sales people talk about their company but about the prospect themselves.
With 65% of new business coming from referrals7 and customers four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend8 has meant that influence has become a powerful factor when securing deals.
Data and analytics are already used by elite sales people with long sales cycles (multiple offers with many stakeholders or longer decision timelines) in complex environments (e.g. multi-country markets, aerospace, construction & energy industries)
However the complexity of securing smaller deals has also become more challenging often with multiple stakeholders and longer timelines.
Which means to identify possible risks, effective sales people should be able to:
MANAGING BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE PLAYS A KEY ROLE IN SALES
A key issue for the sales person is the ability to manage the diverging interests of their contacts as well as understand their motivations...
Creating influence, understanding the shifting decisions of stakeholders or personalizing sales strategies when contacting prospects, all stems from getting the right piece of information at the right time.
Data that is useful for this falls into three different categories:
Comprehensive information focused on the key factors relating to a specific industry. Probably the easiest intelligence to gather, which is likely to evolve over a long time span.
Data related to the target company, their products and services and their development strategies within their local or international markets. Having access to this information means the sales person can have informed and meaningful business conversations with their prospects.
B2B sales are specific in the sense that you are not selling directly to a company, but to the people that work there. What is challenging for the sales person is managing the expectations and needs of all interested parties. Gathering relevant business intelligence to manage this process requires time and effort and can be difficult to achieve.
Sales are not made to a company but to the people who work there
Experience has shown that the difference between the success and failure of a sale is highly correlated to being able to find and use insightful and quality information.
Insightful information that has been identified at the right moment, often reveals itself to be more valuable than a discount or even product functionality.
Knowing your contacts, their job role, their relationships with their customers or your competitors will help you to define a sales strategy that meets their needs and increases your success rate.
According to Liz Gelb- O’Connor, the social selling advocate and mentor “Sales people who are using social selling are 50% more likely to meet or exceed their sales quota”.
Finding prospects online and on social media, as an ever growing sales channel, is also proving to be a more and more challenging and time consuming task when taken on manually.
From the 1980’s, the CRM became the main tool for sales people to manage their prospects. Yet because it is based on contact information it’s seen as a marketing (to optimize campaigns) and a reporting tool (on the sales person’s performance)....
Does it help the sales person? Most of them will tell you it doesn’t .....
So to help manage the changes in sales, we’ve seen the growth of first generation B2B web tools that can be used for lead generation.
But although useful, they are focused on incoming leads generated from your website. The contact is someone who has already identified your offer.
So how can you identify the prospects who don’t already know you? How can you become aware of the facts that may influence or compromise your current deals?
SMART AND PREDICTIVE SOLUTIONS
Companies must anticipate change, challenge their competitors and identify influential factors that will help them close more deals.
Using the GPS analogy, where real time traffic data is analysed to recommend an alternative route, the next generation of sales intelligence tools needs to deliver more than just data.
To be truly effective, it should provide meaningful guidance that will assist the sales person throughout the sales cycle.
By taking a cross-analysis perspective of the internal sales information within a company, along with data gathered from the internet, means that detailed opportunity maps can be generated.
Carrying out strategic analysis of this data helps to rank creditable opportunities by their chances of success.
Remember sales intelligence solutions are not meant to replace sales people but to help them build relationships.
In B2B sales, you are selling to people, not just the company, so gaining access to key information that can help develop those relationships is essential.
It also means the sales person can focus their efforts more easily on what they do best:
Creating influence, convincing clients and winning over the competition.
Useful sales intelligence must be relevant, time critical and up to date.
The next generation B2B sales intelligence solution
> Based on the smart analysis of Big data, every day our algorithms analyse huge amounts of data found on the web: from social networks, blogs, the media, Twitter - and news to provide meaningful and critical information to help your business!
> Designed by sales people for sales people, ByPath improves sales effectiveness at every stage of the sales cycle, by focusing on all aspects of your market, prospects, competitors, clients and partners.