My initiation into the world of sales happened at the height of the “Glengarry Glen Ross” days. It was the time of “blue suits” and “fast talkers,” with no sales automation or customer tracking technology anywhere to be found.
We’d roam our territories searching for conversations, hoping it would lead to something more. At the end of the day, we’d return to the office and put our “numbers” up on the board: number of conversations, number of leads and closed deals ($). The whiteboard was our “sales dashboard,” highlighting performance against goals for the month and year to date. Our view, and control over our success, was determined day to day.
Over the last 25 years, sales has been enabled with a broad set of new technologies, from sales force automation to CRM to cloud-based mobile sales tools. All are aimed at helping the sales organization better track, measure and achieve quota. And with each advancement in technology, sales has gained the feeling that it has more control over the process and outcome.
The buyer’s journey is marketing’s “shiny new penny.” Over the last couple of years, numerous consulting firms have produced research trying to map the journey with varying estimates on how late in the journey customers are now engaging sales.
Before you go off preaching this newfound perspective on how buyers are now in control to the sales organization — who might just have a counter viewpoint — there are some things you need to know:
This is not necessarily “new” news. Educated buyers have been engaging late in the process for years, and in some cases, bypassing the sales reps and altogether ordering direct. What’s different now is that we have better tools to track these buyers’ behavior.
It can be threatening. Sales folks “cover” buyers, be it a prospect or an existing customer. Their job is to start a conversation and to continue the discussions to, hopefully, lead to a successful outcome. They can’t be everywhere, nor everything to everyone. But to suggest that they are not providing buyers with the right information at the right time, or that they may not be “covering” them will cause a defensive or hostile reaction. Be tactful in the way you present the findings.
Buyers channel-surf. Don’t assume that buyers are online only in the early stages of the buyers’ journey, and likewise, that they are talking with sales only in the late stages of the process. Unlike the past, when we could estimate where customers were in the sales process by watching how they engaged with content and channels, buyers now use all channels, and all information sources, at all stages of the journey. As a result, marketers need to understand channel preferences of different buyer personas.
Good sales people already get it. Good sales people are very intuitive by nature. They already have a feel for how buyers research and purchase products. They also know how to use the best content or tools, or both, to help buyers advance their learning, and to move the process. As a result, sales will want to know how you can help them move faster and/or more effectively.
Have a plan. Especially for the sales people I just mentioned. The question that you should expect to be asked after sharing the buyer’s journey is: “So what now? Given this new insight, how should we change our sales and marketing approach?” Make sure you have an answer.
My initial reaction to the buyer’s journey was that it would pose a significant change for sales, and I now realize that it’s a much bigger challenge for marketing. Given the amount of time buyers spend online in the research phase, they have a good feel for the “business value” of your product or service when engaging sales. It’s why they have put your organization in the “consideration set.”
The challenge, according to recent research, is that buyers are now unable to differentiate your product or service from the three to five other companies they are also considering. To create separation, you must be able to illustrate and communicate “personal value.” It’s also how you address sales question on how you can help them move faster and be more effective.
While communicating personal value has not been a strength of marketing, it’s a core competency of good sales people. Use this opportunity to partner with sales to developed content that resonates with buyers on an emotional level deeper into their journey. Sales might be losing control over the buying process, but they know how to connect with individuals making the purchase decision on a personal level. Use that insight to your advantage.
Scott Gillum is the president of gyro Washington, D.C.
Follow Scott @sgillum