I’m constantly being pulled into the meeting rooms of small to midsize companies, that understand what used to work isn’t working today, but are looking for answers as to what do they do?, how do they start shifting their approach?, and what foundation needs to be set in place for future growth?
I often start by making this one short statement: marketing and sales has changed because buying has changed.
Marketing and sales has gone through many changes, especially in the last decade. Our focus has shifted from information to insight, broadcasting to listening, traditional print to online, yellow pages to search engines, from direct mail to social media, e-newsletters and blogging. Not to mention the speedy adoption of mobile devices that gives access to real-time information and communication.
Before the Internet became an inescapable part of everyday life, marketers and sales reps exerted a certain level of control over their prospect and buyer impressions and purchasing decisions. But over the past decade or so, that situation has changed considerably.
When customers are invisible until they’re ready to purchase. They don’t call up a company and ask for a brochure or wait for a salesperson to come calling. They do their homework offline and online, asks their network for suggestions and essentially create their own brochure, what’s an expert salesperson in a small to midsize company to do?
Ultimately, the best option is to become a valuable and trusted resource. This means sales people need to think and act more like marketers. That way, your ideal prospects will choose to engage you first.
The New Buyer’s Journey
Most organizations view the buyer’s journey as a traditional funnel with stages such as Awareness, Consideration and Purchase. I consult on viewing this from a much more modern and effective approach in this “customer centered era” we live in today: Awareness, Education, Sample, Purchase and Refer. Though there’s always competition in sales, it used to be easier for sales reps to direct this journey through cold-calling and scripted pitches.
But as mentioned early in this article, with the increasing role of the Internet and social media, buyers can now do much of that research on their own—forging their out route to an eventual purchase. In fact, according to CEB, the average B2B buyer is 57% through their purchasing decision before they even engage a sales rep.
In this shifting world, sales reps need to take things in their own hands and get involved much more deeply with the marketing side of things.
Becoming a Resource
Though it’s not easy, the solution is simple: become an important resource to your prospects. Though modern customers can glean a lot of the information online, they still crave the insight of an expert—someone who knows the territory and stays up on the latest industry news. By providing valued insights and knowledge, you can become that trusted advisor.
Here’s a framework that forces you to get the right answers to questions that showcase why your clients and prospects should see you as an a trusted advisor.
- What’s going on inside the company?
- What’s happening with notable parties outside the company — competitors, suppliers, etc.?
- Who do the buyers you’re working with report to, and/or who are the influencers in the company?
- How does this company “keep score” metrics-wise, and how do you help them in what they do?
The Role of Selling (Educating) on Social Media
One of the fastest ways to build your reputation as an adviser and a resource is through selling though social media. In fact, your buyers are already going to social media, including LinkedIn, as they conduct their own research. Through social selling best practices, you can meet them there, establishing yourself as the go-to expert when they have questions or concerns.
Selling on social media can help you to win deals at multiple stages of the buyer’s journey and is the new branding, it’s how invisible buyers come to know, like and trust you and your firm. For example, in the early “awareness” stage, when a prospect first realizes they have a problem that needs solving, you can attract them with a polished, useful profile. Later, in the “education” and “sample” stages, you can position yourself as an expert by writing and sharing insightful updates and content that’s relevant to their concerns.
When you develop a reputation for being someone who can helpful and useful, then you get invited to places where you have the opportunity to sell.
Any organization, from solopreneur to marketers and sales teams, that is not focused on guiding a buyers journey through content and personal connection is bound to be left behind in the invisible buyer driven environment we live in today.