Death of a salesman?

Author: 
STEVE DAMEROW, CEO, INCENTIVE SOLUTIONS

Best practices in business-to-business marketing and sales strategies tend to trend two to three years behind business-to-consumer tactics. The right recipe this year and going forward goes something like this: Take social media, a mobile-friendly website that features testimonials and referrals, then mix them with relevant content and new artificial intelligence-oriented marketing communications technologies; bake it all in an evolved marketplace environment that appreciates past success, but recognizes that cold calling no longer builds the sales funnel. Give the effort three to six months to gain momentum and watch the leads flow in.

Willy Loman, re-envisioned

Does the fact that cold calling no longer works mean the death of the salesman? Not necessarily, but just like the fading away of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s play, it’s no longer viable to only leverage the salesperson’s personality and product knowledge. The modern salesperson must become a true client advocate. “That’s fine,” you say, “I’ll adopt some new technology and spit out some articles.” Not so fast. This current recipe to succeed seems simple, but the competitive environment isn’t. Why? Gobs of new content is produced and published by every other company out there.

According to Marcom Tech, the number of marcom solutions has grown 34,000 percent in the last five years. The simple truth is you will not be alone with your fancy new lead gen technology. Someone will have beat you to the punch. The Internet is cluttered already and getting more cluttered, creating more competition and expense than ever for pay per click (PPC) and organic search engine optimization (SEO). Your product features and benefits may be top notch, but it will be more difficult and more expensive to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Just go ahead and accept that your customer acquisition costs are going to rise.

The new sales pipeline

Not so fast! The buyer makes the first move in the new sales pipeline model.

According to a recent CEB/Gartner study, 57 percent of the buyer’s journey is already complete by the time the buyer and seller talk. Google research claims B2B buyers average 12 searches before a contact is made. So if customer acquisition costs are up, and your salespeople are less instrumental, what is the best way to sell in the current market?

Let’s look at the new sales pipeline:

  • Awareness – Buyer recognizes a need.
  • Education – Buyer researches websites, white papers, industry association studies and vertical experts, and seeks testimonials.
  • Initial contact – Buyer wants to buy, but does not want to be sold. They want information from the contact. Best bet is to send a white paper to their email.
  • Funnel – Through the use of new AI/marcom products the buyer begins to receive targeted, relevant information centered on their particular problems to be solved. The desired perception is “They understand my pain.”
  • Contact sales representative – Buyer reaches out for consultation and demo.
  • Close – The “modern salesperson” creates a clear path to the buyer’s problem resolution with timelines, respective party responsibilities, KPIs, ROIs — and only then, the costs. Net-net: The buyer gets a solution to his or her problem. They do not buy your product, they buy a solution.

With the sales process and the role of your sales team as you know it now turned on its head, how should you sell in 2018 and beyond?

  • Empathize – Understand the buyer. Align your sales process to the buyer’s process. To quote Chevy Chase’s character in “Caddy Shack,” “Stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.” Use the new AI/marcom platforms to distribute targeted and triggered information to prospects based upon clear demographics and your product’s life cycle maturity.
  • Earn trust – A B2B demand generation report claims that 85 percent of buyers look for vertical industry knowledge. Do you work with their competitors? Don’t be embarrassed; don’t try to hide it. Unless a client is willing to give you guaranteed long-term income, never agree to an exclusive; instead, respect confidentiality and be proud of your expertise. Recognize your new reality and role. You are no longer selling a product, but instead serving as an objective advisor, introducing the buyer to an industry-recognized solution along with the testimonials and a proven track record to earn credibility.
  • Teach – And just how do you expect your potential client to digest all of your product information and that of your competitors to boot, anyway? You are much better off differentiating yourself in the marketplace as a teacher who serves up education versus a one-way conversation about the features of a product. You and the client are team members. By being an objective counselor, you benefit as your client benefits.
  • Seek Advocates – If you are always giving to your client, you are only a trusted vendor. If you have progressed to asking your client for favors, then you are a trusted partner! The client feels good and will proactively look out for you. The first favor you ask for is advocacy. Will your client refer you on? Give a testimonial? Literally sell for you?

Icing on the cake

My business is creating sales incentives and loyalty programs. Such programs are useless without a good fundamental business proposition. However, given that you have a strong business proposition, the new incentive platform technology combines and often replaces CRM, and other marcom technologies.

From an administrator’s perspective, CRM integration puts sales tracking, communications, training, reward fulfillment and ROI reports all on a single platform.

From a customer perspective, it is the sweet icing on the cake (i.e., they like your value proposition, and getting an attractive reward for doing business with you isn’t bad, either). Consider the new approach to sales and make sure it is a win-win proposition for everyone. The economy is good, so create a lasting relationship that will hold up through the eventual downturn. Share the love and create a holistic rewarding experience for your clients. Everyone will be happier and your altruism will be financially rewarded.  

Steve Damerow is CEO of Incentive Solutions (www.incentivesolutions.com). He is a published author on various incentive industry topics and hosts the national radio show “Business Matters.”