I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 35 percent of U.S. adults have attempted to self-diagnose their medical problems through online research. It’s natural – the Internet is a vast resource with an abundance of great, free information. That’s why self-diagnosis isn’t limited to personal health. It extends to the business world, too.
Buyers no longer wait for a sales rep to seek them out, help them diagnose their pains and prescribe solutions. Instead, buyers are doing their own self-diagnosis online, and they are using online resources to research their treatment options, as it were. According to SiriusDecisions, the buyer finds the seller in 80 percent of purchases.
This new purchasing landscape leaves sellers in a real bind. Now, they must not only be able to be found by potential buyers…they must also be able to maintain the interest of those buyers and keep them engaged all the way to the close of the deal. A lot of work goes into maintaining that interest and engagement – so much that the process has its own name.
It’s called sales enablement.
In a complex B2B purchase, significant groundwork must be laid before the seller and the buyer connect with each other. The first step is to get found. Marketing is responsible for this part of the buyer’s journey. It’s their job to create content that addresses the needs of specific buyers, solves problems, and is engaging and easy to consume. This content must be published in such a way that it is accessible to anyone who might be looking for it. That requires keyword research, search engine optimization, targeted email campaigns, and social sharing.
Of course, this effort is for naught without a marketing automation platform to string it all together for analysis on the back end. If sellers are engaging thousands of potential buyers, and each of those buyers has multiple marketing touches and a unique buying journey, there is no way to record all of that data without a sophisticated tool. Marketing automation enables the sale by tracking the digital clues left by prospects as they consume content and interact with campaigns. It allows for the creation of lead nurturing workflows, and it records engagement and sales readiness by assigning a lead score. It serves this information on a silver platter through CRM integration so that sales reps can join the conversation when the prospect is ready.
Then there’s traditional sales enablement: tools that help sales reps make sense of the data gathered by sales and marketing automation tools. At Sales Engine, we produce documents called playbooks for each campaign that we send out. These playbooks lay out for our sales reps what was in the campaign, what pain points it addressed, who its target audience was and how they can thoughtfully connect with a prospect who engaged with it.We make these playbooks, along with a full catalog of campaigns and sales training tools, available to reps in one centralized sales portal.
If you give your buyers resources to make buying decisions, you’d better give your sales reps resources to understand and influence those buying decisions. They need to be educated on your market, target prospects, and competitors – and they need to be able to talk about what makes your brand unique and to overcome objections to the sale.
When sellers are armed with information that helps them understand the buyer, they can become part of the buying journey in a way that feels seamless. They don’t have to say, “Now, tell me a little about your business…” because the buyer has already told them about it by filling out forms and engaging with campaigns.
As a company with products or services to sell in the 21st century, you’re not going to be able to wrest control of the purchasing process from the buyer any more than you’re going to stop people from self-diagnosing their health issues. It’s up to you to work with the way buyers shop and decide. Let them research at their own pace, make diagnostic information available to them, and use sales enablement tools to be ready when they want to discuss prognosis and treatment options.
Paul Rafferty is the founding partner and CEO of Sales Engine International. In just five years, he built the company from a small start-up to one of America's fastest-growing companies, as recognized by Inc. Magazine in 2012 and 2013.