Any of these comments sound familiar?
- “Our sales reps just aren’t making enough calls”
- “They don’t prospect enough”
- “Our sales reps aren’t strategic enough”
- “We need solution-sellers and we have transactional sellers”
- “We’re just filling demand, we’re not creating demand”
- “Our reps keep selling features we don’t have. Can’t they just sell what we offer?”
The world of sales is going through a radical transformation based on the impact of digital technology. With the click of a mouse, buyers have access to information today that was previously the sole domain of sales reps. Complex products that once required the explanation of experienced sales reps, can now be marketed directly to customers via content marketing in the form of white papers, videos and webinars. Sales reps who have historically based their value on their rolodex and unique knowledge, are learning that content marketing and digital demand generation have changed that value proposition, allowing marketers to take over much of what sales used to do. Advances in technology have radically changed the way sales works in business today. Here are 5 tips that can help you refocus your sales approach for today’s digital world and increase the value your sales reps provide:
1. Everybody Sells, Everyday: In any successful business everyone, regardless of their function, supports customers. The lines between sales, marketing, product and operations are increasingly blurry today however. Make sure you define the role of sales in your company and outline how the other functions in your company support sales and the customer. In your company, is sales responsible for customer demand and retention? Is there a hand-off from sales to another department like account management? If so, is it clearly understood where one stops and the other picks up? Does your sales team have a clear understanding of what they can offer customers- be it product features, price, return policies, contract terms? The three consistent challenges I see with sales teams today are:
- Reps not being able to clearly and compellingly position and explain how the features and benefits of their product meet customer needs.
- Poor expectation setting with customers at the initial sale, which invariably leads to frustrated customers, and internal finger pointing.
- Lack of clarity on how other functions support sales, resulting in a ball being dropped and a sale being lost. Make sure that everybody sells and all employees know their role in sales. Then you will see a lift in both sales and customer satisfaction.
2. Market Your Products. Then Sell Them: Many business-to-business companies have relied on direct sales and never developed a product marketing strategy. I’ve worked with some of the most talented sales reps in the history of the digital media business, none being particularly good at product marketing though. The sales rep’s job is to develop strong, valuable, ongoing relationships with customers based on understanding their needs and solving their problems. You need to make sure that you enhance the efforts of your sales team with ongoing product marketing that outlines the features and benefits of your product or service. Otherwise you’re leaving this task to sales reps who don’t have the time or the experience to effectively market and sell your product. Given that the vast majority of your prospects have already gone online and looked at both your company and your competitors before they engage with a sales rep, the battle is won or lost in product marketing today.
3. Power in Sales Today Doesn’t Come From What You Know. It Comes From What You Share. The days of having an information advantage in the process of selling are over. Your customer knows as much- if not more -than your reps do about your market, your offering and your competitor’s value proposition. Effective selling today is about sharing timely and contextual information that helps buyers as they go through their purchasing journey. This might be a deeper insight into company strategy. It might mean the sharing of a whitepaper or video. It might mean sharing a related customer experience. Or it might mean putting together a rationale that a prospect can take to their boss in order to move a sale to the next level. Great selling is really problem-solving. Your customers are looking for solutions that match their needs, not a series of facts about your product and how it may or may not match up against a competitor’s offering. Make sure your reps are sharing first, and then selling.
4. Selling is Social. I only wish social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn were around when I was starting out as a sales rep. Today, connecting with prospects and customers via social media is easy. Encourage your sales team to connect with customers via LinkedIn and to follow customers on Twitter and via Facebook brand pages. Make sure you also set some realistic guidelines for social media interactions however. Remember that your sales reps are an extension of your brand and company. If they are using a social network profile that is more personal in nature and less professional, they may inadvertently be giving the wrong impression to customers.
5. Always Be Training. Sales is a practice that requires constant training. From presentation and communication skills training to product training and objection handling, sales reps should always be training. Set up a regular training schedule that focuses on customer case studies, product, communications, and presentation training. At Business.com we use a quarterly process we call “anatomy of a hit” where we do a peer review of recent successful sales and examine the steps in the process and train our reps to apply similar approaches with other prospects. We do the same thing on “lost business”, cases where we missed the mark and a customer left or decreased their business. We also open this up to the entire company so people from development, product management or finance can learn more about our customers and how they can provide additional support to our sales team and in turn, our customers. We also regularly host “lunch and learn” sessions where we invite market experts or industry professionals to address our entire company on their unique insights into our market and target demographics. Sales training shouldn’t be something that only takes place at the annual national sales meeting. It needs to be an ongoing process.