Unlocking Growth with Digital Sales Transformation: The ultimate sales strategy
In the Age of the Customer, buyers occupy the driver’s seat. They are on a journey of discovery that involves independent research, peer reviews and competitor analyses – all conducted online. They don’t want you to distract them with cold calls or unsolicited emails. Rather, winning sales strategies will attract buyers with informative content aligned with buyer journeys. Mapping and facilitating digital buyer journeys is Digital Sales Transformation. Get it right and prequalified leads will come to you.
THE AGE OF THE CUSTOMER
In 2013, Forrester coined the term ‘the age of the customer’ to denote a notable shift in power dynamics between sellers and buyers (in favour of the latter).
A brief history of the Age of the Customer:
The Age of the Customer is a byproduct of The Information Age. With its roots in the development of the transistor in 1947, and accelerated exponentially by rapid advancements in information technology, the ‘information age’ saw the democratization of information.
Prior to this and during the industrial revolution, industry was the custodian of information. Brands controlled how much information was shared and where. In this era, the consumer had little choice but to take advertising and sales at face value.
Advancements in information technology (hence the name), changed all that.
Consumers could suddenly access a wealth of competitor information, easily compare prices and features, and find and share product reviews – all from the comfort of their home or office. And spurious claims by sales reps and marketers could be debunked at the click of a button.
Mistrustful millennials, ever skeptical of big brands and advertising messages, are the byproduct of misleading advertising messaging by overzealous advertisers, countered by broad access to information.
In the Age of the Customer, brands and industry are no longer in the driver’s seat. Buyers define and control the journey to purchase. They research problems, solutions and suppliers themselves before engaging with sales reps. They confer with peers and evaluate products based on the community of consumers who follow them.
A new paradigm
In case you were in any doubt, here are some key statistics that demonstrate just how empowered consumers are today:
- 93% of consumers read online reviews before buying.
- 81% of consumers use Google to evaluate local businesses.
- In B2B, buyers spend just 17% of the buyer journey engaging with sales reps.
- They spend 45% of their time independently researching.
In this new paradigm, competing for consideration means recognizing that the customer is truly king. Marketing and Sales must align and evolve to meet the journeys that buyers are crafting for themselves if they are to remain competitive.
That means truly understanding the buyer journey. What is the buyer’s current state? What is the problem they need to solve as it relates to your solutions, and how are they affected by it? Do they know they have a problem? If yes, do they know what’s involved in solving it? Is yours just one possible solution? And if so, why should they consider your approach? Finally, why should they consider you?
Isn’t that sales’ job?
Indeed, traditionally, the job of great sales reps was answering these questions. The trouble with the Age of the Customer is that most customers don’t want to talk to you. And they certainly don’t want unsolicited calls and emails.
With changes in legislation (the introduction of GDPR and POPPIA, for instance), and call screening technology, not only are your overtures unwelcome, but they are less and less likely to result in engagements and might even land you in legal hot water.
Instead, like a Berlin Wall, the old distinctions between Sales and Marketing must come down. The role of Marketing is to create content that addresses these top-of-funnel buyer journey concerns. The evolving role of Marketing is to facilitate a journey of self-education and supplier-evaluation that, if well executed, leads to your door.
The death of sales?
Just like Marketing, Sales isn’t going anywhere, but the role of sales must evolve to meet changing buyer behaviour. It’s estimated that by the time buyers engage with a sales rep, they are more than halfway through the buyer journey (57%). This means that they come to sales engagements with information, but also with preconceptions. The role of Sales is to validate good choices, disrupt misaligned preconceptions, and consultatively design solutions, rather than sell.
THE ULTIMATE OPPORTUNITY COST
In the Age of the Customer, traditional sales strategies are less and less effective. The challenge most organisations face is one of legacy operating procedures. For many, ways of working are so entrenched that pivoting to digital sales enablement seems insurmountable.
The result – many organisations stick to the status quo. Marketing remains an intuitive tick box exercise independent of sales who, in turn, continue to rely on outbound lead generation and analogue one-to-one engagements with prospects. The market insights that those engagements yield, are not relayed to marketing and exist only in the memory and mailbox of the sales rep.
You may recognize the need to adapt and evolve but, as the gap between you and the market widens, so you must work harder and harder to produce the same results. And all of this manual ‘busy-work’ means that no one has time to collaborate, strategise or drive the change necessary to fix the core problem.
The longer the hamster wheel runs, the bigger the gap between you and the market – and between you and your competitors – becomes, until the chasm is just too big to traverse.
Also driving organizational change-resistance is the perceived added complexity and cost of the technology. Many organisations feel that they don’t have the skill or resources to deploy and maintain the tech stacks that underpin digital sales transformation.
For instance, you need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform where sales reps consistently capture outcomes of engagements. Marketing should then review the resultant data (which should be displayed in a data visualization tool) and create search engine optimized content that addresses recurring objections or frequently asked questions.
Resultant leads generated by Marketing should be loaded onto the CRM for engagement by Sales and, again, outcomes recorded so that conversion rates can be tracked and lead quality, improved.
That’s to say nothing of automating lead nurturing, or integrating your website conversion funnel with your CRM, for instance.
All of this requires training, adoption, change management and upskilling.
The question to ask yourself is what is the opportunity cost of maintaining the status quo in the interests of short-term survival, versus investing time and money in digital sales transformation for the future?
“Small businesses are small because they can’t or won’t standardize and automate processes. If they could, they would scale up and grow up”. – Eric Schwartzman (paraphrase)
Harnessing the power of digital sales transformation is about the digitalization of your sales process. And because it’s digital, it’s scalable. It allows you to break free from the physical constraints of how many calls a single sales rep can make in a day, and how many sales reps you can afford to hire, train and retain. And it means that your skilled sales force can focus their attention on closing prequalified deals, rather than wasting it on increasingly ineffective prospecting.
In the beginning, its about incremental improvement in the pursuit of exponential growth potential. The alternative is a succumbing to the law of diminishing returns.
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