Sales and marketing have been radically changed by the Internet and technology. In part one, I considered how things have changed. Now in part two, let’s consider what these changes mean for the future of sales, and salespeople.

What does this disruption mean for the future of sales, and marketing?

If the ideas explored in part one are true, then these days, sales often only gets involved in the customer’s journey in the final two stages – evaluation and purchase. Marketing activities often draw the customer in for much of their purchasing journey.

I wanted to see what others thought about this, so I asked a couple of people in sales to share their thoughts.

With marketing playing a larger role in the sales process by generating more qualified leads that are coming directly to you, the sales role has shifted significantly to one of engagement and customer service.

The role of the salesperson today is to cut through the overwhelm for the client, helping them understand benefits and value, but most importantly clearly defining what they need to do next.

Sales is still relationship building and follow up which many businesses are neglecting in this new, faster paced Internet world. You may have more people coming to you directly through your marketing but without salespeople and a sales process all you actually have is traffic and not conversion.

– Iona Elwood-Smith, Owner at Grow My Business, Wellington

Today in the service industry, the role of the salesperson is to research potential customers, perform a needs-analysis, make contact with this client (preferably in person for initial contact) and question your client in order to put forward a value-add solution.

We still need salespeople, marketing hasn’t taken over, instead sales and marketing roles work closely together, more than ever before. A solution tailored to a potential customer would naturally have a higher conversion rate… but where are these potential clients hiding?

That’s where marketing can allow us to derive insights into our target audience, where they live, what they do for fun and where they hang out. The digital revolution has allowed for marketers to gain a much greater understanding of ‘who’ is our ideal customer and where to find them.

– Angela Lane, Business Consultant at Nettl Web Studio, Petone

Marketing has an increasingly important role to play in attracting new business to your company. Like a spider’s web, marketing needs to attract and interest new clients, drawing them further into your solutions to their problems.

Many customers start their purchasing journey on the Internet, connecting with relevant businesses in the later stages. If your company is not online – has no website, no social media presence – you are missing out on potential customers. This issue is critical for many businesses. Even in 2016, data from MYOB indicates that 49 per cent of small businesses in New Zealand are not online. Companies with a strong online presence can deepen their customer engagement and draw well-qualified prospects into their sales funnel.

Your company needs to be positioned where your ideal clients are most likely to be, both physically and on the Internet. Marketing needs to attract clients, building their curiosity and desire to learn more about your company. With clear commercial messages, prospective clients realise – “Ahh, I’ve found it!”. Each web page needs calls to action, where new clients can sign up and start building their relationship with your company.

So, if good marketing is a critical part of bringing interested customers in front of your business, do we still need salespeople?

Yes, I believe that we do. Each of us has an innate need to connect to others. Salespeople who can find points of connection with their prospective clients will always have an edge. An interesting, interactive website is important, but is not the final factor in a purchasing decision.

In many cases, there may now be a smaller part of the sales role that remains. However, it is a critical part. There are three key areas where salespeople can still excel: hunting, closing deals and farming.

One: Hunting for New Business

Yes – new business development skills still matter. We should not leave all ‘hunting’ activities to marketing.

Establishing contact with prospective customers will give your company a distinct advantage. These customers will probably not be hunting on the internet if they have not realised the full extent of their need. We need to be proactive in our approach, understanding how our company’s products and services can solve the customer’s problem.

Identifying ideal customer profiles and niche marketing opportunities will help salespeople hunt for new business in the right places. Salespeople who continue their hunting activities will widen their circle of influence, and build positive relationships with the client’s best interests at heart. This will increase client connections, increase referral business, and ultimately lead to increased sales.

Two: Closing Deals to Gain New Business

Excellent closing skills are very important, now that salespeople often meet the client later in their purchasing journey – often in the evaluation phase.

Customers usually do their research online. At first contact, they may even be more knowledgeable than the salesperson. They may not need much information about your company – they’ve already discovered it for themselves! The customer is often deciding if they would like to deal with you. They may have also researched you on social media.

We’re now dealing with a sophisticated, knowledgeable, time-conscious consumer who is ready to purchase by the time we even get to speak with them. Salespeople need to be prepared for in-depth questions about our company, and their products and services. Dialoguing with your customer in this evaluation phase is a real plus. These days, many salespeople have little or no dialogue.

Don’t be caught out by the speed with which your customers move from initial contact to evaluation and purchase. Researching online means they may be ready to receive proposals very quickly.

Technology is your friend – make good friends with your colleague in charge of I.T. Cloud-based documents and templates can be accessed, personalised and then sent from wherever you happen to be when a customer contacts you. Sales no longer needs an office.

Well-prepared salespeople who follow up when they promise, and have great closing skills, will stand out from the crowd. Understanding your company’s solutions from the customer’s perspective means we can confidently answer in-depth questions. Business to business, or business to consumer – you are still one person building a relationship with another.

Three: Farming to Grow Your Business

While salespeople may not be quite so important in the hunting phase, they could well be more important in the farming phase.

Farming is often about account management, engaging deeply with customers to understand the details of their needs. This is how good businesses keep their customers – by taking care of them so well that the competition becomes irrelevant. Salespeople need to think strategically as they guide customers through the range of solutions offered. Upselling and cross-selling grows small clients into large clients, increasing their total lifetime customer value.

While marketing may bring in more curious prospects along with some sales, what will keep them? People buy from people. Salespeople building great personal relationships and connections will build and grow a loyal customer base.

Could these remaining functions also be disrupted through automation?

Disruption will keep on coming, because change is such a constant part of our lives. Could the remaining sales functions eventually be automated?

The Internet and technology have brought many changes to sales and marketing, forcing us to reexamine sales and how it benefits business. At its heart, sales is about helping others. This means deeply understanding our clients – their needs, their budget, their industry, and their politics. This understanding and helping can never be automated. It is part of being human. Our people connections will always be an important part of building and maintaining great customer relationships.

The way forward

Marketing has such a huge function now, that salespeople could be tempted to conclude that life is a whole lot easier. Perhaps we can just sit in cafes, waiting for our phones to ring.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Especially when we’re often now meeting new clients at the evaluation phase, when they contact us.

To stand out, we’re going to need to stand back and take a good hard look at ourselves. Those who thrive in the future will be excellent at the old-fashioned sales skills – building, maintaining and growing great business relationships.

Yes, we still need hunting skills – but now they are combined with good research and carefully defined customer profiles.

Closing deals is critical, especially as salespeople may only be involved in the sale from the evaluation phase. Our presentation skills, written communication and telephone techniques need to be sharper than ever. Many customers already know they want to purchase what you offer. They’re just deciding whom they will deal with.

We are not just order-takers. Our negotiation and value-add skills will become increasingly important in this new landscape, helping us to win sales, keep clients and then grow sales.

This is how the salespeople of the future will win. We will create strong connections with our customers. Our networking and relationship building skills will differentiate us from the competition. Providing our company’s services in surprisingly convenient ways will help keep our customers happy.

We need to stay calm when faced with customers’ purchasing pressures. Our companies need to be prepared with great documentation, and carefully thought-out sales processes. Any personal interaction, whether by telephone, Skype, or face to face, must connect to the customer and reassure them about their purchasing decision. Post-sale, our personal connections and focus on helping our clients will grow each customer and ultimately grow our sales.

So – your customer is seeking. They will find you. Get ready to provide that excellent personal connection and great service that will close your next deal and keep your customer happy.

MARY CRAMPTON is the owner and principal consultant at Magnify Consulting

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