There’s a very thought provoking post by Bruce Wedderburn (EVP Channel & Enablement, Huthwaite Inc.) and re-posted by Donal Daly about how rock star sales people will best perform in 2012 within the rapidly evolving online environment.
The traditional method of sales engagement (and as Donal puts it) followed these steps:
- Diagnose the customer’s pain
- Uncover their needs
- Craft a targeted solution that meets the customer’s stated needs
Traditionally there was a good chance that a sales person would engage with the prospect very close to the beginning of the buying process - or ideally initiate it. This was especially the case when the customer was somewhat isolated and got a great deal of their information from trade shows and their trusted vendor sales reps. When this was the case, the conversation would start from the beginning of the investigation and the sales person could move the prospect through the process by asking really good questions and engaging.
As the business environment accelerated, and the proliferation of information on the web went through the roof, the timing of the engagement and the model for engagement has shifted tremendously. Although I couldn’t find the original report that Daly quotes, there was a study done by the Marketing Leadership Council that found that of the 1,460 respondents in their survey, vendors first contacted the prospect when they were already 57% of the way through the purchase decision making process. At this point of the engagement, the traditional sales person is in a bad position looking to explain features and essentially offer discounts.
Merging the Disciplines of Marketing and Sales
What this calls for is what we’ve already seen emerging in a number of companies and industries out there - a closer integration between marketing and sales, and a merging of the two disciplines within the sales process.
As the prospect is already gathering information and evaluating solutions on the web, marketing needs to be creating materials and making available opportunities for engagement where the customers are. This falls into two modern disciplines of Social Media Marketing and Content Marketing.
This evolution takes the marketing person beyond the role of branding, awareness creation, and lead generation, and well into the space of lead qualification and education. In effect, the marketing person is doing far more “selling” than they used to. To put it another way, the role of marketing is evolving into what has been traditionally been referred to as “inside sales”.
The Impact on Software Sales
The impact of this trend on software sales is profound. For those companies that still organize their marketing efforts around tradeshows and press releases and only dabble in social media, a huge hole in the sales process opens up. Fewer leads are generated and the sales person is constantly in “discount” mode as they try to “sell” a prospect that’s highly educated and has not been engaged until late in the process.
Counter intuitively, a trend that was prolific in the first decade of the century could also be having a detrimental effect on the process - the free evaluation download.
Once thought to be a great lead generator, this vehicle has not been the silver bullet everyone had hoped.
- IT departments of customers often don’t allow downloads
- Large applications take literally hours to download
- Self-guided installation and setup is rife with problems damaging the prospect of a sale
- After the download, the software vendor has zero visibility into how the prospect is using the software or if they’re using it at all
- The use of dummy email addresses and phone numbers with automatic downloads leaves the vendor with no visibility and no lead to follow up on
In the best case scenario, the prospect has downloaded the software, tried it out and formed an opinion before the sales rep even calls on them and engages in a discussion.
The Cloud as an Engagement Platform
By enabling prospects to securely access and use software installed on the cloud in a self-serve fashion the marketing team will have the engagement platform to efficiently perform the enhanced role of inside sales.
Marketing people will have a self-serve environment where newly created content can be placed alongside the latest version of their software. They will have a single destination to which they can drive prospects as they engage with them on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs. As prospects take themselves through the education (sales!) process, the newly minted Inside Marketeer/Sales Person will have visibility into how the prospect uses the software, analytics by which to qualify them, and communication tools by which to engage them in realtime.
Key attributes of the cloud platform are:
- No downloads, so IT’s happy and so is your customer
- No installation, so your customer has a good experience crafted by you
- Detailed analytics and automated analysis of activity and software use to automate the inside sales process
- Configurable degrees of screening to ensure every lead is validated against a list of prospects
How have you seen your customer engagement model evolve? How has this impacted your organization and your hiring practices? There’s a lot to consider in this very real trend in the evolution of sales.
This post was written by James Colgan on January 5, 2012