Today, we continue our debate on the future of professional selling, and good chum, Nigel Edelshain (Mr. 2.0) takes an in-depth look at "Social Selling"
The way B2B customers behave has changed radically over the last four to five years. This change is not a function of the economic environment it's a fundamental shift driven by the Internet. Recent Forrester research showed that 91% of B2B IT buyers are now involved in social media - at least as "spectators".
Most sales people have not caught up to this change yet. Research just published by OgilvyOne (one of the world's largest ad agencies) shows that sixty-eight percent of sales professionals say they believe that the sales process is changing faster than their own organizations are adapting to it.
Here are some areas that I believe sales people, and their managers, need to consider if they want to position themselves as "leaders" in this new environment.
In the past your customers only had your company website to look at, now they have social media. Prospects want to know exactly who they are talking to - not just what company but what person. They'd much rather get the true skinny on you than read a carefully manicured corporate website.
And if you don't show up on Google or Linkedin then your prospects are left wondering: who are you? Why aren't you there? Are you hiding something? Or are you just way behind-the-times? You lose the chance to build trust either way.
Courting Not Cold Calling
Generations of volume "smile-and-dialers" have trained your prospect to expect little-to-no value from each cold call they receive. Prospects are super-hesitant to pick up the phone when they see an unknown caller ID. They are so crazy busy that they dread wasting a minute of their time to an unprepared volume cold caller.
Prospects need to be "courted". Sales people need to establish trust with the prospect one communication at a time. Every interaction has to be of high value so your prospect lets the relationship develop.
To achieve this level of delivering value sales people need to do their homework. Social media and Sales 2.0 tools now exist to help sales people become well-informed quickly and with a modicum of effort. Sales people that don't leverage these tools will quickly be screened out by most B2B prospects.
In-Person Calls: More Homework
Once a sales person secures an in-person (or Web) meeting they need to prepare adequately for that too. A recent IDC study revealed only one out of six sales professionals was "extremely prepared" for an initial meeting with a customer. 57 percent were either not, or only somewhat, prepared.
Sales people have more information available to them from the comfort of their office (and mobile phone) than ever before. There's no excuse for not being prepared for a sales call (meeting). Showing up and "winging it" is just not acceptable to the vast majority of B2B customers out there. They know you can do your homework so they expect you to do so; otherwise, sales people may be in for a very quick exit from the sales process.
Make like a Marketing Geek
Professional sales people are going to take responsibility for certain functions that are considered the domain of marketers. If sales people don't take responsibility for these areas then they will be placing their commission checks, and careers, squarely on the shoulders of their marketing colleagues - a rather big gamble.
Sales people will need to insure that throughout the sales cycle their prospect is receiving quality content that is specifically tailored to them. They may not need to write content but they may well need to become "content curators' that find great content, whether inside or outside their company, and insure it is delivered to their customers as needed.
Similarly, if a sales person's marketing department does a super job of nurturing all the prospects that wouldn't meet with you or that didn't buy today, then a sales person can certainly leave that in their hands. But this will not always be the case and the sales person will need to set up their own processes and systems to nurture leads.
Where Will You Fit In?
The bar continues to rise on the skills needed to be a professional sales person. Frankly I don't think this is a coincidence. It is human nature. We humans like to compete and as the new tools become available we raise the competitive bar.
Sales people that want to thrive in this new environment will need to commit themselves to lifelong learning. There are so many new tools and new responsibilities (some mentioned above) that only those that can learn quickly will prosper. Ignoring these changes is a risky career plan. Buyers will come to expect sales people to act as true business peers armed with the instrumentation to make every interaction one of high value. Failure to do so will kill deals (and sales careers.)
Nigel Edelshain is CEO of Sales 2.0. Companies that work with Sales 2.0 get radically superior sales results by utilizing Web 2.0 and social media in their sales process. Clients are companies in sales-intensive industries such as: IT services, insurance, software, printing and telecommunications.