The business of selling technology solutions—whether hardware, software or a service—is at a strange intersection; there’s constant curiosity about new trends, yet staunch reluctance to try any new sales strategies. Product teams, marketers, sellers and senior executives are keenly aware that the consumer landscape has undergone a complete overhaul. Yet many of the approaches to reach prospects and customers remain the same.
Consumers are the new experts. They know your products, or at least your industry, better than they get credit for. And if they don’t, they can turn to more options than ever for advice. They also know when they’re being mass-marketed to, when a rep is trying the latest tactic on them, and when genuine, experience-driven value is being provided. Yes, these savvy buyers are on to the old-school push marketing and selling strategies, and they’re not buying it.
The onus is now on brands and their partners to reach people in their actual habitats and truly engage with them, not to use generic cold-calling scripts, automated marketing programs or semi-automated sales emails and hope for the best.
Choose Conversation Over Convenience
As the number of lead-generation tools increases, sales teams have—by their own admission—fallen into the trap of convenience, awaiting “A” leads. It’s easy to acquire lists or email addresses and blast a one-size-fits-all message. When you know that a program will guarantee a certain reach and “results” at practically no cost, with relatively little time or strategic investment, real thought-leadership and relationship-building become increasingly rare.
In a world where it’s easier to ignore or delete even the most creative and targeted marketing than to interact with it, sales and marketing teams must engage and collaborate before selling. Because while social selling, email, collaboration tools and content-marketing automation make it easier than ever to be in the game, when you use these tools without providing genuine value, you’re talking at prospective buyers, not with them.
Cultivate the Sales Community
Your sales ecosystem is probably bigger than you think. It certainly may include a direct sales and marketing team, as well as indirect resellers and partners. But what about outsiders who influence your buyers’ decisions? And their social influencers? The entire ecosystem shapes your buyers’ path to purchase. And understanding the complexities of that path, and how your product or service slots into it, is crucial to new customer growth and success.
It starts with understanding the most complex part of the entire ecosystem: your customers. Educated, skeptical and well-connected, today’s buyers will go to bat for a brand if it speaks to them on an emotional level. But to reach that level, you must champion customer success.
Of course, to help them achieve success, you must know how your customers define it. What do they care about? What are their needs? Are they even looking for a solution to the problem you purport to solve?
The irony is that there is a huge list of names already in your CRM, but you have no idea who is at the other end or what their real business issues are. So start with your customers. Go straight to the source to discover their needs. It may sound obvious, but a majority of executives and their sales and marketing teams are still not talking to enough customers on a daily basis or focusing on their success. And if you don’t have that knowledge, how can you possibly communicate the right messaging to your channel or partners? After all, they’re the ones who will stand face-to-face with the prospect or customer when a deal is on the line or a renewal is just around the corner.
But don’t just talk to your channel partners and resellers, listen to them. These are people on the front lines. They’re talking one-on-one with prospects, discovering what questions they have and what potential roadblocks keep them from purchasing. They also know the types of conversations prospects have with others and which issues have the potential to result in churn.
Using these insights, you will be able to create more effective training, personas, messaging, sales tools and content- marketing assets—all of which will better support your direct and indirect sales partners.
Survey the Land
The goal from getting to know your customers firsthand is creating one or multiple buyer personas, or short narratives, that paint a biographical picture of the many types of people in your target base. A solid buyer persona—or partner persona, if you’re recruiting partners—is like a pot of gold to a salesperson or marketer. It becomes an intelligent cheat sheet to refer to when they direct their efforts.
As you begin to deconstruct your buyers, you’ll discover what types of conversations they’re having and where, who or what is shaping their decision, and how to begin to establish and build trust with them. Zero-in on how to involve their spheres of influence and you can create a brand trusted by people you may not even be directly selling to.
Once you’ve learned everything there is to know about your market, you can begin to effectively support them, providing real value along each phase of their path to purchase. As such, you will need to understand what each phase looks like and how to identify where and when they start and end. That way you know when to step in with resources and answers.
If this sounds like an overwhelmingly personal way to conduct business, that’s because it is. But sellers and marketers can’t afford to operate any other way. No amount of inauthentic automation or heavy-handed push marketing will afford this level of engagement or support.
Time is valuable, but a fear of the time it takes to get to know an audience on a deeper level can be a major factor keeping sales teams from evolving alongside their customers.
The good news is that the more you practice mapping your customer’s journey, the more automated the process becomes. It’s a matter of repetition. You’ll get better at anticipating moves, asking questions and pinpointing common trends. And all these tools can be used to support your partners selling on the front lines.
There’s no doubt about it, selling is hard. And in many regards, the attempts to make it easier have actually made it harder by driving us farther away from the people who matter most: the customers. By taking the human element out of the sales equation, we’ve lost sight of the fact that audiences are people. There is power in connections and collaboration, just like there’s power in technology, and the best sales forces are the ones that figure out how to get the most from the humanity inherent in each.