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The internet is the most disruptive force I've seen in my lifetime.
I remember when I was first told about Google; I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know what a search engine was. I didn’t know it could index all of the world’s information, and make it accessible to absolutely everyone. It seemed unfathomable; like life on Mars.
Sales (and marketing) functions are undergoing a massive transformation out of sheer necessity. The reason they’re transforming, is in direct response to the fact that the buyer is transforming. It’s a case of sales essentialism; adapt to survive.
When I was an individual quota-carrying sales rep at Salesforce in 2000, my success lay in my ability to help people find the information at the right time, to assist empowered buyers with their research, and self-education. I was aware of the key principles that underpin a successful digital sales transformation to this day:
Be where your buyers are. Be visible and valuable to them. Know them.
An outdated approach
This customer-centricity hasn’t always been illustrative of the approach sales professionals have adopted in order to close deals.
I remember the time when, if you wanted to buy a product or service from a company, you would call a 1-800 number, because that was your only option. You were subjected to a pushy, aggressive “Always Be Closing” attitude, because that was your only option. Sellers hadn’t evolved beyond interruptive sales tactics such as cold-calling, and firmly believed that when it came to their sales pipeline and the customer journey, they were the ones in a position of power and influence.
Yet very swiftly, customers decided they didn’t want to deal with an aggressive approach. And they didn’t have to. So they gravitated towards search engines, and went online to find the information they needed.
According to CEB Global, 77% of B2B buyers say they don’t talk with a sales rep until after they perform independent research. According to SiriusDecisions, 67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.
Eventually, finally, these archaic companies realized they had to be where their buyers were. They took their company-centric content, brochures and sales collateral, and put it online. They had to. Digital sales transformation, from the very outset, was triggered by buyers who were able to self-educate via search engines, and increasingly, social networks.
The slow shift
We’re seeing a lot of change within the sales profession, particularly as the workforce gets younger. In Forrester’s report, May The Force of The Millennials Be With You, Mary Shea states that “in December of 2015, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. As the job market becomes filled with employees born from the 1980s and onward, go-to-market organizations will be increasingly comprised of Millennials holding inside, field and sales management positions”.
The Millennial attitude of openness, collaboration and transparency, coupled with the unlimited access to information that the internet offers, is forcing companies to transform from traditional, top-down, command-and-control environments to flat, organizational structures with fewer titled roles and a more democratic approach.
Now, not only do we have unlimited access to information, we have largely unlimited access to people, thanks to social media. For example, I can go onto LinkedIn and find people just like me! I can search for “Director of Sales Enablement”, or “VP of Sales Enablement”, join groups, participate in discussions. This is valuable because sales enablement can be a lonely position. Traditionally, sales and marketing have spoken different languages, measured their progress with different metrics. One is focused on reach, the other on relationships. One prioritizes leads, the other accounts. One is concerned with impressions, the other revenue. Sales enablement is a significant, symbolic role. We are the translation engine, the bridge, the glue.
There is an increasing coalescence between sales and marketing functions. Both are undergoing a digital transformation because the buyer has transformed. You’ve probably heard this before, but largely, I’m not certain that the all-important moment of clarity, the “aha” moment, has happened yet. Particularly among those antiquated sales leaders who are using techniques dating back to when sales was pretty much invented, in 1894 with John Henry Patterson at NCR.
Even today, if you look at the way sales leader, teams and their processes are set up, the way they carry out pipeline reporting, the way their CRM system is calibrated; there are no accommodations for going from qualified 10%, to 60%, back to 30%. The power has shifted to the buyer, and yet sales leaders are still running their teams like they’re in control.
The modern sales process is like a mountain
A lot of sellers still view their sales process as linear.
But that doesn't make any sense.
A buyer doesn’t go through a linear buying process. It zigs and zags, starts and stops. A funnel, very wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, isn’t an image that adequately illustrates this flux. The sales process is more like a mountain, an arduous path to purchase. But it’s important to remember that purchase isn’t the summit for the buyer, and it shouldn’t be your summit either.
My summit is when I can help my customer to improve win rates by 20%, or grow their revenue by 200%! Success is your customer’s summit. Your customer’s success should be yours.
I remember the day I received an email alert telling me that Jonathan Becher, the EVP of Marketing at SAP had opened and clicked through my email entitled “Why CMOs should carry a quota”. I went to LinkedIn, looked him up, and realized we had both studied at the University of Virginia. I found a dot that I could connect; me to him. I was a lowly sales rep, and he was the EVP of worldwide field marketing at SAP. And I, as a lowly sales rep, was able to connect with Jonathan, because I read his digital body language. I anticipated his interests. I knew the conversation that I ultimately wanted to have, was why CMOs should carry a quota!
That was in 2009. Fast forward to today, 2016.
I ran through a sales cycle with SAP. I was engaged as a potential vendor, but ultimately lost the deal. Nevertheless, as a potential customer, I had developed a relationship with Jonathan; I had been invested in facilitating his success.
I told Jonathan that I used him as an example to demonstrate how I’m striving to create and encourage customer-led, customer-driven digital transformation within both sales and marketing.
“But why do you use that example? I didn’t buy from you!” he asked.
“… yet.” I responded.
Because I’m aware of the fluctuating nature of the modern sales process, I’m more concerned with building meaningful customer relationships than winning deals. I didn’t care if I won that particular deal with SAP that particular quarter. I had built a relationship. I did, and I do what’s best for my customer, even if it means I miss my number because my customer wasn’t ready to buy. Especially if they weren’t ready to buy.
Never lose sight of customer success
Think again about that mountain. Sometime you slip. Someone new comes in. An acquisition happens. Yet no matter what, you have a responsibility to your customer to do everything you can to coax and encourage them up the mountain. Because your customer’s success is your success, and that shared achievement is what underpins digital sales transformation.
Excel at digital selling by expanding your skillset
Traditional selling methods are no longer enough to sustain success; digital tools and techniques are now an essential component of any efficient selling strategy, and are revolutionizing sales and prospecting.
Whether you’re selling B2B or B2C, The Professional Diploma in Digital Selling will equip you with the supplementary skills you need to drive more sales and succeed like never before. Click here to find out more about the course and download a brochure.
About Jill Rowley - Evangelist and Start-Up Advisor
After 6 years in management consulting, 52 quarters in software sales at Salesforce and Eloqua, a year leading Social Selling at Oracle, Jill Rowley provides #SocialSelling evangelism, education and enablement services to help companies market and sell to the modern buyer. She is also an Advisory Board member at numerous tech companies including HubSpot, TrackMaven, Speakeasy, and Vidyard.
Jill is passionate about culture, customers, content, connections and community. She is dedicated to elevating the sales profession and determined to inspire more colleges and universities to offer professional selling curriculum and degrees.