B2B sales are going to look a lot different in the next 12 months.
We’ve undergone a massive sea change over the past five years, prompted by a larger shift in buyer demographics, preferences, and habits. These shifts are now beginning to settle, and the new sales tactics they have inspired will no longer serve just as an opportunistic upside, but rather necessary operations for all sales teams.
Today’s buyers are more empowered than ever. They comparison shop, seek out information online, and take the buying experience into their own hands. If the cold call isn’t dead, it’s at least on the ropes as buyers are increasingly annoyed by interruptive direct-selling techniques. They’ve become really good at identifying and avoiding salespeople’s tactics. In the same way that consumers have developed banner blindness, they’re also developing cold-call deafness.
Because they have access to a wealth of information online, buyers seek out the salesperson far later in the process, often once they’ve already made up their minds about the purchase in question. They no longer feel comfortable relying on a salesperson until they have built trust for the brand or product on their own first. Sales is no longer dictated by a top-down funnel, but rather looks like a porous pipeline where mature leads enter at any number of points.
This new landscape has a lot of people asking what this means for salespeople. It doesn’t mean that a customer can no longer be persuaded, but rather that the old tactics don’t work anymore. In truth, that much has been obvious for a while. Salespeople have been missing their quotas and generally having a hard time drumming up leads and closing deals despite increasingly ambitious revenue goals.
So how do organizations adapt to the changing demographics and preferences of today’s buyers? Here are five ways to start.
1. Meet The Customer Where She Lives
There’s no doubt that digital sales should be social first, whether you’re a consumer retailer or an enterprise software company. According to the Pew Research Center, 76% of all Internet users use social media in one form or another.
And before you suggest that the majority of those social media users are too young to be your buyers or are not the right demographic, consider that 84% of C-level and VP execs use social media to support purchase decisions.
The early adopters are seeing gains already. Salespeople who leverage social realize 66% greater quota attainment (PDF) than those using traditional selling techniques. Top social sellers have 45% more opportunities per quarter (PDF) than social selling laggards.
No more excuses. It’s time to get your sales team online, building a reputation around their personal brands, educating prospects about the market, and building virtual trust so that leads feel comfortable engaging with the salesperson.
2. From Product To Customer
Buyers want to be inspired, not informed. They don’t want to be told what you do; they want to hear what you do for them. They want to know how you solve their problems, not how many features your latest product has.
Furthermore, they want to be heard. One easy change is to shift your pronouns. Change “my company” and “our product” to “your company” and “your” customers.
It may seem like a simple change in language, but it requires a change in mindset for many sales teams. And it needs to be as performative as it is vocal. Focus on your customers’ successes and not just your company’s. Celebrate industry wins as a rising tide, even as you focus on the differentiators that you can bring to bear.
Aware buyers will quickly cut through sales rhetoric, but focusing on your customers over your product will always be key to sales success.
3. Align Marketing And Sales
You can’t think of social selling in a vacuum. It only works when it’s a part of an integrated sales strategy. And it only works when marketing and sales teams are working in lockstep.
The most effective salespeople work closely with marketing teams to nurture leads throughout the buyer’s journey. Let’s say a lead downloads a whitepaper. She should get an automated thank-you email from the marketing team on behalf of the sales rep. At that point, the sales team can take over, research the lead, determine whether she uses social media, and, if so, begin engaging her on LinkedIn and Twitter in a highly personalized manner.
The cadence in which you reach out to potential buyers as a salesperson is another aspect that should be coordinated with the marketing team, who is often reaching out to buyers en masse. Too many touch points on too short a timeline can annoy the buyer and send the person the other way. The key, again, is nonintrusive interactions, which all has to do with timing.
4. Personalize Your Tone
Too many well-intentioned social sellers adapt the language that the brands use on their social networks. But remember: A company’s Twitter page is meant to reach a broad audience. A salesperson is often focused on capturing a single individual.
Your interactions on social media need to be personal and authentic. You’re not a so-called social media guru. You’re a human.
Share articles and opinions that don’t have to do with your company. Be conversational. Engage in the conversations people are having about your industry and outside of it.
This can be uncomfortable at first because it doesn’t feel like the selling you’re used to. But that’s exactly the point.
5. Let Digital Inform Offline
At the end of the day, B2B sales are a handshake and eye-contact business. Nothing can replace high quality human-to-human interactions. But digital touches can absolutely enhance those in-person meetings and make them more effective.
You’d be surprised by how many disappointing interactions occur because the salesperson clearly hasn’t done basic research. With the amount of easily accessible information on the Internet, all salespeople have a duty to research a prospect on Twitter and LinkedIn in advance of a meeting and be prepared to tailor their interactions to that person’s interests and background.
That’s the low-hanging fruit.
Salespeople level-up when they can usher their leads further down the funnel even before the in-person meeting. That means priming prospects in advance by sharing relevant articles, participating in social conversations, and listening for opportunities to engage one on one.
We’re going to have to navigate some choppy waters to adjust to the paradigm shift that’s imminent. Salespeople will have to meet the buyer where she’s at, and that place can feel light years away. But in today’s digital world, everything shrinks in both time and distance.
The ideological shift must come first. Then we need to adjust existing sales infrastructure and tools in order to adopt digital selling in a holistic, comprehensive way. Digital and social sales will have to become a core piece of any company’s social strategy, from one end of the funnel to the other.
The sea change is coming. What is your organization doing to prepare?