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It’s a modern-day paradox: Sales has always been about connecting to customers. But today salespeople increasingly don’t know their customers on a personal basis. Phone calls and business dinners have been eclipsed by clicks and taps within the digital world.
Sales teams are also facing a blurring of lines between various tasks and functions that revolve around their discipline. As a 360-degree view of customers takes hold and organizations focus on digital transformation, everyone and everything, including marketing, sales, and customer service, overlaps.
“As siloes have disappeared, the way organizations approach sales has changed. Today’s environment requires entirely different strategies, tools, and methods,” said Kris Pederson, Americas strategy and customer leader, EY.
This includes everything from sophisticated data analytics on the front end to machine learning, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) on the back end. Digital business is changing the way sales teams do their jobs; how, when and where they engage with prospects and customers; and how an organization manages its customer base.
Only a decade or so ago, enterprise sales processes revolved heavily around customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. Today, these systems increasingly represent a legacy model. Meanwhile, mobile devices, clouds, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and emerging tools such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and blockchain are completely rewiring the way sales take place. Among the perks: They reduce steps, enhance experiences, and eliminate inefficiencies on a massive scale.
All of this is powering changes in consumer behavior. Slick brochures and sales calls have largely disappeared. What EY’s Pederson calls “quasi-fake personal relationships” are on the way out—particularly with younger consumers. Nowadays, customers venture online to research products, check pricing, and make purchases with a single click.
This is also true in the B2B space. In many cases, these customers don’t care to speak to a salesperson—unless it’s on their terms.
“The situation makes it difficult to influence the purchase in a meaningful way if you don’t have the right information to reach out to the customer at the right time,” said Bob Skea, executive vice president and head of Americas sales at Dun & Bradstreet. “They also expect a very personalized experience, which can be difficult at scale if you don’t have the right tools and data to execute on that.”
Indeed, data is at the center of this new paradigm: Sales transformation is all about introducing a high level of automation while making every experience feel personal and relevant in the moment, said Matt Thompson, executive vice president of field operations at Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company).
“Providing a good customer experience is very different than it was in the past,” he said. “A company’s ability to put data into motion and differentiate itself is the secret sauce of the digital world.”
This means culling data from a growing array of sources—including legacy databases, point-of-sale systems, web analytics, social media, IoT, and more—in order to understand consumer behavior at granular level and “to present the most cohesive and personalized customer experience that we can present,” Skea said.
Within this new world of customer interaction, an omnichannel approach has become essential. Yet it isn’t enough to simply establish channels and use digital technologies to operate them efficiently. There’s a need to tie together systems in new and different ways, Pederson explained.
For example, an organization might incorporate LinkedIn and Facebook into its CRM system in order to identify potential customers or where someone is at in the buying cycle. A sales group might also tap internal systems and stage gates to understand when a customer—say, an industrial machine owner or car buyer—would likely be receptive to a new purchase.
Social media tools, along with internal analytics tools, can also help sales teams identify potential allies—influencers who can lead sales efforts, as well as those who can provide introductions that slide the dial from a cold-call situation to a warm call.
“Once you have a clear idea of who they are, what products and services they use, and what they are potentially interested in, you can eliminate a lot of the wasted effort that involves traditional marketing and sales,” Pederson said. “You can begin to move to a more efficient and successful sales model that’s a fit with digital business.”
Suddenly, it’s possible to micro-target consumers with personalized and contextually relevant information—based on everything from their current locations to where they are in a buying process. It’s also possible to tie together systems within a supply chain to sync marketing and sales in new ways. This might involve understanding how weather or news events impact sales and adjusting marketing promotions accordingly. It might also lead to adapting stores to markets based on foot traffic, social profiles, demographics, and other factors.
“Once you know what consumers want, you can market and sell items far more effectively,” said Larry Thomas, managing director at consulting firm Accenture.
Assembling digital technology in new ways is also part of sales transformation. More robust websites and apps are a starting point, but the journey inevitably leads to other tools that can transform experiences. Consider: an augmented reality app from IKEA lets furniture shoppers view a sofa or desk in an actual physical space; a paint-matching app from Sherwin Williams that helps shoppers find the right color before they step in the store; virtual reality apps and experiences from Audi, BMW, and other automakers that let a prospective buyer experience a vehicle before setting foot in a showroom.
Other technologies are also likely to alter the sales equation. For example, blockchain promises to streamline supply chains by introducing payment and settlement without intermediaries. These so-called smart contracts will allow sales organizations to operate far more efficiently, said Paul Brody, global innovation leader for blockchain at EY. The technology could also significantly reduce the cost of administering business agreements.
“Historically, companies have been much better at negotiating deals than actually keeping to them,” he told CMO.com. “Even simple things like volume discounts are hard to manage for companies that have multiple subsidiaries or partners. Blockchains make it possible to align operations with negotiated deals.”
Within this Sales 2.0 world, business leaders continue to look for new ways to create value for customers and differentiate their companies through more efficient and better synced marketing and sales processes. Line-of-business leaders must work with each other—and IT—to build platforms and adopt tools that advance the enterprise. This includes a platform that supports the cloud, different vendors, and different tools—from analytics to content management.
“The goal for companies is to develop a digital DNA,” Thompson said. “Those that assemble the pieces the right way can take marketing and sales to an entirely different level by focusing money and resources where they are most effective.”