Marketing is no longer the underdog to sales
Peter Strohkorb reviews commonly used strategies, and how sales and marketing teams can work together to reach sales targets.
Thanks to the internet, buyers now have more information available to them than ever before. This easy access to knowledge is putting sales reps into a weak position, as it empowers buyers to take charge of the sales process. Buyers now carry out extensive online research before feel ready to contact a vendor. Thus, now the Buyers decide which vendor they will contact, and when they will do so.
If your organisation is not among the chosen ones your reps may never know that the buyer even existed. Yes, we are in the era of the buyers journey.
As illustrated below, there are three distinct windows of opportunity in the buyers journey to influence the buyer towards our brand and our services:
1. Opportunity to create desire
In the early stage of their buyer’s journey, sellers have the opportunity to create desire in the buyer’s mind to consider an offering, whether it be a new car, a new pair of shoes, or a complex IT system.
2. Opportunity to influence the buyer
Later, we have the opportunity to influence their decision-making and lure them away from competitors and towards our brand and offerings.
3. Too late to influence the buyer
But, unfortunately, once they have made up their mind about what they want to buy and which vendor they want to buy it from, there is little opportunity left for vendors to change the buyer’s mind. The consumer has simply come too far down the track towards making their buying decision to change tack now. Unless, that is, you have a very compelling argument or information that they had not considered. (see the section on Challenger / Disruptive / Provocative Selling below).
Obviously, waiting to be contacted by a buyer is not a great sales strategy. We need something more pro-active, we need to focus on the first two windows of opportunity.
Over time, several options have become available to restock the sales and marketing arsenal that has been depleted by the buying journey and by the modern buyers. They can be used in any combination to help you reach your sales targets. Here are some of the more commonly used ones:
This strategy requires marketing to issue content that entices and compels buyers to our business. This content is usually published to the website and online generally, and complementary material is issued to the sales team. Content may comprise white papers, thought leadership articles, client success stories and lead generation campaigns.
The key to success is that marketing continuously monitors the performance of its content and actively seeks feedback from the sales team about how prospects and customers react to it.
Equally, sales reps must actively provide their front line intelligence to marketing so that the performance of marketing content can continuously be improved.
Success depends largely on a highly collaborative feedback loop between sales at the customer-facing front and marketing at the online front.
This is a specialist version of content marketing which is practiced by individual sales reps. The idea is that we want to attract buyers not only to our brand but also to individual reps who have built a reputation of being subject matter experts.
The way it works in many organisations is that marketing provides the right content to the sales force for them to promote their personal subject matter expertise on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
In other words, individual sales reps attract the buyer through their personal brand, as well as their employer’s brand.
Again, the success of this initiative largely depends on close collaboration between marketing and sales, if the content is to match the individual, and vice versa.
Storytelling is very powerful. Ever since humans were living in caves we sat around the campfire and told stories. Before the written word was invented stories were the way that we acquired information and learned new skills, such as how to hunt, gather and grow food. Even today, us humans remember stories much better than mere facts or figures.
When salespeople engage with a prospect or client they will have much deeper impact when they convey their information through a story. Storytelling also has the advantage that it doesn’t feel like selling. Just telling a story or an anecdote feels less intrusive to both the buyer and the rep. So, go ahead and tell the story of how a past client found themselves in a similar situation to your current prospect and how your solution helped them to overcome their challenges and to succeed.
Your marketing team should arm your sales force with stories to regale your prospects and customers.
Account based marketing (ABM)
ABM is nothing new, but modern sales and marketing technology has elevated it to the latest ‘must have’. The reason is that it can be very powerful, if executed well. Imagine you want to win a new key account or retain a major client that is at risk of moving on to a competitor. Wouldn’t you want to give them the attention they need to help secure or retain their business?
So, you create a specialist team, let’s call them a ‘hit squad’, to identify the key stakeholders in your account, ie. the decision makers, influencers and gate keepers, and you identify what makes each of them tick, their likes and dislikes, challenges and opportunities. Then you provide each of them individually, through whatever means necessary, with the information that they need to make an informed decision on why they should buy from your organisation.
This is so that when they all meet to decide which vendor to go with, they will discover that they all miraculously agree that they should go with your business.
This ‘hit squad’ must consist of a multi-disciplinary team, comprised of marketing, sales, product management and communications experts.
So, once again, close collaboration between marketing and sales is the key to success here, too.
I have previously written about this type of selling and why it is not suitable for every rep. However, if your sales force has people with the stature to challenge your prospects’ or clients’ thinking then it can be very effective. The idea is that you disrupt their thinking with some new information that they either did not previously possess, or that they had not yet considered.
Something that stops them in their tracks. The neat thing is that, because this particular insight was brought to them by you and only you, it gives you instant credibility over and above your competitors and turns you into a trusted adviser.
It should be easy from there on to close the deal.
Cold calling/warm calling
A lot of articles have been written about the pros and cons of cold calling. My colleague and co-founder of the Sales Mastermind Australasia, Tony J. Hughes, has written extensively on the subject, largely promoting cold calling as an effective sales technique.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of calling somebody out of the blue, interrupting whatever they are doing and expecting them to drop everything to listen to your sales pitch. The only time this has half a chance of working is if you really have something significant up your sleeve that is of vital importance to them and to their business. If you have something like this then consider challenger/disruptive/provocative selling.
Otherwise, my recommendation is to stay away from cold calling. Instead, warm up your prospect with content marketing or social selling before making direct contact. In this way, at least they know who you are and that you have something that is worthy of their time, or not.
As you can see, there are myriad options to engage your prospects and clients, but waiting to be contacted by a buyer is not a great sales strategy. And, given the myriad alternatives, there is also no need for cold calling.
Regardless of which of the above techniques you choose to go with, much of your sales results will depend on how well your marketing and sales teams work together to engage the buyer and to differentiate your business from that of your competitors.
Peter Strohkorb is the CEO of Peter Strohkorb Consulting International, a business consulting firm specialising in sales and marketing collaboration.
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