Gartner Research predicts that 85% of business-to-business (B2B) sales transactions will occur without human intervention in 2020. Andy Hoar from Forrester Research predicts that more than 1 million sales roles will be disappear in the USA alone with the same timeframe. This equates to approximately 22% of B2B sales positions being lost to the forces of commoditization or automation.
Up to one-third of B2B sales roles will become extinct within 5 years. But those who modernise the way they sell can protect their careers and prosper
Here is a personal example of where sales people add little value for the buyer. I just purchased a new sports car yesterday from a dealer that I never visited or spoke with... we engaged on the web and then negotiated via email. I did all my research online and from speaking with several car industry insiders I found in my network. With their insights I identified the two best times of the year to purchase and understood dealer margins and manufacturer rebate models. I honored the 'law on disinterest' and was willing to be patient.
I avoided the dealer's sales process for up-selling by never walking into their showroom. When I finally talked with a sales person it was simply to give him my credit card details for the $1,000 deposit. I achieved a 14% discount on the normal drive away 'deal' which was 5% better than a 'private fleet' wholesale service that also provided me with their best price.
The above example highlights how sales people (just like accountants, lawyers, engineers and other professions) are being disrupted by technology and uber-empowered buyers who start their journey with trusted relationships in their network and then research and compare value online.
Those sellers and businesses who modernize the way they operate, blending insightful human engagement with technology, will be the ones who prosper in the machine age. Here are the three things for companies and individuals to focus on to remain relevant and succeed.
1. Sellers must be micro marketers with strong personal brands to leverage social platforms and create their own pipelines
People buy from those they like and trust but buyers are redefining the value of relationships. This is because they are time poor and don’t see value in sales relationships that merely provide information. Sellers today instead demand insight and value when investing their time. The best sales people therefore provide insight and innovation to serve as a partner who can help deliver transformation and manage the buyer’s risk.
For this reason, sales people must modify their LinkedIn profiles to become personal brand microsites where they publish insights to differentiate themselves from the competition. The modern approach to selling is to ‘attract and engage’ rather than ‘interrupt and push’. The best are engineers of value rather than warriors of persuasion. They use online platforms such as LinkedIn to evidence the business value they deliver and the personal values by which they operate. According to IDC, 70% of buyers research a seller online and this can be where the process of establishing trust and setting the right agenda occurs, well before the first conversation.
The current catch phrase for this is ‘social selling’, which I define beyond building a strong personal brand to also include: listening for trigger events (people changing roles, etc.), publishing relevant content to evidence credibility and attract clients, researching buyers, connecting and engaging in platforms such as LinkedIn, and then using technology to collaborate conveniently and cost effectively.
Social platforms and strong personal brands also play and important role in delivering outstanding customer experience and that is because, according to Corporate Visions research, buyers prefer to do business with the first to provide value through education and insight.
2. Customer experience is the single biggest factor in achieving competitive differentiation to attract customers who become loyal advocates
The way we sell is just as important as what we sell. Research done with 5,000 buyers by Corporate Executive Board was published in The Challenger Sale in 2012 and it revealed that customer loyalty was 38% derived equally from brand (company and product) and the features and capabilities offered; 9% of positive influence was from price, and a huge 53% of influence was from the ‘sales experience’ the buyer received.
Positive ‘sales experience’ was defined by offering a uniquely valuable perspective on the market, helping to navigate alternatives and avoid potential land mines, and educating on relevant trends and how to best manage risk. The sellers who thrive today understand this and focus on their individual buyer’s journey to provide valuable information and insights early in the buying cycle. They monitor in social media for trigger events and also attract and engage with appropriate content to identify the best time to engage.
Innovation is key in delivering best customer experience as you support multiple channels of social, mobile, websites, phone, field sales and resellers. When potential buyers are positively surprised by excellent service and convenient manner in which they can research, engage and transact; they become customers. Increasingly today however, a great buying experience does not always require a face-to-face sales person. This highlights part of the reason why field sales people must move to value and focus on where they can manage complexity and risk for clients in order to fund their roles.
3. Methodology, process and technology must all be integrated for sales enablement
The holy grail of sales enablement is to use the right methodology to drive repeatable quality processes inside CRM as a transparent coaching platform. Playbook concepts belong inside CRM to intuitively guide sales people in how to ask the right questions and create progression as they align with the buyer.
This is why sales and marketing must finally come together to map buyer’s journey to sales process and tools with a playbook approach to providing guidance and resources for every phase of the sale. This includes qualification, discovery, designing solutions, pricing and proposals, proving capability, negotiating, closing and onboarding clients. Technology can be used to help people easily transact while inside sales cost effectively steps-up where buyers want human interaction.
Field sales must surrender commodity products and services to focus on high value solutions where there is both complexity and risk for the buyer. The role of field sales is to proactively create opportunities with early engagement that sets the right agenda.
Every seller must modernise by embracing social to build personal brand and create leverage and reach. Every sales organisation must create exceptional customer experience as their sustainable point of competitive differentiation and also integrate methodology, process and technology to reduce cost while efficiently driving consistent execution of sales process across multiple channels and touch-points.
But it's easy to get it wrong. The 'private fleet' wholesale service I found online, when seeking to buy a new car, had an excellent website with good content and video animations to explain their value. However, their web to lead process was broken. I completed online enquiry forms twice without receiving any contact after receiving the automated email. When I phoned they were defensive about their broken 'web to lead' process. They found my details and then started asking me questions I had already responded to online. The sales person then tried to manoeuvre me into a corner to commit to buying if they ran the 'tender process' with multiple dealers. It was just like talking with a car salesman at a traditional dealer... no thanks.
There are other examples where customer experience is masterfully executed with well designed processes across multiple channels (social listening to Twitter, Facebook and other platform; web to lead nurturing, phone, SMS, e-mail, and face-to-face). What are the best and worst examples you've experienced and where have you seen the holy grail of sales enablement?
Note of thanks to Jonathan Farrington. This post is based upon a magazine article I wrote for Top Sales World Magazine, published in December 2015.
If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.
Main Image Photo by Flickr: Pieter Musterd - Follow De Posthoornblazers