As technology advances, customers have shifted the way in which they make decisions. At the click of a mouse, consumers can get a full 360° review on a service or product they desire, browsing competitors, company reviews and markets – all at record speed. Companies have had to pivot away from the assumed.
Organisations trying to drive their sales strategies by looking in the rear-view mirror of customer insights quickly found themselves outmatched by competitors with forward-looking sales strategies. Now more than ever, companies need the power of data insights and predictive analytics to navigate the new normal.
The pandemic put the kibosh on in-person sales meetings and fuelled a rise in the adoption of digital channels for sales interactions. In fact, research by Mckinsey has found that more than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions—a sentiment that has steadily intensified even after lockdowns have ended.
As a result, companies can no longer rely on age-old ways to influence their prospects, forcing them to be more creative. This levelled the playing field for vendors of all sizes. Sales teams have found themselves having to work harder to win hearts and minds. Sales is now a serious cross-business function, driven by technology, data and innovation. Here’s what you need to know to ensure your organisation stays ahead.
The buyer lifecycle
All data across the entire buyer lifecycle can now be captured and analysed, presenting an exciting opportunity for sales organisations. Their analysis can help companies triangulate the specific marketing and sales efforts that contributed to the close of each piece of business—across the full range of web clicks, downloads, phone calls, emails, SMS messages or chat interactions—and cross-correlate those activities with buyer roles, account demographics, specific needs, pricing, promotions, and more.
To capitalise on this opportunity, organisations must have the means to collect and analyse this “sales digital exhaust” to optimise future sales efforts by tapping into the power of machine learning and predictive analytics capabilities.
Regarding most important skills, sellers now need to “read the room” virtually. So, reading body language becomes far more difficult, and listening skills become key to understanding the tone of the conversation. The act of pausing to engage is a critical skill.
Challenge and consult
The pandemic has been “the great leveller” in the sales world where in-person high-profile events and wining and dining were previously the norm. Now in the post-pandemic era, where we’ve removed the influence of the “boozy lunch,” there’s more pressure on sellers to sell more on merit and value, rather than largesse.
The need to move away from a transactional sales relationship to one of sales consultancy was recognised back in the 70s and 80s. What is new is that we’ve now moved onto the “challenger sale” where we are challenging the buyer and providing additional value. There is, in fact, an expectation from existing and potential customers to be challenged by their vendors. Today, customers are not afraid to ask difficult questions to make sure that they are making the right choice.
The other responsibility vendors have is to challenge marketers to widen their lens to the entire customer journey and talk to their sales and service counterparts as well. So even if you’re selling into just three distinct buying groups, you must find ways to connect them and bridge the gaps that are important to them but often get missed among sales, marketing, and customer service.
Let the platform do the work
Sales is a full-contact sport – it typically requires internal resources to help from lead to revenue and obviously it requires customers, prospects and sometimes partners. Technology plays a massive role in the “new world” of selling – providing meaningful insights across the full customer journey. Aggregating information from key touch points via e-mail and other third-party sources is paramount to creating a holistic view of who your customer or prospect is.
However, the technology that is supposed to empower sales professionals can itself be a barrier to their success. Global research with sales leaders found that businesses are struggling to ensure their sales teams are spending enough time with customers and can access the data required to build and maintain these vital relationships, with 52% saying their reliance on legacy CRM systems are costing them revenue.
Technology must rescue sales from the intense manual labour of entering data in the system, and yet make more data readily available to the sales rep to help them make better, faster decisions that result in revenue growth for the organisation.
AI and machine learning can help analyse an organisation’s lead prioritisation and opportunity-to-close-won scoring, and Ideal Customer Profile alignment, which enables them to understand which businesses are similar to other businesses in their customer base, and the attributes that make these customers the best and most profitable. These insights and understanding enable salespeople to focus their prospecting on those companies that are the best fit and represent the greatest chance of purchase and profit.
Another emergence we have seen is the live virtual deal room, where buyers and sellers are interacting in real-time. The time lag of collaborative back and forth negotiating is removed, so both buyers and a seller can get to an outcome far more quickly than with traditional sales cycles. This new immediacy and dynamism of the sales process demands sellers have access to as much information as possible to support smart and savvy negotiations in real-time.
Optimising your sales strategy
Top sellers seek to understand the problem they are solving through a multi-channel approach. They are using telephone, chat, and video conferencing to build a relationship with the prospect/customer. Top sellers are recording their calls, sharing with their teams, capturing all points of interaction, and constantly looking for ways to improve. AI can help paint a picture of what channel to use when as well as what next action to take.
The most valuable thing for a salesperson is time, so giving them time back in this way is critical. No salesperson wants to be anchored to a keyboard like a trained monkey. To be top sellers, organisations need to free their people to spend as much time weaving the magic of selling.
Despite technology’s role in optimising the sales equation, sales will always continue to be a relationship-driven art and science. Top sales organisations recognise this and enable their salespeople to shine by letting their sales automation platforms do the work for them to eliminate blind spots, busy work and roadblocks.
James Frampton, senior vice president and general manager EMEA at SugarCRM