Saying that the Internet has changed how people and businesses buy and sell stuff is a bit like saying electricity changed how people see stuff at night. Rather than targeting prospects via advertising, cold calling, and mass email, practices known as “outbound” or “interruption” marketing, companies now focus on attracting the interest of people who are searching for goods and services online. This is called “inbound” or “content” marketing. After all, according to IPSOS, 61% of internet connected consumers use the web to conduct product research. For marketers, the need to focus on SEO, content and social media is a no brainier, but what does it mean for sales? If Forester is correct and 75% of the buying process is complete before a prospect ever contacts a company, it means a lot. Here are just a few.
Customers are More Educated
Whether you are selling cars or enterprise software, you can expect that by the time you speak to a prospect they know a lot about the product, your company and your competitors. In fact, research from Google says that 73% of business to business technology purchasers search for product pricing online. This means that, more than ever before, marketing and sales must be in sync. If the message presented during and in person meeting or telephone call with a sales rep is not consistent with the online message prospects can become confused or suspicious. It also means that the job of educating prospects about what your product is and what it does is less important. They can easily learn that online. The task has shifted to educating prospects about what sets you apart why they should choose your company over the competition. The prospect has probably reached out because they want a better understanding of how buying from you will solve their very specific needs. Sales people must become experts at understanding and relating to particular use cases.
You Can’t Hide from Social Media
Love it or loath it, social media is not a trend. After all, about one out of every seven minutes spent online is spent on Facebook and 93% of adult internet users in the US have accounts on the network. Some of that time is spent posting and reading details about interactions with companies. For example, I have more than 400 Linked In connections and a couple hundred Facebook friends. I would never call them all up to ask for a restaurant recommendation or complain about poor service from a vendor, but I absolutely do both online. Unfortunately, people (myself included) are more likely (45% – 38%) to share their bad experiences than their good ones, according to a study sponsored by Zendesk. This means sales reps have an enormous responsibility and opportunity to influence the balance of information about your company on social media networks. Because sales reps are often closest to the customer, they can encourage clients to share and promote their positive experiences. A team of advocates who will spread your message will be an invaluable help to your next deal. Furthermore, using tools such as HubSpot’s Social Inbox helps reps stay on top of prospects and clients who are actively discussing your company or industry in social media in real time.
It’s All About the Relationship
One thing about buyers hasn’t changed. They are still people. People who need to feel understood and want to know that someone is on their side. Real estate agents are a good example. With all of the online tools available today, it is quite possible to buy or sell a house without one, yet most people still rely on an agent. Why? Because real estate transactions are complicated and people don’t do them very often. They want someone to simplify the process, represent their best interest and make recommendations from a place of experience. Isn’t that what we all want from any sales rep?
So perhaps, more buying will be done online without the need for a sales person to be involved, but for complex or family/career impacting decisions the personal touch will likely never go out of style.
How has inbound marketing changed your approach to sales?