21st Century Sales – don’t let the myths stifle your success


Courtesy of Microsoft & BingThe overarching myth is that selling in the 21st century is in some significant way different to the approaches of earlier times. You only have to consider the many cold calls made to your home phone or the PPI/accident compensation texts to your mobile to realise the worst techniques of the past are still alive and kicking albeit under a different disguise.

Then there are the “new” approaches to selling that you might find under titles such as; Modern Selling, The Challenger Sale and Sales Enablement. When you explore these ‘new’ phenomena you will probably find they simply describe how professional selling has always been conducted. Current technology has certainly provided new tools but we question whether technology enables you to be more effective and productive, and if it always make doing business easier?

This post will help anyone struggling with questions such as; “is the B2B sales person a dying breed?”, “is the cold call dead?”, “what is best in 2015; in-bound or outbound marketing?”, and “can technology solve all of my marketing and sales issues?

Myth One – buyers have changed significantly

We have written on a number of occasions about the savvy well informed buyers that many consider a significant feature of the commercial landscape of the 21st century. You know them; they are 57% of the way through the buying journey before engaging with suppliers. Belief in this fact has led to a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’; if your sales people don’t put in the effort to engage early then of course the buyer has no choice but to make the journey towards a decision on their own. When the buyer eventually needs to contact suppliers they will have made many decisions for themselves leaving the suppliers in a position that all they can do is react and comply.

However, the evidence is that sales people who do engage early in the buyer’s journey, or better still before it commences, are seen as a valuable resource to the buyer and they will get a bigger share of the business that is going to be on offer.

Debunking this myth is the foundation to dealing with the others.

Myth Two – B2B sales people are a dying breed

They certainly are if your go-to-market strategy is based on the assumption that the buyer will come to you when they are ready. In this case all you will need are good sales order clerks empowered to give discount and offer special terms to secure the business. However if you take into account the fact that 75% of the orders for new business go to companies who engage early then you need well equipped B2B sales people who will be out hunting for you if you don’t wish to be left scrapping over the remaining 25%.

To make sure you are out there fighting for all 100% of the business you need sales people who are able to engage early and ideally before the prospect even realises they have a problem to solve. Sales people need to be equipped to help the prospect through the awareness stage which includes the vital process of education; when the prospect needs to learn about the various solutions that might be appropriate.

Fresh off the press research from SiriusDecisions states that B2B buyers want to interact with sales people at every stage of the buying journey. The findings “challenge the common industry view that b-to-b sales representatives’ roles and importance are declining due to a disintermediation by digital buying behaviors.”

Myth Three – The cold call is dead!

The truth is, the cold call was never alive. What has changed is that people are now very unwilling to take unsolicited calls, which generates that feeling that the approach is dead. However, even when times were different and most people did accept unsolicited calls, they rarely produced anything of value. This is a classic example of mistaken identity where activity was assumed to equate to progress.

Unsolicited calls are still a very useful tool in the prospecting kit bag but those calls need to be well researched and informed by the facts. When the call is made the caller must demonstrate an understanding of the individual prospect’s business, potential business issues and the state of the prospect’s industry. The caller needs to be able to educate the prospect based on their wider general knowledge of the issues at hand and the potential solutions.

Myth Four – outbound marketing is dead; inbound is the only way

Our view is that some businesses will do better from outbound, others from inbound but most will benefit from a blend.

In a recent conversation with Michael Packman of Nexus B2B he explained how their research had led them to create a blended or, as he calls it, a hybrid solution which provides both outbound and inbound in the appropriate proportions for each customer. Michael runs what I consider to be one of the very best outbound lead generation businesses so I feel very confident in his findings.

When you drill below the surface of this issue, outbound vs. inbound, another issue is exposed. Although people talk about inbound marketing replacing outbound marketing a subtle change occurs in the expectations where “inbound” not only replaces outbound marketing it also replaces the need to sell. If this is what you want then there is no issue but beware of the hidden change that could occur.

So we bust two myths for the price of one; inbound will generally be most effective when blended with outbound marketing, and inbound marketing is not a substitute for selling.

Myth Five – technology can satisfy all my marketing and selling needs

I am no Luddite, in fact I have worked in the IT industry since 1969, and I have made extensive use of technology in my own businesses since I first started in 1980. I was sending e-mails to selected customers from 1982 and commencing in the same year I provided a cloud (wasn’t called that then) service to companies with mobile sales forces.

So, if not a Luddite what am I? Answer; sceptical. Having mainly worked on the supplier side of technology I know only too well that we can get carried away with the claims we sometimes make. Most technology companies are fundamentally genuine in the claims they make but all are commercial businesses who need to make sales to survive and it is this simple commercial fact that sometimes applies a rosy tinted filter to reality.

In the interests of keeping this short; technology can be extremely useful in marketing and fairly useful in selling. In certain circumstances, technology can all but replace the need for human involvement e.g. when you are ordering something on line. However in B2B sales human-to-human engagement is essential and some of the reasons why have been covered earlier.

Don’t be seduced that technology can do it all and don’t be seduced by the cost argument – technology may be cheaper than human beings but when you find the orders are not flowing as expected the outcome might prove very costly.

Myth Six – technology enables my sales people to be more effective

Always? As a result of technology your sales people can access huge amounts of data both internally and externally about your prospective customers and their markets. All very empowering! However, we see a lot of cases where sales people are literally swamped in data.

Before making a call they check; CRM, LinkedIn, Social Media, Google, credit rating agencies, maybe Companies House and they will typically access internal documents such as call reports. After the call they send a meeting invite, populate the calendar, send a confirmation e-mail, prepare some material for the meeting (perhaps a PowerPoint), and check with marketing for case studies and other sales enablement material. Then a further set of activities follow on from the meeting, and so it continues.

All of this activity looks like work but the ultimate test is whether it makes the sales people more effective and productive or just busy.

Technology should be used sparingly to empower the sales people to make better calls and conduct better meetings but ensure the proportions are right. If your sales people are spending more time in front of the screen than they are on the phone or in the customers’ offices the proportion is probably wrong. The other thing to ensure is perfect alignment between the needs of the sales function and what marketing is delivering to support it. All too often sales people have to spend time re-working things to suit their needs.

A myth is defined as something fictional or unproven
– not a great foundation for business success!

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