Every company has one. The traditional salesperson who travels out to meet customers in person, lives out of a suitcase, and is constantly on the phone. He’s a cold-caller. He knows everything about every prospect’s regional sports team, he remembers their birthdays and their favorite drinks, he’s gregarious and he not only knows how to tell a good story, he knows how to tell the right story to make that personal connection really stick.
Everybody in the office admires him. But the thing about that guy is, he’s obsolete.
From a corporate point of view, a sales strategy needs to be scalable to achieve growth. A strategy that is based on a team of cold-calling salesmen is scalable only to the degree that the company continues hiring more of them, since each person’s capacity for cold-calling is limited by their own abilities and hours in the day.
What’s even more limiting is that customers, both in the B2B and B2C realms, are less likely than ever to respond. Buyers want richly detailed information, and lots of it, before they even think about making a purchase, and the sales cycle starts long before that salesman arms himself with his suitcase full of samples, polishes up his pitch, and cribs notes so he’ll remember his favorite “guy walks into a bar” story.
When Gerry Brewer, Managing Director of TeamUniformOrders.com, an online ordering platform for vendors of team sports gear, agreed to consult with the firm in 2012, as is the case with many startups, they were running through cash quickly, and the runway was getting shorter every day. Four years later, the business has grown over 450 percent, and has been profitable for three years running. That sort of phenomenal growth doesn’t come from sending out gregarious salesmen with strong handshakes out into the field every day.
“We implemented a very sophisticated digital prospecting and lead generation program,” said Brewer. We developed leads using virtual technology. When I first signed on, they were literally flying out to meetings face-to-face, so we stopped that, and said, ‘This is Sales 2.0.’ What that meant was that the sales group focused on pre-qualifying prospects through the pipeline using digital content, using steps along the way where customers raised their hands to be introduced to what you were doing.”
Brewer says, “Of all the things we did, that was certainly the most important and necessary thing. Right now we have 30 to 40 leads a week reaching out to us, and we do 30-minute online demos, and we’re closing 90 percent of our sales in a 30-minute online demo.”
Why the old way doesn’t work
Those old-fashioned cold callers always say, “Don’t wait for ‘em to come to you!” But they couldn’t be more wrong. “The old-fashioned way is great, and makes it feel personal,” says Brewer. “But you’re always going to be limited in your ability to scale what you’re doing. What we believe we do is scale the ability to serve more people in a more efficient way.”
With his previous career at ad giant Ogilvy, Brewer brought a lot to the table in terms of knowledge about how the shift to online commerce has changed the entire nature of how people advertise and market products. “It’s all about one thing, and we know what that is. It’s all about the data,” he says. “It’s about the insights you can derive into what people are buying, what they’re putting into their shopping carts, and whether it’s your brand or your competitor’s.”
Getting them to come to you
“It’s a generational business,” says Brewer of the team sports industry he is in – although the same truth can be spoken of many industries. “They’ve done it twenty, thirty years this way, with paper order forms and a handshake, sitting across the table from somebody. Another thing is fear of technology. They don’t know much about it, they don’t know whether if they push this button, they will crash the Internet.”
The first step in enabling this transformation is the hardest, because it involves a change in mindset. The technology to gather and analyze the big data is readily available, relatively inexpensive and easy to make use of. Setting up an inbound funnel involves proven tactics like email campaigns, social media, Google ads, content marketing and brand journalism.
Those tactics – especially content marketing and brand journalism – have become essential, given that in today’s environment, the initial contact is more up to the buyer rather than the seller. That doesn’t mean that the seller has to sit and wait to be called. To the contrary, it requires them to take an active role in seeding the landscape with the sort of rich, informational content that buyers are likely to want to read, so that they can come to the decision to make that first contact.
There is a certain level of commonality between the old-fashioned way that involved cold-calling, and the new, content-driven and automated methods which are more scalable. “At the core, both are trying to serve,” concluded Brewer. “To be responsive, to understand the needs of the client, and to react accordingly. Ecommerce and technology in general enables you to be available to somebody, to address their needs.”