In sales, the more things change, the more they stay the same


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It’s often fashionable in today’s business world to talk about how fast things are changing. Technology is definitely transforming many aspects of how people do business, but many sales industry commentators make the mistake of getting too caught up in talking about technology. It’s easy to forget that the foundation of every sale is still a fundamental and age-old element: a human relationship.

Yes, we have a lot of amazing technological tools available today that assist the daily work of building customer relationships and making sales. There are customer relationship management systems that make it easier to track every customer interaction and archive the shared organizational memory of every client account. Now more than ever, it’s possible for every member of the sales team to be on the same page and have access to the same information when building client relationships, doing sales research, and identifying the right decision makers within a prospective client’s organization. Social media makes it possible to quickly crowdsource ideas, get feedback from customers, and gauge the pulse of public opinion about your industry, your brand or your product.

It’s quicker and easier than ever before to communicate and collaborate with clients via online video conference or by sharing files in the cloud; business moves faster than ever because it’s easier and cheaper than ever before to store and share crucial business data.

Best of all, most of these sales-related technologies are affordable and easy to use – leveling the playing field for companies of all sizes. Merely having access to the right technology is no longer a competitive advantage in sales. Technology is great, but technology will only be helpful as far as your customer relationships will go.

According to a 2013 Gartner study of B2B technology buyers, 56 percent of buyers said that direct interaction with the IT solutions provider was of “high importance,” and 42 percent said that it was of “medium importance.” This is a sure sign that sales people’s skills in building customer relationships still matter! But the challenge for sales people is that, along with the technology changes, the sales process has changed as well. Customers still need sales people, but they need a different level of interaction with sales people at different stages of the sales process. Customers are doing more of their own research and getting more transparent information about products and pricing. This makes the sales person’s job different, but still highly necessary – and it’s all (still) about building relationships.

Here are a few ideas for how sales teams can adapt to the changing rules of the sales game:

Meet your customers where they are.

One of the big changes of the past few years is that customers are doing more of their own research online. Before your sales team talks to a customer, that customer might have already found your company website, read about your product or service, and started to do some comparative analysis of your competitors. Customers might know more about your company than they used to. This means that your sales people need to adapt. Don’t assume that your customers need a full “sales pitch” or a lengthy, detailed introduction. The Gartner survey found that sales presentations rank as the 5th most influential marketing activity for B2B buyers – this means that too many sales teams are offering sales presentations that are too “salesy” and not relevant enough to the customer’s needs. Instead of giving a “generic” sales presentation that is all about your company, go deeper and offer a customized sales presentation that is all about the customer’s specific needs.

Get more technical.

The Gartner survey also found that sales people are not always the most influential people in helping a buyer make a decision. 81 percent of respondents said that their most valued interactions in the sales process are with technical experts, not with sales people; only 38 percent said that the sales team added the most value. This means that sales people need to do a better job of coordinating technical resources and learning to “talk the talk” as technically competent industry peers.

Keep doing the “low tech” work of building relationships.

Even with the latest sales technology, there is still a lot of value in the simple activities of calling prospects, asking questions and building relationships. The sales business is still all about building trust and credibility. Technology can help make the journey more efficient, but you still need to have the human element – people still want to do business with people that they like, who they believe have their best interests at heart. No software or piece of sales technology can replace that mysterious, intangible aspect of building relationships.

Technology has changed the sales process (by making it faster) and it’s changed customer interactions (by making customers better informed), but it hasn’t changed the fundamental nature of sales. We still need to build relationships, educate customers, ask good questions, and uncover the customer’s unspoken needs. Technology can help us get a foot in the door faster than before, but there still needs to be a real person in the conversation to help win the client’s confidence. Even as technology continues to grow, the sales business will still be perhaps the most human business of all.

Al Davidson
Al Davidson is the founder of Strategic Sales & Marketing, a "leading light" among lead generation companies, delivering B2B lead generation and b2b appointment setting services for clients ranging from local small businesses to the Fortune 100. Since 1989, the company's sales agents have generated over 7 million sales leads, and created millions of dollars for clients.


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