Sales 2.0: Growing up and finally ready to engage with Customer 2.0

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One word to sum up my experience at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco: Fabulous. This coming from someone who uses “pretty good” as a superlative. Just ask my wife.

Gerhard Gschwandtner (founder of Selling Power) and team created a stimulating program with insightful presentations by thought leaders, sales executives and technologists. But it was more than that. As the master chef, Gerhard kept stirring the pot to engage the audience and help everyone wrestle with the big issues facing B2B sales leaders today.

I’ve been following the Sales 2.0 movement for some time. Frankly, I’ve been underwhelmed. Despite the pioneering work of people like Anneke Seley (Phone Works), Barry Trailer and Jim Dickie (CSO Insights) and many other sales thought leaders I respect, the initial thrust of Sales 2.0 seemed to be mainly a reaction to empowered customers (aka Customer 2.0), without a real sales transformation.

In my 2009 post (Is Sales 2.0 New? Improved? Social?), I said that Sales 2.0 thinking wasn’t all that new and that the improvements were mainly about using the latest SaaS tools. Truly engaging with customers via social media was not part of the discussion.

What a difference 3 years makes! At this recent Sales 2.0 event, “social selling” was a key theme, and not just in a superficial way. Here are 5 insights from the conference that I think are important.

1. Sales 2.0 should be about better selling: Art and Science

Thus far, Sales 2.0 has been mainly about sales becoming more “scientific,” which means improving processes, using analytics, etc. Great for those selling technology or process improvement. But as a B2B buyer, I still want to interact with humans who care about my problems and will help solve them.

Judy Buchholz, IBM’s VP of Inside Sales, said that “selling is an art — it’s the human factor that makes the difference in sales.” You need people to listen, understand pain points, and apply tools at the right time.

Yet it’s also critical, as Judy and many other speakers pointed out, to have scalable and repeatable processes. Sales 2.0 queen Anneke Seley, when I pressed her about the “art vs. science” question, agreed that both are important. In my opinion, as Sales 2.0 evolves it should about combining science and art to improve sales performance.

2. The Sales Experience matters more than you think

Several speakers referenced a Corporate Executive Board study that found that, on average, 57% of purchasing steps were completed before sales person was contacted. This is Customer 2.0 in action, my friends, and it has dire implications for sales organizations that want to avoid competing solely on price.

Yet the “sales experience” is still important. Jon Vander Ark, Principal of McKinsey’s Sales & Channel Practice, spoke about the firm’s recent study of sales excellence. Granted, it focused mainly on very large enterprises, and the sample is small – 110 large “blue chip” companies. One very interesting and somewhat surprising finding was that the sales experience was ranked number 2 in importance (25%) in customer decision-making. The number one driver, no surprise, was the product/service (34%). Yup, you still have to have something to sell.

3. “Social Selling” is an opportunity for innovation, inside and outside of the enterprise

Social was a big theme at the conference, although many commented that it was frustrating to try to figure out exactly which social activities made sense. Should sales reps blog? Tweet? Use LinkedIn? Every situation is different, but the time is ripe for innovation, which implies some experimentation and risk-taking.

In some cases it could make sense for experienced reps to blog and become thought leaders showcasing their business/industry acumen. Or reps could add value to their social networks by sharing pre-packaged content (tweets, posts, papers) from marketing, as some speakers suggested.

On the technology front, there are a growing list of options. To help reps be better prepared for calls, InsideView and LinkedIn Sales Navigator can help. But there are also new solutions like Nearstream to help find leads in social media. And Oracle has some surprisingly good options to engage via social channels directly from its CRM solution, while also supporting internal collaboration with an enterprise social network.

4. Big Data can help you find Big Opportunities

“Intelligence” is one of 6 factors transforming B2B sales, according to Donal Daly of The TAS Group. For example, predictive analytics could help figure out how to improve sales performance by focusing on increasing deal volume, win rate, etc. Or used to make more accurate forecasts, using historical data. This is one area where the right technology is essential.

One vendor doing some interesting work is Zilliant, a cross over from the price optimization space. With its SalesMax solution, companies can identify low-hanging sales opportunities, helping the rep prioritize activities. Or Birst can be used for pipeline analysis and many other sales-related applications.

5. Inside Sales is the nexus of Marketing / Sales alignment and teamwork

I like the concept of Revenue Performance Management (RPM) to optimize the end-to-end revenue cycle, from demand generation to closing deals. But it’s in a similar stage as Sales 2.0 three years ago. Sales organizations are slowly evolving to respond to Customer 2.0 by investing more in marketing and inside sales, improving information sharing, collaboration and teamwork.

Moving forward, I see Inside Sales having an instrumental role at the intersection of marketing and field sales. Inside Sales will need to master multi-channel communications, and in many cases will take the lead using social media to engage and nurture relationships. Over the next few years, the CMO and Inside Sales executives will become more influential as a team-based approach takes hold. And who knows, maybe we’ll see Chief Revenue Officers emerge as new corporate leaders adopt RPM thinking.

Further reading:
* Is Sales 2.0 New? Improved? Social?
* B2B Marketing 2.0: How to Engage Social Buyers and Break Marketing/Sales Gridlock

1 COMMENT

  1. Your comments are right on! CSO Insights has attended all but one of the
    S2.0 conferences and this one was by far and away the best. For the reasons you’ve noted above.

    For those that couldn’t make it, and even those that did, your summary is excellent.

    And as you and I discussed while there, be careful whenever you’re presented a duality: nature or nurture, black or white, science or art. This tends to limit thinking rather than expand it; and in each case, the answer is often “both” and then some.

    Sales 2.0 seems to be maturing into a recognition of this and Gerhard and his team did an awesome job of lining up good speakers, topics and exhibitors.

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