Just about every organization in the world is involved in some type “selling.” The product could be a widget, a service, donations, or content, and in every case, it has to be “sold” to someone. I happened to start my career in 1980 and in the first few years I was lucky enough to work for a company that sent me to some of the top sales schools of the day, including IBM, Xerox PSS, and 3M sales programs. This was a blessing because I was classically trained in the basics of prospecting, identifying needs, closing and generally learning the psychology of understanding a buyer and how I could extract money from them. Don’t look now – the sales process is being shattered…
I have a great friend whose name is Vaughn Rachal, and I bring him up because he is a sales guru, and has worked for a number of tech companies in his career. This has given him the ability to merge his deep sales philosophies with the modern influences of areas like websites, social media, CRM systems, etc. We have been putting together a presentation that describes how the traditional sales process is now being changed by tech influences, so I thought I would share a few of the main bullet points. The first is that the word “sales” probably needs to be replaced with the concept of facilitated buying. Meaning that instead of our trying to concisely guide a prospect through a process we have built in advance that is a rigid step by step, we must now be able to facilitate the prospect getting to a buying decision without being able dictate the steps.
Which brings me to the second concept that needs to be understood, and that is that there is not a set process that a buyer goes through at this point, and we cannot control the flow of information to them. In the past, if a buyer wanted to know information about our products or what customers think of us, they had to get that data from the seller. In fact, they had to contact us and then we knew they were a prospect and we could force them into a sales process that could be rigidly guided. Today, a prospect uses the Web to start their buying process and they will find a list of possible vendors, review their Websites, and study what other people have said about the vendor before even making the first contact. This fact alone changes the sales process tremendously. Now add to this that the prospect might choose to do most of their communication through email and text messaging so that the sales person has little chance to use all the selling psychology tools we were once taught.
The third concept to consider is that buyers are not going through a traditional process of identifying needs, looking for vendors, creating an RFP, evaluating responses, etc. They are using a more socially directed buying approach. While even beginning the process of identifying needs, they are already using social networking tools to get help and advice from constituents and contacts. Then they will move on to using social networking to help identify possible vendors. Before the sale is completed, they will have used social tools to do deep research on not only the possible vendor, but also the employees they are working with. Vendors are starting to wake up to this reality as they are finding that where they could once control the delivery of information and timing, they now have no control. This brings up the crux of the issue, and that is that sellers no longer have the control they once enjoyed when they had a controllable sales process. Those days are just gone, and will not be coming back. So what should an organization do that would really like to be able influence the success of their “selling?”
The first thing is to really get the concept of facilitating buying and what your role can be. Start paying attention to your online reputation and actually invest energy into having the best online reputation possible. Make sure people are talking about you online and that what they say is positive. Work with your sales people to turn them into social networking professionals that clearly understand how to use the social tools to communicate, inform, and build relationships. Use social media tools to communicate to the Web that you are industry experts. Learn to use technology to facilitate your ability to be more human. What I mean is use the tech to better facilitate video, audio and text conversations with potential buyers on a regular basis. One last thing… We are in the middle of a model change so there are buyers that do not like tech, or use it in the course of their day, and those buyers will still be influenced by the traditional methods. I know you don’t want to hear that because it means that sales people have to have skills in both the traditional and the future sales methods. I wish I could tell you there is a one-size fits all answer, but alas, there is not. For the next ten years, we will slowly change over from the classic sales models to the new, facilitated buying model.