SALES 2.0 AND SOCIAL MEDIA
As the information revolution sweeps through sales, it is changing just about everything, including the traditional sales call. On average, customers are simply a lot smarter than they used to be. That means reps can start the conversation further along in the sales cycle, dropping the basics and moving toward the close faster.
But while some customers are almost ready to buy, others still need to be brought along the full distance. So salespeople must be flexible and nimble, adjusting quickly to each situation.
“Customers can search for you, so you should get more inbound calls,” notes Martin Wales, principal at Customer Catcher. “Whether regular reps or inbound centers handle these, you must have good inbound-call techniques.” These inbound calls are gold, since they cut one time-absorbing misery: calls to leads who do not need or want your product.
Ask and Receive
Reps must always ask inbound callers how they found out about the company. “If the call is the result of a referral, that is better than a Google search,” Wales says, “but prospects are not qualified if they also found out about ten other companies. So ask why they called you rather than the ten others.” In that case, reps should move quickly to emphasize their firm’s competitive advantages.
Above all, recognize that customers have many more tools and much more knowledge with the Internet. “They are educated, but don’t be afraid of the Internet,” Wales says. “The best sales are always made face-to-face or voice-to-voice.”
If customers do not know much about your company, invite them to your Website. But that implies another lesson. Wales explains, “Reps need to know their Website inside and out so they can tell customers the exact page to click on.”
A well-maintained Website can also control quality and cut the cost of presentations. “You can have a video of a demonstration on the site. Show it to prospects there, rather than invite them to come to you for a demo,” says Wales.
The Smarter Client
Above all, be ready for smarter customers. Wales shares an effective analogy: “The Internet speeds things up from 50 to 180 miles per hour, and that is good. But driving mistakes are costlier at 180 miles per hour. So you need to be sharper. With the Internet, bad salespeople are found out faster, but good reps shine.”
Always be aware of how your company looks on the Web and how your competitors look, too, advises Bill Truax, president of Truefield Enterprises. “Some firms have a wonderful Website but insane ideas. The Internet is the first impression your company makes, like the company car or suit.”
But if you advise prospects to go to your Website, do not assume they have studied it in detail. “It is like a brochure. Many prospects will look at only pictures and captions, so make sure you have plenty of pictures on it,” says Truax. If prospects have looked closely at your Website, ask if it provoked any questions.
Use your Website to support the sales call, and realize that it enables you to prospect internationally. Some customers will conduct thorough research and even make buying decisions based simply on Web comparisons of firms. Google your firm to find out if it shows up in the first two to three pages of the search results, and under which search terms. Reps can also Google themselves to see if and how well they appear on the Web. Remember, the prospect may have done this already.
“Nowadays, you never know what they know,” jokes Pam Lontos, president of Lontos Sales & Motivation. “You may assume older prospects have not used the Web, but many have. And not all younger prospects do. So some reps skip steps, but sales is repetition.”
When prospects have done their homework, reps do not need to dwell on facts and can move quickly to questions that define needs, emphasize features and benefits, or simply build rapport with prospects. “But always give them something afterward – a brochure in the hand or an email with a link to your Website,” suggests Lontos.
The biggest benefit of the Internet is in marketing and preparation for sales calls and first customer visits, according to John Franklin, a sales manager with Hexion Specialty Chemicals: “The Internet saves time on preparation because you can become familiar with the prospect’s market and company and what they are doing. After that, for us it is a technology and relationship fit, which must be done during face time.”
In addition, customers also know a lot more about Hexion. For new product launches, Hexion sends to an industry group emails that link to Hexion’s Website and offer specific information on the new product. “Customers are definitely a lot smarter these days,” says Franklin. “They can be as smart as they want to be with all the information available. It is pretty much linear. The more time they spend, the more they can learn and the smarter they are.”
That means much less sales time spent merely getting to know each other’s companies. Says Franklin, “We can spend more time on the business.”
Franklin has no doubt that his customers are smarter now: “The first thing they do is pull up Google. They are better informed, and it makes for a warmer sales call.” He also regularly checks his competitors’ Websites.
“Our Website is driving traffic to us. We are definitely getting more inbound calls, and we address those very quickly,” says Dan Roe, a sales manager with GEEP Global, which recycles and trades in electronics.
Show and Sell
GEEP has already installed a video on its Website that demonstrates its services: “We can show prospects what we do, rather than bring them all the way here to tour our facility.” In fact, for all but the largest deals, closes can now be made without any face-to face meetings at all. Roe explains, “For many of these, we never have a face-to-face meeting after the initial audit.”
Sales manager James Grigsby certainly knows something about how the Internet has affected sales calls. He sells Yellow Pages advertising for Double D Direc-tories and must compete with Internet advertising, including Yellow Pages’s own Internet product. Grigsby’s team must persuade prospects that print advertisements are still more effective than the Internet in some markets.
“The Internet is important in major metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles,” Grigsby says. “But print is still much more effective for small and midsize businesses trying to reach local customers in small and midsize towns.”
Being in sales, Grigsby not only has to make this argument, but demonstrate it. “The Internet can measure clicks and clicks-through, so we have numbers printed on ads, and our customers can track names, addresses, phone numbers, dates, times, duration of calls, and we can even record the calls,” Grigsby explains. “Everything is about ROI now, so we must have metrics.”
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