Occasionally at a networking event you’ll hear a bunch of old sales hands (myself included) reminiscing about the days when we simply drove around the country with the precision of a co-ordinated army, visiting our customers and drumming up new business. Our Fords and B’mers stuffed full of samples and order forms (in triplicate of course) and it was a sin to come into the office, before 3pm on Friday afternoon.
Then the internet came along and completely disrupted the way our customers (B2C AND B2B) want to deal with us.
Psychologically people hate the feeling of being ‘Sold to’, yet we all have a necessity to buy, so the advancement of both technology and free available content at the end of our thumbs, has allowed our prospects to delay entering the sales process until they are much further into their own buy cycle.
Great news for the buyer, but a potential disaster for businesses grappling with creating a sales funnel that allows the buyer to ‘self-educate’ through the now extended Research Phase.
This technological disruption and ability to now reach our markets digitally, although driving traffic is a different challenge, it has now created a much wider top-heavy pipeline funnel, often with thousands more ‘leads’ at the top end. Leads and prospects that are completely unqualified. So, deciding where to invest your valuable people resources to guide and qualify these leads is a challenge for any small or growing business.
Another challenge is to consider where the functionality between Marketing and Sales now crosses over? Before it was a much clearer line that was crossed and much much earlier in the sales process. Previously as soon as someone ‘raised their hand’ by contacting you for a brochure, meeting you on your stand at an exhibition, calling into your call centre, or if in retail – simply walking into your store, the lead was easily handed over to your sales team to nurture and close.
Now though, as prospects prefer to stay in the Research Phase much longer, delaying contact with a real human for as long as possible (remember: people hate to be sold to), the challenge now is to build a ‘Sales Engine’ that delivers a personalised, tailored and bespoke sales journey for the customer. One that pre-empts their next move, whilst also allowing your teams to prioritise profitable prospects, whilst also help them understand where your customer is in their own self-educated buying journey, giving your team the opportunity to ensure they continue to add value.
Your process should lift out from those sniffing about your website, downloading your blogs, watching your videos and following you on social media, to highlighting those worthy (and ready for) an engagement from your sales team, which these days by-the-way, are not zooming about the country burning a hole in the o-zone, they should be structured into the differing functions of your Sales Engine;
One answer to this conundrum is to embrace S’Marketing. My own word that I’ve coined to describe this blurring of this process in the Customer Buying Journey.
It’s likely you’re familiar with three out of four of these sales functions, but the newbie in the team is ‘S’Marketing’ – my own word that I’ve coined to describe this blurring of the process in the Customer Buying Journey. So, who are they, and what do they do?
The last thing you want is your very expensive and highly skilled sales team generating and nurturing their own leads. That’s a guaranteed way to burn cash and waste productivity, yet the traditional forms of marketing are not enough to take a potential Lead from the ‘unknown’ into becoming a ‘qualified prospect’, there’s a gap in the middle.
Most businesses leave this to chance. Hoping that potential customers will self-navigate their way through the digital minefield and find and answer their own questions, will be able to equate the true value that you offer based on the content they’ve been able to unearth, then be able to relate that value to something that solves their problem.
Good businesses, with solid Sales Engines, don’t leave anything to chance, and neither should you. Therefore, your S’Marketing function is a combination of content, automated process and intelligent nurturing. The people in this team will deal with the output of your marketing team and any customer activity that generates interest. At this stage any new prospects will be unqualified, so the job of your S’Marketing team is to qualify these leads against all of the following and help move them forward to the right next step in the sales process. They should;
This means your sales team are not getting bogged down with a lot of the pre-sales activities that could lead to nothing and stop them focusing on working the pipeline of true sales opportunities, especially when Leads can stay in the S’marketing stage for months. Let your S’Marketing team take care of this.
Involve your team. Find a large white wall and grab a tonne of post-its. As complicated as it may seem, map out of the flow of potential touchpoints and information your prospects consume. Be clear about the ‘stepping stones’ you wish to create and where you can pre-empt and add value to your customer’s journey.
Too often people invest in a CRM or front-end marketing system such as Hubspot, Infusionsoft or Dynamics, and bend their process to fit the technology. Absolutely not! Make the technology fit around your process.
There are so many good APPS these days that can improve micro-parts of your process, removing barriers and easing blockages. Sit with your team and ask them to write down every APP they currently use – you’ll be amazed. Then decide collectively any that could be integrated ‘officially’ into your workflow.
Aside from the widely used applications of Microsoft Office and G-Suite, here’s my take on a few APPs that we use that have had a positive impact on our own sales process and customer journey.
iZettle, Xero, GoCardless, Infusionsoft, Tealeaves, Adobe Echosign, AcuityScheduling, SmarterQueue, ClickUp, Reclaro, ResponseSuite
The biggest mistake I see in my clients (usually after they’ve engaged me) when they’re expanding their sales team, is they recruit for the Sales Role first – wrong. Build your marketing engine first, including a fully functioning S’Marketing team, before investing in more Sales Closing resource. Only when your S’Marketing team are maxed out, will you need more Negotiators/Closers to see your deals across the finish line.
Originally published in the Northern Insights Magazine January 2020
Nicola Cook is an award winning entrepreneur and twice published international best-selling author on professional selling and personal & business growth. She is CEO of Company Shortcuts, a business devoted to improving business results by injecting skill, passion and strategy to help those entrepreneurs and sales enthusiasts achieve the sales results they desire.