Imagine Willy Loman in the real-life world of sales today. It's hard for folks who've been in the sales game for a while. Customer behavior has changed and is changing even faster as new technology is integrated into all facets of life. Most consumers do not include salespeople in their decision-making process and reach out to them only to complete transactions. If a buyer doesn't find you when doing information searches on the Web, isn't referred to you by colleagues/family/friends, or doesn't find reviews of your service on a recommendation/review site, you run the risk of being completely cut out of the buying process.
Not Your Father's Sales Automation
Customer activities and expectations are constantly evolving. And the amount of social signals customers send out during buying process activities is way too much for one or two people to efficiently address. In 2012, Domo.com looked at the activity on social networks in the span of 60 seconds and found people did 2 million searches on Google, shared 685,000 items on Facebook, and created 100,000 tweets on Twitter. Just two years later, Google searches had jumped to 4 million each minute, shares on Facebook more than tripled to 2,460,000, and tweets nearly tripled to 277,000 a minute. But even more telling is Instagram. In 2012, when most people hadn't become aware of it, 2,360 images were being shared on Instagram per minute. In 2014, that number was 216,000.
We can only assume such growth rates will continue, if not accelerate, as wearable computing and device-to-device communication reach early adopters in big numbers. Which is why Jon Ferrara, CEO and founder of Nimble, told me recently that he felt a major aspect of modern selling is having systems in place that not only aggregate these social signals but recommend how, when, and to whom to respond to optimize the chance to build customers from clicks.
It's easy to see how these systems will become necessary to salespeople and organizations. Marketing teams and applications will play an even more important role in helping sales focus on the right opportunities, at the right time, and in the right manner to engage buyers. And yet, according to a June study from SiriusDecisions, only 16 percent of B2B companies use marketing automation. But Atri Chatterjee, CMO of marketing automation platform provider Act-On, says marketing automation is growing at a 50 percent clip. And even though companies typically focus on functions such as email marketing campaigns and landing pages, he says his small and midsize customers are accelerating their move to more advanced functional areas.
It's Still About People
While buyers today expect different things from vendors than they did previously, they are still people. But so are the salespeople they will engage with. And businesses have to give both sides of the equation what they need for all to succeed.
Nikolaus Kimla, founder of sales force automation service PipelinerSales, says companies have to have a process, and salespeople have to know what it is. And if you are not tweaking the process constantly, changing it to the needs of the buyer and constantly working with your sales team, you're lost.
If you give the sales team the right process and the tools to help them implement it, they can focus on how to best interact with customers during their decision-making process. But they have to be open to the new realities of selling/building relationships in an environment where customers dictate more of the terms of engagement every day.
And if they can see that, maybe, like Willy, they could also realize "that selling was the greatest career a man could want. 'Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four (or twenty-four), into twenty or thirty different cities (or social networks), and pick up a phone (smartphone), and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?"
Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm focused on small and midsized businesses. He is also the author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses.