There's nothing quite like a room full of Web 2.0 entrepreneurs to age me a bit. Scanning the crowd at a recent tradeshow, I observed that: 1) my jeans are not cool; 2) the herd mentality is alive and well; and 3) every business needs to rethink how it interacts with its customers.
Sales and marketing have traditionally led the way with these evolutionary leaps. We're the ones who find a way in the door, form relationships, and eventually close deals. Through the years, we've had a great set of tools to help us with this process—and now we're facing another shift.
The doorways we need to open are now on the Web, where customers access almost everything they need: business applications, news, research, products and services, and, increasingly, social communities that form and alter purchase decisions. Relationships now begin by engaging customers through content—and the more persuasive and authentic that content is, the better. Closing deals no longer means making a one-time sale and anticipating repeat business. The products we're selling today are more likely to reside in the "as-a-service" mode, and instead of long-term licenses we're asking customers for subscriptions they can cancel at any time.
Embracing these changes got me thinking about what brought us here, and what will change the game next.
In the 1980s, personal computers helped us shift from Rolodexes into software that could more easily store and access information. In 1987, I was part of the team that introduced the Act! contact management software. Soon, the floodgates for innovation and productivity were flung wide open: It was contact management that led us to sales force automation and then to what we now know as CRM. In turn, CRM expanded contact management, sales force automation, customer service, lead management, and forecast tracking. The line between sales, service, and marketing is now blurred, and it was CRM that paved the way for today's mass influx of software-as-a-service.
Visual presentations also became ubiquitous. After Microsoft released the first version of PowerPoint, suddenly we could all give tech-savvy presentations, and life was never the same. (How many of us have lived, or still do, in an endless cycle of creating and presenting slide decks?)
The Internet came next, radically changing communications and commerce, in both our professional and personal lives. The Internet—and all of the social tools that have evolved from it—truly allowed us to market to many instead of selling to one. The Internet has also enabled the introduction of Web conferencing (Cisco Systems’ WebEx) and advanced visual animation tools (Adobe's Flash).
Many of us began our sales careers with a focus on traditional one-to-one selling. The Web 1.0 era and e-commerce enabled us to progress to a one-to-many model, expanding our sales potential in a format accepted by customers. Today, Web 2.0 and its social media tools—blogs, online communities, applications such as Twitter—allow us to do both. We're still marketing to many, but these innovations have allowed us to refocus back on individuals—just in a different, albeit less personal, way. Make no mistake: These tools are essential to any sales and marketing strategy you may be developing. Any company, in any industry, not using them is missing an enormous opportunity.
Visual presentation is also advancing, bridging the gap between PowerPoint and custom Flash programming by bringing the power of Flash to everyone with rich media presentation tools. The game is no longer about delivering your story in a series of slides, but about engaging your audience with powerful and persuasive stories using rich media and interactivity.
Web-based innovations are disrupting traditional methods for a very good reason: They're more efficient and they help sales and marketing to sell more. We now have a critical need to know where and how conversations are occurring. Customers are using a growing list of social tools to become publishers, critics, and evangelists. We need to participate in those conversations, maximizing the impact of every bit of content we deliver, by making it more social.
The past, as always, is prologue—and the future of sales and marketing actually resides back in one-to-one selling. We just won't be doing as much of it in person. The new way of selling is to make every person you're reaching feel as if you're talking just to them. The Web has finally made that level of communication and conversation possible.
About the author
Pat Sullivan, chief executive officer of Flypaper Studio, has been honored by Sales & Marketing Management as one of the 80 Most Influential People in Sales and Marketing History, and has twice been honored with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. In 2003, he was one of the inaugural inductees into CRM magazine's Hall of Fame.
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