At Forrester's Sales Enablement Forum, It's All About Getting the Story Right

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As the Internet makes more information available to the masses, people are becoming selective about how and when they interact with other people, let alone salespeople. Even the act of calling someone on the phone instead of texting can strike many as audacious, and research suggests that a lot of people prefer to interact with machines when they're in a store rather than with human representatives.

With that in mind, logic suggests that if salespeople want to contact customers, they'd better have a pretty good plan of action. Speakers at Forrester Research's 2015 Forum for Sales Enablement Professionals in Scottsdale, Ariz., in early March highlighted the ways in which salespeople can be smarter with how they take on such new roles and work more closely with marketing to overcome these barriers and create stronger bonds with customers.

Andy Hoar, principal analyst at Forrester Research, said the role of the salesperson is changing, and the number of salespeople is waning as a result. In 2002, salespeople across all industries in the United States numbered 15.3 million; that number shrunk to 15.1 million by 2012, and it is expected to continue to decline.

Meanwhile, Hoar's research suggests that the duties expected of salespeople—especially in business-to-business settings—are shifting closer to those of consultants. Increasingly, customers only turn to reps when they have complex questions regarding the products and services they are looking to buy.

Considering that more customers are developing a self-serve mentality, salespeople should rethink their approach and embrace new business models that incorporate technology, the research suggests.

Hoar's claims that salespeople should develop additional skills were supported throughout the conference by speakers who urged reps to make stronger efforts to create value and memorable experiences for customers.

One way to stand out is by presenting stellar content, according to Laura Ramos, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. Ramos said it is essential for reps to become well-versed in the stories being produced by their marketing teams and the particular messages they're supposed to be getting across. If they know how to tell a story that is memorable to audiences, they can get them to value the brand in a more meaningful way, she argued. "If you want to create lifetime engagement with your customers, the answer is quite simple," she said. "[Tell] a story."

Rowena Track, vice president of digital strategy and solutions at TE Connectivity, a provider of sensors and semiconductors to engineers, outlined the importance of such engagement strategies to her company. "Content is key to findability and engagement," she said. "[It] doesn't seem [very] sexy, but it's important."

Track also emphasized the importance of putting the brand in the mind of young customers to create positive associations with that company once those customers are old enough to influence the decisions of others. This can be done by making the company Web site a destination that people want to visit independently of the services being offered. If the content is compelling enough, companies can target customers well before they even know that they are going to become customers, she said.

Brian Goonan, a principal at Ernst & Young, said trust can be a distinguishing factor that gives companies an edge over their competitors. "Trusted relationships lead to customer intimacy that establishes a foundation for sustained competitive advantage," Goonan noted. If one company offers a service that is comparable to another, what really will set them apart is their ability to gain the trust of the customer over time, by offering a set of positive experiences.

With sales expected to carry out the legwork in communicating the company story to buyers—whether through social media, telephone, or in person—aligning sales and marketing goals is now as important as ever, speakers maintained. If customers receive conflicting messages from representatives of the same brand, they are bound to lose trust in the brand. This becomes more important as the idea of the social salesperson continues to evolve.

The original version of this article is available at http://bit.ly/19Kbn7X.

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