For many B2B businesses, the pandemic has condensed two years of digitalisation into a couple of months. We’re observing that those companies and their salespeople who are able to complete the shift quickly and adapt their working methods are the ones who are seeing the most success. But this is not something that sales can do alone. It requires support from top management, IT and Marketing.
As the past 12 months have proven, pretty much any part of our business can be conducted online. As a result, it’s forced people to understand that you don’t always need a physical meeting. And this has had an enormous impact on the sales process, changing it forever!
Before we continue, let’s talk a little about content. Whether it’s inbound or outbound, marketers know they need it. No change there then. What we do see different now is how salespeople perceive content. The lack of face-to-face interaction has made sales look at content (and marketing) in a whole new way and made them realise that the marketing guys are there to help them. Salespeople who have quickly learned from marketing, now have many other channels, platforms, and technology to find new ways to connect with customers.
Digitalisation has changed behaviour and made us more self-aware.
Forced to work from home, not only have meetings been replaced with video conferencing, but phone calls have been replaced with video chat. This increased visibility has resulted in more personal interactions, as we’re now seeing people’s faces during every dialogue we have.
How often have you sat on a Zoom call, staring at yourself on video, and thought “Oh crikey, my hair looks a bit of a mess” or “Wow, I look miserable, maybe I should smile more”. Zoom, or whatever platform you use for meetings, has made people more self-conscious about themselves. It’s like conducting your meeting in a ballet room surrounded by mirrors! So, we find ourselves smiling more, making a bit more effort in our physical appearance, sitting up straight and continually wondering “what’s my body language saying now”? Arguably these are all excellent behaviour changes and ones we’re likely to transfer to our non-digital meetings in the future.
Our interactions have suddenly turned more personal because we’re looking in each other’s eyes all the time now. So, setup is suddenly much more important. Yes, four months ago everybody was sitting with a beach in the background. Now it’s like, “Okay, this is permanent. I need a good camera. I need a good microphone. I need an impressive office backdrop.”
The digital meeting room also offers the savvy salesperson an opportunity to get ‘in front’ of the customer earlier in the buying cycle. While they all yearn physical face-to-face contact and look forward to meeting their customers at trade shows and conventions again, what will change is what they do between those events. Salespeople not only realise that they don’t have to wait for the next in-person sales conference, but there’s so much they can do in-between.
Understanding a decision-makers’ web of influence
With so many sales calls and meetings online, salespeople are getting a better understanding of how many people are involved in the B2B buying process. Earlier, the salesperson would meet one person at a trade show, take one or two people out for dinner and attend small meetings with one or two people from the purchasing department. Suddenly, they are now in a video meeting with six people who want to hear what they have to say. Now they have to convince six people rather than two and need to be far more well prepared. We believe the sales-led organisation will be so much more robust going forward as they have learned to combine the best of the physical world with the best of the digital world.
The following is a true story. Salesperson ‘A’ was desperately trying to talk to this one particular purchasing guy. However, he wasn’t the only one. Salesperson ‘B’ initially had the same idea, but then realised that the purchasing guy has to answer to eight different people on any decision he makes. So, salesperson ‘B’ set out to talk to them instead. As this was PC (pre-covid), he had lunch with those eight people, and when he finally spoke to the decision-maker, he said, “I know what those people around you need. I know what they want.” As a result, he won the business because he had taken the time to map out the decision-makers’ web of influence. With Platforms like LinkedIn at our disposal, this exercise becomes even easier to do. Not only can you identify a person’s or company’s web of influence, but you could also perhaps identify people within your organisation that have connections to your decision-makers’ influencers.
Social selling Vs social hunting
We live in an Omni-digital world right now, where LinkedIn has become the cornerstone of social selling. But where do you start? How should you start?
There’s a difference between ‘social selling’ and ‘social hunting’. We love the words ‘social and digital sales enablement‘, because, like many people, we don’t want people selling to us. “Hey, I have something to sell you.” Don’t be that guy! LinkedIn is full of groups and networks with great discussions. If you’re the seller who jumps in, shouting “I sell this”, then people won’t want you there and won’t listen to you. If you’re the covert hunter, meaning that you observe, and watch what people are asking about, then offer help by sharing knowledge and insights, then you’ll be welcomed and listened to. For example, you see a guy looking for a new ERP system because he’s asking if anyone has any experience or recommendations. Rather than jumping in to sell him your latest and greatest ERP system, you offer him your best tips on what you need to think about when choosing a new ERP system. Suddenly, other people see your useful advice, and you become the expert go-to-guy on ERP systems. People then start recommending you as a helpful guy on ERP systems. Then you’re in – that’s social selling or rather hunting!
The ongoing case for content
As we said previously, we’ve witnessed early adopters of these fundamental changes experiencing far greater success. But there will be a percentile of salespeople who can’t; whose basic sales model is to play golf and go out for dinner, they’re the ones facing a tough challenge right now. So how can marketing help sales in this kind of scenario?
Yep, we’re back to talking about content again. One of the marketers’ key objectives is to create the toolbox for the sales organisation. But that toolbox relies on having good content. As a first step, to real sales and marketing alignment, every organisation’s sales and marketing teams should sit down and look at their customer journey. Look into every single touchpoint (mostly online) and consider how they can fill that with content.
Is it a video? Is it an infographic? Whatever it is, it needs to be the right content for the right person at the right time. Now is the time to sit down in a digital meeting, map out the content need and find out to whom we are talking? What are their needs? How can we provide them with relevant content? To align with sales, marketers need to give them the toolbox; it needs to be structured and designed to enable salespeople to find the right content. If there’s no structure to the toolbox, then it just becomes a bucket where the right content is a lot harder to find. Depending on the audience persona, the salesperson is speaking to; they have to adapt and sell in a targeted way. They will require different content when selling to an engineer than selling to a finance guy. The content doesn’t need to be vastly different, but the small hooks to get them interested, to get them to read it, that needs to be different. And it needs to be easy to find.
Branded content Vs curated content
You don’t always want to share branded content from your company, as it can come across as a blatant sale. Unless you are writing about something ground-breaking or thought-leading, then there’s likely to be a dozen or more pieces of content talking about the same thing. If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s more content; instead, we need better content. Don’t write content for content sake.
Try curating great pieces of content that support your beliefs and share your thoughts along with it. For example, why is it worth sharing? Why is it worth reading? What struck you? Even if your competitor has written something useful, then share it, but add your comment, to make it even better! If you’re the guy who can praise your competition, then people will find you trustworthy.
Let’s get personal
When you’re reaching out to someone through email, it has to be personalised. Ten years back, it was not easy to get details on a particular individual; social media profiles have made this a lot easier and quicker. You can quickly build a LinkedIn list and gain insights on everyone; what they are sharing, what content they’re reading, what leaders they’re following, and their educational background. So, there’s no excuse for not personalising your messaging or outreach to them. And you can also personalise the content with specific topics.
In our experience, many salespeople, don’t even have a complete LinkedIn profile, have a very unprofessional picture or no picture at all. And the last time they updated their profile was when they last searched for a job. Your profile is basic social hygiene, a little off-topic, but a serious issue if you are using LinkedIn for social selling or social hunting.
If you want to be out there and be trustworthy when people check your profile, you need to look professional. People will generally use Google or LinkedIn to find out more about you and your company; digitalisation has made this easier. The more business that happens online, the more transparent it becomes, so, it’s even more important to be out there, up-to-date and professional. So, while companies get their key personnel to update their profiles, invest in having good headshots of everyone too.
In a nutshell
Digitalisation has made us far more self-aware and the digital meeting room has seen the biggest changes (and improvements). Salespeople now realise that there’s a lot more opportunity to connect in the digital world that in the future will make their face-to-face interactions even more effective. Marketing’s job is to help sales understand that they, and technology, are there to help; There’s never been a time where marketing is as essential as it is now. While it’s critical to know the buying centre, also understand the crucial players that surround it, get to know all the players, not just the decision-maker. Understand their procurement journey and map content to that, then give sales the tools and support required. As a salesperson, be known as a trusted advisor, rather than sending an automated in-Mail to a 1000 people asking if they want to buy your widget! Be a social hunter! Marketers need to focus on providing their sales team with good, targeted, well-organised content and not just branded content, curated works well too. Everything that marketing and sales sends out needs to be personalised… there’s no good excuse why it shouldn’t. And finally, swap that sunbathing beach profile photo for a professional headshot and get your LinkedIn profile looking awesome!
This article was edited from a transcript of a recent discussion in December 2020: