Pete Caputa is the VP of Sales at HubSpot, an inbound marketing software company that just announced a sales tool called Signals.
The sales world has changed dramatically over the last thirty years.
In the 80s and 90s, sales reps had a huge advantage: they held the vast majority of the cards, information, and power. If a prospect wanted to talk to a senior exec? Go through the sales rep. Speak to an existing customer? The sales rep got to qualify them first before offering it. Large accounts asking for volume discounts? Reps could share comps that worked best for them.
The advent of social media and technology has fundamentally transformed how the modern buying process works, and it’s time that sales people adapt accordingly. 21st Century selling replaces short-term gain with long-term perspective, secrecy with transparency, and “always be closing” with “always be guiding,” creating a more relevant sales experience for the buyer and a long-term partnership between the prospect and the rep.
ITSMA estimates that 70% of the buying experience consists of attending industry events, staying informed on current trends, and reading relevant information on available products versus a hard sell. At HubSpot, we’ve leveraged that statistic and the changing dynamic of the buying process to make a strong case that marketers should adopt inbound marketing, but I believe that’s just the first step.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re an entrepreneur and you craft the seminar blog entry for your industry. It goes viral: people read it, share it, and promote it on social media. Your marketing team maximizes the reach of your piece by adding effective calls to action throughout the piece, delivering prospects and leads who are not only energized by your company’s vision, but ready to take a next step by learning more, trying out your product first-hand, or actually making a purchase.
This is a sales person’s dream right? High quality leads delivered right to your desk–no cold calling required, and a great starting point for a conversation. Unlike an old-school rep, who would have to rely upon the weather, world news, or what he could find out from the newspaper, your sales rep has access to current, relevant information about the prospect and a natural inflection point to reach out to that individual. What’s not to love?
The problem is that the exceptional content and context that brought this prospect in to your organization disappear as soon as your rep gets on the phone. If your sales and marketing technologies are not linked, the rep likely begins by asking some of the very same questions that the individual answered on a landing page form. Pressed for time, the rep also likely doesn’t have time to track down the prospect’s Twitter handle or LinkedIn profile, so instead of arriving at the call armed with every bit of publicly available information on the prospect’s career and company, he or she starts at the very beginning, asking introductory questions that don’t actually help inform the buying process.
As sales people, we can and should do better, but who has the time? Below are my recommendations for sales managers and reps to become more inbound, significantly improving the first impressions your prospects have of your sales team and ultimately augmenting your connect and conversion rates by providing a more optimal experience for everyone who interacts with your brand on a regular basis.
Master social media in your sales process
Social media has long been billed as a marketing tool, but in reality, Twitter and LinkedIn specifically can be incredibly powerful tools for your sales team. While most reps already use LinkedIn to do quick research before connect calls, very few use it proactively and well to generate additional referrals, leads, and traction. All the while, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blogs are jam-packed with people having relevant conversations to your business. Being active should be a job requirement for sales reps.
Social media isn’t the place for a hard sell or to constantly be promoting your offering or product. Your sales team should spend as much time listening on social media as they do talking, and your company should provide them with a simple, easy to use vehicle to monitor the most important people to reps: their prospects, leads, and customers.
Involve your sales team in crafting your content
Chances are, on any given day, your sales reps can rattle off the top five to ten objections they hear on the other end of the phone when connecting with prospects. And yet, when it comes to crafting blog entries, op-eds, and offers, far too many companies leave the ideation and creation to marketers.
Some of your most prolific ideas can come from sales managers and reps who live and breathe the challenges of their prospects on a daily basis. They work collaboratively with our marketing team to highlight prolific customer success stories, position products in a manner that resonates with our target audience, evolve messaging so that it fits the language of our existing customers, and sometimes even handle objectives proactively at the top of the funnel, removing friction from the sales process before it starts.
Arm your sales team with customer-facing technology
There are countless projections for the growth of cloud technology spends for marketers, human resources professionals, and finance folks alike. And yet outside of CRM tools, there is very little discussion of additional technology that sales reps need to more effectively engage with prospects.
Most sales tools ensure that your prospects aren’t getting called multiple times by the same people in your organization, manage quotas, and help reps organize their day from one portal. All of that information is incredibly valuable, but it doesn’t reflect the daily interactions of your prospect and highlight high opportunity inflection points your sales team can use to be more timely and contextual with their outreach.
Regardless of the tool you choose, arming your sales team with proactive technology to improve their connections with leads provides measurable impact on your organization and a highly lovable experience for your customers.
Make your sales reps solvers, not sellers
Not everyone is looking to buy your product today, but everyone has a problem they need solved more efficiently. The best sales people in the world proactively eliminate challenges for their customers in the pursuit of achieving their important goals. Approaching it this way generates not just high-yield connection and close rates, but also long-term referrals and reference accounts for repeat business.
Just as inbound marketing has replaced loud, interruptive advertising with content and context that people can actually use in their daily lives; inbound sales is fundamentally about understanding the challenges your prospects are solving on a daily basis and giving them the tools to solve them.
As Daniel Pink correctly points out in “To Sell Is Human,” the knowledge economy has essentially made the bait and switch sale extinct: the proliferation of information has made a complete set of information available to the buyer. Inbound marketers establish their companies as trusted and credible experts by creating and sharing educational content.
Therefore, your sales team must be transparent and consistent with your marketing, by guiding your prospects through the final stages of their buying process as a helpful and trustworthy expert too. Otherwise, all of the trust your marketing content creates is quickly destroyed. This fundamental change in the buying process should transform how we sell, and modern sales reps need to be social, solutions-oriented, and armed with the context buyers need and expect at every stage of their interaction with your company.
The marketing world has already shifted to inbound; now it’s time for those of us in sales to disrupt our routine as well.
Image credit: Thinkstock
Read next: What if Apple's iWatch is... a TV?