Today's episode is all about comparing the legacy sales process to the more modern, customer-driven buying cycle.
A lot of the backdrop for planning this episode comes down to understanding just how much the behaviors of modern buyers differ from the behaviors of buyers from as recently as five or ten years ago.
Why has there been such a big change?
Understanding the Digital-First World and the Modern Buyer
There's been mass adoption of new digital buying platforms based on new digital buying preferences.
Think about the impact of Amazon Prime on people's shopping habits. Think about the impact of Uber and Lyft on how people get transportation in and around cities or when going to the airport.
Think about how different it is to make travel reservations today, whether for hotels or airline flights, compared to as recently as 10 years ago.
Think about when you turn on the radio in your car; do you listen to commercials or do you pay for a subscription service like Sirius XM to completely bypass commercials?
When you watch TV, do you watch TV at a scheduled time when a particular TV show is on the air that you want to watch? Or are you watching on Netflix or Hulu, or using a DVR to completely bypass commercial interruptions?
Now your ideal customers -- your core buyer personas -- more than likely are not expecting your company to be quite on its game as companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Uber when it comes to digital transformation.
But when do your buyer persona research, there's a very high chance that the same customers, the same partners, the same people that you're trying to attract are using these services and comparing the user experience that they have with your company against the user experience that they have with these digital blue-chip brands, these digital household brands, that now play in enormous role in all of our lives, on a personal and on a professional level.
The Way Research and Make Purchase Decisions Has Fundamentally Changed
The way people want to interact with a company like yours has fundamentally changed.
People are just doing tons of research online -- on search engines and on social media -- about their problems, struggles, challenges, goals, and plans that they're looking to accomplish.
And because of that, people are looking for very different kinds of information from a company like yours, compared to what they would have looked for as recently as five years ago.
The balance of power has completely changed. The power has shifted away from companies like yours, away from sellers, and into the hands of buyers.
Search engines, social media, and personal assistants -- including for example Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant -- have been complete game-changers for empowering your customers. And because of this, the relationship that your prospects and customers used to have with your sales team just is never going to be the same again.
Five or ten years ago, your prospects and customers were willing to speak with someone from your sales team when they were 10% or 20% of the way through the decision-making process, very early on in their decision-making process.
Now, because people spend so much time researching their challenges, struggles, solutions, and goals on search engines and social media, that figure has completely changed.
In many scenarios and many business models, as much as 70% of their decision making is over before prospects and customers are finally open to having a conversation with somebody from your sales team.
But there’s also certain kind of buyer persona that’s really sales averse: if they could get away with completely bypassing your sales team and get 100% of the way through the decision-making process, that would be their strong preference.
The Future of Sales and Aligning With How Buyers Want to Buy
A lot of sales professionals that are marginal, that are basically just glorified explainers and order takers, are going to have to up their game or find another way to make a living. Why? Technology is making some sales professionals largely obsolete.
They're becoming disrupted fast. When you think about the legacy sales process, the traditional outbound, interruption-focused sales process, it’s very much centered around the way that your salespeople want to sell; how they wanted to operate instead of how your buyers want to buy.
And buyers are ridiculously empowered today. Buyers have search engines, social media, mobile devices, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning -- which are only going to make this shift even more pronounced in the coming months and years.
Why do you think traditional retailers are running scared and desperately trying to up their game in the e-commerce world?
Legacy sales is very much centered around the way that you want to sell, the way your salespeople want to sell, and not necessarily aligned with how your buyers want to buy.
The Legacy Sales Process
So legacy sales processes are very much focused on cold calls, cold emails, and in person door-to-door canvassing.
It's hard to believe that people still sell door to door. But in our office park, it happens at least a few times each month -- where someone goes “knock knock” on the door, despite the “no soliciting” sign. Actually most of the time, there is no “knock knock.” The salesperson just walks in, ignoring the sign. Why? Of course the sign doesn't apply to them!
These same salespeople send cold LinkedIn messages.
So all of these cold calls, cold emails, cold canvassing, and cold LinkedIn messages are not going to get a warm response anymore because that's not how people want to start their buyer’s journey.
Why Static Pitches That Interrupt Prospect Are Still Being Used
All of those sales activities are very much focused on interrupting people.
And the worst part -- when it comes to what people are used to, when they turn on Netflix, visit Amazon, or pull up their Uber app -- modern buyers are used to all of those services learning their preferences, getting smarter about what they want over time, and making all kinds of very insightful suggestions about what they should do next.
Then along comes the legacy, traditional salesperson that’s using the exact same static elevator pitch on everyone.
Or maybe, the traditional salesperson has two different versions of their static elevator pitch -- a CEO version and an influencer or gatekeeper kind of version. The legacy salesperson is pitching their value proposition, begging for meetings and demos, and in some cases they're even resorting to bribing people.
Some legacy sales people actually bribe prospects with gift cards to sit through a demo or webinar. What kind of crap is that?
The legacy sales process or playbook does not reflect how people want to buy in the modern buyer's journey -- how people are researching and making their purchasing decisions.
And a lot of this comes down to a legacy salesperson making some dangerous assumptions, including assuming that a prospect is a fit, as opposed to confirming and asking the questions to figure out whether a prospect is really qualified.
Perhaps on some level, a prospect that a legacy salesperson cold calls or cold emails actually could be a fit. But maybe the timing is really badly off and there just is no interest whatsoever at this point.
And the problem is, many times these sales pitches and the interruptions are so obnoxious that they just really destroy goodwill for being able to have a positive interaction and a positive perception of your company going forward.
So that's the backdrop of what you need to be thinking about, to make sure that your sales team is actually living in the present and not just living in the past with wishful thinking.
Staying Relevant in a Customer-Driven Buying Journey
Now, what should you be thinking about when it comes to more customer-driven buying --- the kind of buying that appeals to the modern buyer in a digital-first world?
These are the kinds of buyers where the first thing they do when they get up in the morning is look at their phones to checking for email, text, and social media messages -- plus at least a few dozen times throughout the course of their day. And this same routine is even the last thing that most do before they go to bed in the evening.
There's a good chance that your modern buyer has a smartwatch and multiple devices that they're using throughout the day.
But rest assured, your prospects and customers are probably not going to the library to look for paper encyclopedias or track down paper-based phone books. They're also not calling directory assistance or going to Blockbuster to rent movies on VHS or DVD format.
Maybe they're renting movies from the Redbox kiosk. But they're probably more digitally-focused.
The world has changed. Has your company kept up? Has it evolved with customer-driven buying? Because the modern buyer is going out of their way to avoid sales conversations. Ten years ago, your sales team would get involved in these conversations 10% or 20% of the way into the buyer's journey.
Today it's not uncommon to find that as much as 70% of that decision making is now happening before your sales team is ever looped into that conversation. So this is a huge problem, but it's also a great opportunity for digitally-savvy companies who know how to get found early on by the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and most of all in the right context.
Buyers Hold Nearly All of the Power. So It’s All About Their Problems, Not Yours.
There has been a huge shift in power from sellers to buyers. Buyers now have the upper hand.
Your customers and prospects are using Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, Netflix, OpenTable, Amazon Prime, Sirius XM, Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, chatbots, and voice searches are all on the front burner.
So the question is: how does your company and your sales team stay relevant?
In many ways, your sales team is going to have to work much harder to prove their relevance and value.
The days of salespeople coasting as glorified order takers and glorified explainers are either gone or on really borrowed time.
The future of sales is really all about positioning your sales team to be seen as subject matter experts, trusted advisers, and true consultants that are solving business problems -- not your problems, not your quota, not your forecast, not your pipeline -- but their problems, your buyer's problems.
The difficulty with addressing this sea change. A lot of company’s websites and digital presence just simply have not kept up and simply don't support modern buyers very well.
Somebody lands on your website, and it's basically a glorified brochure that talks about:
- your products
- your services
- how wonderful your company is
- All of the awards you've won
- all of your company’s certifications
- how smart your team is
But when it comes to the questions that are top of mind for your idea customers, how many of those questions are actually answered on your website?
Would a stranger who's never before heard of your company, or perhaps not even heard of your product category, your segment, or your industry, find value in hanging around your website to get educated? Would that stranger to allow your company to build up trust with him, to get answers to his questions that don't yet have anything to do with your company and your products and services -- but are much much earlier on in their buyer's journey?
The Internally-Driven Sales Cycle is History
A great way to think about this is a quote from Tiffani Bova, who heads up the global customer and innovation evangelism team at Salesforce, the CRM and cloud services provider. Tiffani was also at Gartner for many years in a market research, analyst role.
“Today’s sales organizations must shift from trying to control their internally driven sales cycle and truly embrace the new customer-driven buying cycle - otherwise, prospects will eliminate you from their consideration list and buy from your competition.”
Remember we now operate in a zero-sum game world. When your company edges its way onto page one of Google search results for a topic that’s super-important to your business, by very definition another company is getting booted off of page one and sent to perhaps who-knows-where.
Is Your Company Doing What’s Needed to Compete?
When one of your ideal prospects, that you would love to have on your customer list, goes to Google, Bing, Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant and asks a question about something that's driving them nuts, that person will land on some company’s website.
The goal is for that person to say:
- “Wow! I can't believe I finally found the answer to my question. This is so helpful. I've been looking for something just like this for hours, for days, for weeks. I can't believe I finally found the answer to my question.”
- “Oh cool! There's an eBook that goes into this topic in even more detail. Yes, sure I'll give you my business card for what's on the other side of that landing page.”
This is what that person is after in the Awareness stage of the buyer’s journey -- answers to their questions, solutions to their problems, and helpful educational advice that doesn't have product bias and isn't pitching them on something, but just helping that person learn.
And when you educate and build trust on a blog post, on a podcast, or a video that person, all of a sudden, becomes a lot more open to noticing and wanting to participate in your lead generation for your eBooks, your white papers, your special reports, your downloadable templates, your webinars, your webinar recordings, your Lunch and Learn events, and your breakfast seminars.
When Prospects Can’t Find Answers, the Damage May Be Much Worse Than Your Realize
It's all related. So the question for you is: when that person lands on a website, do you want that website to be your company’s website? Or do you want that website to be owned and controlled by one of your competitors?
And the problem is, if it's one of your competitors and those prospects end up in your competitor’s lead generation funnel and get nurtured - your competitor continues to educate and build trust, are those prospects really going to go backwards and start that search over again in a couple of weeks or months down the road -- when your company finally gets on the bandwagon, realizes that it's not 2007 anymore, and decides it actually needs to have a competitive digital presence?
Conversely, if a prospect lands on your website and can't find answers to their question…
All that person sees is a bunch of sales-speak and jargon that doesn't help them solve their problem. Three seconds later, that person hits the back button and will never return.
How Google Knows If Your Digital Presence is Naughty or Nice
The worst part is: when that person hits the back button that quickly, the tens of millions of people that are now logged into servers that Google owns crowdsource the reputation report back to Google.
So what ends up happening, not only has that person left for good and is not going to come back. Google knows that this person had a lousy experience on your website and bounced out within seconds.
If Google were a market research expert that went to a shopping mall and stood by the entrance to various stores, what would Google see?
Google could see when somebody went in a store and stayed for 20 or 30 minutes. Google would assume that the buyer person was having a pretty good shopping experience and finding what that person wants. And of course, in this Google-centric world, Google would have tracking code embedded in the point of sale (POS) systems of every store so it could use real-time conversion tracking.
Conversely, if somebody walked into a store and walked out a few seconds later, Google would rightly assume that this person didn't find what he was looking for and had a lousy experience.
Between Google’s algorithms and artificial intelligence, this is what's going on in terms of how competitive it is for companies to get found by the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context.
Why Positioning Matters So Much in a Customer-Driven Buying Cycle
So it's vital for your company to be seen as a trusted adviser, as a subject matter expert.
And as a result, it's critical to get found really early on. You can't afford to let 50% to 70% of that decision making to happen with your company totally invisible.
Because if you get called at all, at the tail end of the sales process, the only thing that's going to sway prospects is if you undercut on price. And that's a really slippery slope down. There's always going to be some company who's willing to chase it down even further and undercut you by a few bucks just to close that sale.
Missing the first 70% of the buyer’s journey kills your margin, employee morale, profitability, and could very well spell the end of your company if you don't realize what it's going to take to compete in today's modern buyer's journey
Google’s Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)
Think about what Google calls the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).
As far as the ZMOT is concerned, regardless of whether you're shopping for cornflakes, concert tickets, a honeymoon in Paris, planning a cruise, looking into college tuition, or which new TV to buy., search engines and social media have changed how we decide what to buy.
Google sees this online decision-making moment as the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) -- which refers to the moment in the buying process where consumers are researching a product prior to purchase.
In a ZMOT-focused world, your brand is no longer what you say it is. Your brand is now the collective wisdom of what people find out about your brand when they ask search engines and social media about your brand.
This is a really big change in a digital-first world.
In order for your company to be competitive when it comes to thinking about your legacy sales process when it comes to thinking about how to modernize and compete more aggressively, the silos in your own company between sales and marketing have to come down. And they have to come down fast.
If your sales and marketing teams are not working together to compete aggressively in this new modern buyer's journey, it's going to be really hard for your company to ever catch up before it gets disrupted.
The Bottom Line on the Legacy Sales Process vs. Customer-Driven Buying
So when thinking about how to make this work, think about how your company can
- Differentiate more effectively
- Be seen as thought leaders and subject matter experts
- Evaluate your competitive positioning more thoroughly with direct competitors, indirect competitors, and non-business model competitors. Remember search engines and social media open up a lot more opportunities for your company. But search engines and social media also bring a lot more competition than you might have thought of in the past.
- Accelerate sales cycles by being one step ahead of your ideal buyers and knowing what they want to learn next.
- Connect the dots so you're focused on revenue growth
In this episode, we've been talking all about
- How the legacy sales process compares to a customer-driven buying cycle
- Why there's been an enormous shift in power from sellers into the hands of buyers
- Why this has been very technology driven and why it's going to continue to be very technology driven
- The really big questions: are you prepared to do whatever it takes to compete in a digital-first world? And have your sales team remain effective and relevant in the modern buyer's journey?
I'm so glad to have had you with us for this episode of the South Florida CEO Podcast. I am Joshua Feinberg, and we look forward to seeing you back again next time.
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