“Sales has changed. Digital transformation gives buyers the power to get immediate answers to their questions by using search engines, social media, and mobile devices. In many industries, the modern buyer now does so much self-directed research that as much as 70% or more of their decision-making is complete before the modern buyer is ready for a sales conversation. This dramatic change presents huge challenges to traditional sales teams. But it also opens up enormous opportunities for sales teams that know how to attract the right buyers, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context. Is your team keeping up? Or is your team living in the past?” (Joshua Feinberg, Chief Thought Leader, Vice President, and Co-Founder of SP Home Run Inc.)
Small- and medium-sized businesses in South Florida are facing new competitive pressures as they prepare for a world where there’s a drastic shift in power, from seller to buyer, and disruption is the new normal. The way people research and make purchase decisions has changed dramatically during the past five years. Smartphones, search engines, social media, and even artificial intelligence are nearly impossible for South Florida’s sales directors to ignore. In larger companies, armies of talent battle to innovate and stay relevant. For smaller companies, staying current presents enormous challenges.
In South Florida, the sales directors of small businesses tend to be male in their mid 30’s and married with two children. These sales directors have been in their roles for about six years, working their way up from sales specialists to sales managers, and then eventually promoted into their current sales leadership positions.
Prior to their entry-level sales specialist roles, these individuals attended one of the Florida State University System schools, where they most likely earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology.
Most sales directors like this are working at companies with about 25 employees and $7.2 million in annual revenue. Their sales teams compete for client accounts against companies that are both smaller and larger with anywhere from 10 to 50 employees and $0.9 to $18.0 million in annual revenue.
These sales directors pride themselves on being in constant communications with clients, being available whenever needed, remaining positive, and staying knowledgeable on industry developments.
Although some are more digitally-savvy than others, most sales directors like this have both LinkedIn and Facebook accounts, but prefer Facebook and leave their LinkedIn account largely inactive. These sales directors don’t tend to use Twitter.
Sales directors at South Florida’s small businesses are focused on:
Members of their sales teams concentrate on:
These same sales directors often face challenges around:
In a digital-first world, the way that modern buyers research and make purchase decisions has changed drastically.
The release of the original iPhone back in 2007 is largely viewed as the beginning of the tipping point for mainstream adoption of mobile devices. Around the same time, mobile bandwidth got a lot faster. The apps got a lot better. Search engine adoption and social media adoption really took off for the perfect storm of why this all changed.
Before that, sales teams used to spend a lot of time answering questions from potential customers and clients. But modern buyers don’t really like to go to sales reps anymore to get questions answered if they can avoid it. So there’s been a shift in power as search engines, social media, mobile, and cloud have become more a lot more mainstream.
Inbound marketing matches the way that people research and make purchase decisions and provides helpful answers at the exact moment that someone is asking the question. However, and this is a big however, a lot of sales teams haven’t caught up to that vision. Many sales teams are living in the past. They’re not really matching up with the way the modern humans buy products and services -- and the way that the buyer's journey has changed so radically.
So what ends up happening: many small businesses in South Florida are not discovered at all in the early parts of the buyer's journey. By the time a prospect speaks with someone from a sales team, that prospect has already had another company build up a trusted advisor relationship with him, because that person earned a seat at the table much earlier on and was able to successfully frame all of the purchase criteria in a way that heavily stacked the decks in favor of their firm.
When a company gets found this late, their sales team is immediately treading water. So what can be done differently with the inbound sales methodology to help this work a lot better?
Listen to the Podcast: Learn about how to apply the inbound sales methodology
Inbound sales is all about who the buyer is -- the buyer persona -- and where they are in the buyer’s journey. Armed with that information, an inbound sales professional personalizes everything going forward by the context of, again, who they are and where they are.
To review some basic terminology:
The more information an inbound sales professional has about who their prospect is and where that prospect is in the buyer’s journey, the more effective their inbound sales process can be.
Because of the radially different way in which the modern buyer researches and make purchase decisions, outbound salespeople are struggling to remain relevant.
Because of digital transformation and digital disruption of traditional business models, it truly is the end of the era for “smile and dial.” It’s gone. It may in some select instances, some edge cases, still kind of, sort of work. But voicemail, caller ID, Gmail Priority Inbox, social media, artificial intelligence, search engines, and personal assistants on people's smartphones and smartwatches -- all of these technologies spell the end of an era for traditional, old-school, outbound sales.
In a digital-first world, in today's marketplace, outbound salespeople are struggling like crazy to survive. They are having a tremendously difficult time figuring out how to stay relevant because they're not adding value.
What ends up happening inevitably? Outbound sales people just basically end up repeating the content that buyers can find on their own through search engines and social media. This practice makes outbound sales people look silly, like idiots. Definitely not their finest moment!
Listen to the podcast: Learn how sales directors compare inbound sales vs. outbound sales
Before being ready for a conversation with a sales person, prospects and clients now do a tremendous amount of self-directed research. Google calls this the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). This shift in buyer behaviors is having a profound impact on nearly all businesses.
Sales directors of small businesses in South Florida need to rethink their sales funnels -- to upgrade, modernize, and stay relevant to the way that people research and make purchase decisions.
Most sales professionals need to stop wasting time reminiscing about how it used to be ten or twenty years ago. And instead focus on how it actually is today. And there are two frameworks to think about this:
There have been so many changes in the last couple of years when it comes to how people research problems and questions and look for solutions. There's just so much that happens before a sales director even knows that a potential opportunity exists.
Listen to the podcast: Learn about these two different approaches to updating the sales funnel
There's been mass adoption of new digital buying platforms based on new digital buying preferences.
For sales directors at small businesses in South Florida, their ideal customers -- their core buyer personas -- more than likely are not expecting every company to be quite on its game as Amazon, Netflix, and Uber. But it’s definitely raising the bar for expectations.
The way people want to interact with all companies -- including small businesses -- has fundamentally changed. The balance of power has completely changed, away from sales teams and into the hands of buyers.
So in this environment, how can a sales team add value? At many companies, the legacy sales process is still very much focused on cold calls, cold emails, and in person door-to-door canvassing. All of those sales activities are very much focused on interrupting people.
Now, what should a company’s sales director 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?
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to compare the legacy sales process vs. customer-driven buying cycle
It can truly be a game-changer when a CEO, president, founder, or owner of a small business is able to get their sales and marketing teams on the same page, working on the same goals and priorities.
But oftentimes, sales and marketing teams are ignoring each other, best case scenario; or worst case scenario: bringing a lot of baggage that sabotages their companies.
Making matters worse, the modern buyer needs to control their own buyer’s journey. And the technology and web services now gives them the ability to do that.In a digital-first world, it's important to confront the reality.
In many cases, buyers are now doing so much research on search engines and social media, before they ever get to you, that 70 percent or more of their decision making is now over before they're willing to engage in a sales conversation. In other words, the overwhelming majority of their research is done before a company’s sales director is even aware of a sales opportunity.
So what can a CEO do to help their sales team from lagging behind? And how can sales and marketing teams be empowered to have these kinds of transformative, game-changing conversations about what it's going to take to compete more effectively in a digital-first world?
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to align sales and marketing around shared goals
Sales directors are almost always working towards goals. But what kinds of goals?
Sales funnel goals are goals that a CEO, management team, or board set to make sure that their marketing, business development, and sales staff are focused on the company's bottom line goals.
Sometimes a CEO will say, just generate X amount of new revenue. However, in a digital-first world, CEOs need to be a lot more specific about what those sales funnel goals are.
Why? Revenue may not tell the whole story. There's good revenue, and there’s bad revenue. And maybe revenue isn’t the ultimate answer either. Maybe it's revenue from a certain kind of client with a certain minimum level of profitability.
Working backward up from the bottom of the funnel, consider
At some small businesses in South Florida, sales teams are discounting their prices way too often, because they feel forced to do so.
There’s a big root cause to this: many sales teams are using outdated playbooks and strategies that don’t reflect how modern buyers research and make purchase decisions.
Over the past five years, people have become more dependent on using search engines, mobile devices, and social media as one of the major ways that they decide what to purchase, where to make the purchase, and how much to pay. People are doing tons of research online on their own before they’re ready to speak with a salesperson -- if at all.
Buyer behavior has changed so much that in many cases as much 50% to 70% (or more) of their buying decision is already made before buyers are open to the possibility to having a conversation with someone in a sales role.
This is a big problem because if these buyers are finding another company in the early stages of the buyer’s journey, that other company is teaching these buyers what to look for and the right questions to ask. That other company is earning the coveted seat at the table as a trusted advisor.
For the company that’s not discovered early on, if that company gets invited in at all these buyers are only reaching out to find out if their company sells the product or service in question at a cheaper price.
The key: getting found early by the right people, in the right places, and most of all: in the right context.
Sales directors and their teams unaware of this present-day reality may have the decks severely stacked against them if their companies aren’t being seen as subject matter experts, trusted advisors, industry gurus, and educators.
In other to turn this around, sales directors need to be really in touch with what their ideal buyers care most about. Who are the influencers and decision makers that matter the most? Once a sales team knows what these buyers care most about, and it’s answered their questions, the sales team can earn their mindshare, their trust, and those seats at the table as trusted advisors. This becomes a game-changer for how sales team navigate their role in the buyer’s journey.
Companies and their sales directors in denial about this situation are very often forced to discount to close deals. This is a downward spiral that kills profit margins, morale, and company positioning.
Sales directors burying their heads in the sand about the trend will find these challenges are only expected to accelerate in the near future. How? There will come a time when buyers will be 80% to 90% through their decision-making process before engaging with sales teams.
Traditional sales teams that don’t add a lot of value -- glorified order-takers and explainers -- will be gone.
The sales teams that survive will be the ones that are seen as true subject matter experts in their industries.
One of the reasons why sales directors prospect is to grow their employers’ companies.
However, the digital-first world and the modern buyer’s journey changes prospecting.
The modern buyer has gotten tired of getting interrupted by obnoxious marketing and sales pitches.
So can small businesses in South Florida stay relevant in a world where most buyers have already started their journey before they talk with sales professionals?
When prospecting, sales directors and their teams need to figure out if specific prospects are good matches for their companies. Are these particular prospects worth investing time in?
To identify prospects inbound-style, sales team need to understand the difference between someone who is in an active research process, compared to being a passive buyer.
Someone that’s in an active research process is actively looking for the answer. That person has a problem that’s been expressed. That person is looking for a solution and is open to this kind of conversation. Quite simply -- a passive buyer is the polar opposite: completely closed to the possibility of this kind of sales conversation.
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to identify prospects inbound-style
Many forward-thinking sales directors and their teams connect with prospects today very differently compared to as recently as five years ago.
To connect with the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context, don't make the hugely-flawed assumption that every prospect is at the Decision stage and ready for a sales conversation.
Early on, just be helpful, not harassing. The whole idea of old-school, outbound prospecting is very different from modern, inbound prospecting. But the problem is: a lot of veteran sales professionals haven't gotten the memo on how much buyer behaviors and preferences have changed.
To connect successfully with more prospects, in the right context, a sales director and their team needs three building blocks: buyer personas, steps or sequences to execute for each buyer persona, and content to use for each of those steps.
And how to connect with prospects will also vary greatly depending on the way in which that prospect originated: as an inbound lead, an inbound company, or as a trigger event.
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to connect with prospects inbound-style
Effective exploratory meetings with prospects help sales directors and their teams advance qualified leads into sales opportunities.
Following exploratory conversations, there are three potential outcomes:
The goal of the exploratory process: help prospects feel empowered to make the best decision for themselves. These conversations are all about educating and helping prospects explore what a better state could look like for them; guiding prospects to think through all of these issues.
While career sales professionals might be tempted to doing what’s always been done -- pitching or putting a static proposal in front of prospects, this old-school approach is rapidly losing effectiveness in a world where companies are judged against the backdrop of how their buyers interact with Amazon, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Sirius XM, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
Personalization is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s now the price of admission. It’s not just mass adoption of search engines, social media, and mobile devices that have upended traditional sales. Add into that mix game-changing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and the Internet of Things (IoT). This isn’t science fiction. All of these advancements are already shifting power from sellers to buyers -- and requires a complete rethinking of how sales professionals approach their sales process.
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to explore goals, plans, and challenges
After successfully identifying prospects, connecting with prospects, and identifying prospects’ needs, sale directors and their teams have built the foundation for what they’re ultimately evaluated on: advising prospects on personalized recommendations that advance sales opportunities into clients.
However, there are two critical requirements for having productive advisory conversations:
In the modern buyer’s journey, with the Google Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), brands are no longer controlled by their brand owners. Instead, brands are the collective wisdom of what somebody finds out about brands when that person asks a search engine or social media platform about these companies. In other words, no matter how tempting it is to attempt to close all sales opportunities, companies cannot afford to have bad fit clients.
Compared to traditional sales close-attempt meetings, sessions where recommendations are presented to Advise prospects on next steps are much more personalized, consultative, and require a higher level of preparation and professionalism.
Listen to the podcast: Learn how to advise prospects
If you’re a sales director at a small business in South Florida, and you’re trying to be the premier provider within your industry, create value for your clients and partners, and deliver exceptional products and services, here are some recommended resources: