Want to be successful in today’s sales game? First, throw out everything you knew about how to engage a customer, close a sale and everything in between. Does that sound a little drastic? Even crazy? According to a Forbes.com article, “The Disappearing Sales Process,” you may as well do just that. The old tried-and-true five-step sales process is obsolete. Gone. So yesterday!
It’s not that the classic sales process—engage a customer, qualify the customer, make a proposal, close the sale and follow up—didn’t work. It worked like a charm. Those sales pros that refined and made the process an art form closed lots of sales and made lots of money. The problem is the customers changed the rules. Well, at least those customers who now have Internet access or handy apps on their smartphones, a demographic that is growing by the minute.
In the past (which is only a mere 10 years ago or so) customers who needed, say an insurance policy, would call an insurance agent or broker. That call set the sales process in motion. Or, a sales person would pick up on a lead or make a cold call to activate Step One. Not anymore. The article cites research from Google and the CEB that shows 60 percent of customers are halfway through the sales process before they ever contact a sales rep. That means that 57 percent of the old five-step sales process has disappeared!
Sales people were considered the experts with the most accurate and reliable information about a product or service. Instead of making that call, customers are now surfing the Internet for information from company websites, social media and sites that offer customer feedback and reviews. They shop around by clicking from one site to another, posting questions on forums and engaging with friends for personal feedback and recommendations. As the article states, the customer qualifies the sales person instead of the other way around.
With this shift in the sales process, a company has to change its marketing and sales strategy. You need a strong digital and Internet presence to make it easy for customers to get information on your product or service. You have to be available and accessible to customers where they are, not expect them to come to you. In addition to improving online communications, content and accessibility, companies have to monitor their online presence to see what potential customers are saying about them. A negative post on Facebook, Twitter or blog can reach millions of potential customers in an instant. Effective tracking and analytics will keep companies informed on their Internet “buzz” and avoid potential disasters.
The news isn’t all bad or even what it seems. How customers engage and seek out products and services will vary widely by the type, cost and industry. High-ticket items or long-term customers may still engage a sales representative earlier in the process. While the capacity and tools for Internet search are available now, not everyone is comfortable or prefers to do research without some guidance. The Internet has so much information that it can be overwhelming to a customer who needs services now or just doesn’t have the time to spend online. For quick service, it’s still easier to call someone you know, or was referred by a trusted source, to help find the product or service that’s right for you.
If customers are going it alone for the first 57 percent of the sales process, sales pros have to up their game in the last 43 percent. It’s not a matter of will the change last. It’s here, and it will continue. Strong proposals, handling objections, closing the sale and an effective follow-up process are more critical than before for a successful sales career.
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