Transitioning from the old sales paradigm to the new world of social sales
We were given business cards, product brochures, a geographic territory of clients to manage and grow, and a car to get around in. We did not have mobile phones, let alone smartphones, tablets, laptops, or CRM's. There was very little coaching and we were expected to make sales and make it work.
For awhile there, let's say 20+ years, it seemed like business as usual as many companies still clung to the Product Paradigm of Selling – 'show up and throw up information', however there were fundamental shifts of seismic proportions happening around us even back in the late 80's and early 90's. The transition from product to solution selling was one significant shift, however, this was just a pit stop on the way to the far more complex selling world we find ourselves in today.
Twenty-eight years on, the sales terrain is a very different proposition – the new world of social media, social selling, the importance of collaboration and the centrality of the customer – we are truly entering a customer focused world.
Product and solutions (the aggregation of products) no longer offers the competitive edge in the sales process, the shift in value, beyond product and product solutions, lies in ideas, creativity, collaboration, interconnectedness and innovation and means that the types of conversations we have with customers, suppliers, referral partners and the like is at the centre of effective selling and business relationships.
And buyers are way ahead of most sales people. The conversations they are having about their suppliers, research they do before they buy, the journeys they take to purchase without any sales person's involvement are important to watch and pay attention to. And that's not all – we need to pay attention to what they do and say after the sale, how they talk about us, their points of view, the influence they have over others ideas and opinions and the circle just keeps getting wider. But are sales people and businesses keeping up?
According to Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide, social media is having an enormous impact on buyer behaviour. OgilvyOne's survey of a 1,000 sales professionals in US, UK, Brazil and China reported that 49% of sellers see social media as important to their success and amongst the most successful sales people, over two thirds believe social media is integral to their success.
However, most companies are not adapting fast enough. They are not providing training in how to effectively use social media to sell and nearly half the sales professionals surveyed believe their companies are afraid of letting employees use social media.
Only 9% of US sales people say their companies train or educate them in social media, while in contrast, 25% of sales people surveyed in Brazil said they received training and education in social media.
This rapid change is unprecedented. With the rapid rise of social media, the focus on innovation, value beyond product and the increasingly complexity of business networks and communities, I have found myself looking back and looking forward, working out what I need to leave behind and what I need to take with me into the future.
For those sales professionals who started their careers in the last five to 10 years this article may not mean much to you, however for those of us who have longer careers in selling we are faced with significant change.
What I have found to remain true and I can carry forward from my early days in selling are the following:
- Keep prospecting – it is vital to make contact and keep in contact with customers, prospects, influencers, suppliers, partners, etc.
- Review and strategic action – always review where your market, customers and competitors are and check for signs of change so you can adapt and take strategic action. Most people would call this planning but with change happening so rapidly it's more like review and strategic action is a constant daily occurrence.
- Prioritisation – even more so now than ever before is the important skill of prioritisation. There is so much information: emails, special interest groups, new innovations and the like to keep on top of it can be overwhelming without some form of prioritisation skills.
- Questioning and listening – always a mainstay in any person's (especially a sales person's) toolbox. The listening acuity we now need means we need to pay more attention to the details of our clients' conversations, needs and priorities while keeping a keen ear and eye on the broader landscape. Asking the right questions is critical.
- Problem solving and prevention, creativity and innovation – again the idea that product was king is now dead; one of the key skills is to prevent and where necessary solve problem for people, but that is only part of the game now – we now need to generate ideas and create opportunities, imagination and innovation now stand tall.
- Adapting to different communication styles – with global reach comes the need to interact with a wide variety for people and adapt to difference, not difficulty.
- Manners and courtesy – despite what people may say about the current state of the world, manners and courtesy are the glue that hold our relationships together. No matter what we call it, courtesy and manners are NOT trivial. Here is how Edmund Burke (1729-1797) described it: "Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarise or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."
So what do I have to integrate from the new, so far:
- Digital communication, destinations and new listening skills – The need to look out for the digital footprints of buyers as they trawl the digital world. Mapping buyers' journeys before they talk to sales people and setting up the right forums, websites, blogs, connections, opinions, etc for them to connect to before we even speak as human beings is critical.
- Interacting with special interest groups on the internet – looking to exchange ideas rather selling or blatant self-promotion.
- Selling is a team sport – marketing, sales, and customers are all in it together.
- Prospecting online – the shift from lists, Yellow Pages, etc to avenues such as LinkedIn where a rich vein of data, contacts, prospects are available to be researched and connected to.
Much has changed in the world of selling and more changes are afoot. I'm holding on as best I can, trying to get my balance as I transition from the old paradigm of selling to the new world of social sales. So watch this space.
Remember, everybody lives by selling something.
Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with her skilful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to www.barrett.com.au.