It was very recently brought to my attention that when we migrated the Boxpilot blog, one of the earliest posts was lost. Since it was one of my favorites, I’ve taken the liberty of reposting it here.
It’s been a year and a half since I wrote this post and while the market has continued to evolve, I haven’t changed my core opinion that I concede totally that technology has improved and the content and means to deliver it is better than ever before. So, if anything, it is even more of a challenge to find ways to inject the personal presence of your sales reps into the equation.
…..here is the original post from January 8, 2010 (seems like only yesterday)
Much has been written lately about lengthening sales cycles and the preference of prospects not to engage with sales reps until much later in the buying cycle. It is accepted as an idea whose time has come and heavily supported with a wealth of statistics.
Some of the highest profile minds in marketing are responding to this trend with a renewed call to improve the development of online content, lead scoring and analytics; better understand the buyer persona and to continue to enhance automated marketing programs to provide more product/price/comparative/competitive and benefit/ROI information, for prospects to peruse at their leisure. There is a stampede onto the bandwagon to keep your sales reps away from prospects until they have basically made up their mind about what they want.
There is a misguided perception that the way to win the hearts and minds of your prospects is to leave them in peace to develop their own conclusions based on what they think they know about you.
Years from now, management will look back at this “Slap Yourself On the Top of Your Head”, moment in time and ask, “What were we thinking?”
So, What Are You Thinking?
• A prospect who would rather not engage with sales teams is nothing new, just a current example of why response rates for hard and soft offers have always been different.
• There is no difference between a preference for online content and the historical sales brush off, “Send me something in writing”. Sales people used to get fired for doing what companies can’t seem to do enough of now, which is to give value and get nothing in return. This isn’t to say content should be withheld, we have indeed passed the point where that tactic is in any ones best interest, but self-serve content is NOT king and can work against you. When every selling opportunity is a little bit different, involvement, interest and trust are equally important.
• While companies are rushing ahead to provide the selective answers to prospects’ most frequently asked questions, they are doing nothing to ensure that those prospects ask the right questions. Those are the questions that will lead them to buy from you.
• Finally, there’s an assumption that prospects are truly reading and accurately absorbing all the information they’re collecting on their own. This defies human nature.
Keeping Your Sales People Away From Your Prospects is a TERRIBLE Idea.
1. Many decision makers are highly intelligent quick thinkers, capable of summing up the gist of an argument swiftly. But they have an unfortunate (for you) tendency to ignore the detail once they believe they have grasped the content. A well documented flaw of many quick thinkers is a failure to review ALL the information available to them. So, you can’t be sure what content they have pulled from your materials or the materials of your competitors and you can’t predict what conclusions they will reach.
2. Your prospects will gravitate to the information that answers questions they already have an interest in and will respond best to information that fits their preconceived notions and preferences. If you need to challenge a status quo or base any of your sales case on something they don’t already agree with or don’t already know, your words will go unread.
3. In spite of what many prospect think, engaging with a well trained, professional sales rep will save them time and help them reach better decisions.
4. You don’t really want a level playing field and neither do your competitors. When one of them successfully inserts a sales contact into a one-on-one relationship with a prospect, while your company is content to be held at an arms-length, you have sacrificed an irrevocable piece of the high ground and probably the sale.
5. Statistics, trends, campaigns and group behaviors do not buy. Purchase decisions are made by people who will not always behave in a predictable or even logical way. Their decisions will be influenced by factors that your company will never understand unless you can establish the dialogue that ONLY comes with personal contact and that point of contact is your sales rep.
Why Are Sales Teams Not Screaming “Bloody Murder”
While They’re Pushed Off to the Side?
Ironically, along with all the leading edge marketing thinking, the role of the sales rep has been pigeon-holed into an outdated and inconsistent cliché “The Closer”. In a world where the buying cycle is stretching out past the foreseeable horizon, sales reps still live and die by the quarterly revenue goal, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. To meet these goals – the story goes – they can’t afford the time to engage anyone who isn’t ready to buy. That’s half the reason that sales reps are happy to wait to engage.
The other half of the reason is that sales people put themselves on the line. It’s not a pleasant thing to expose yourself over and over to the responses of people who don’t want to talk to you. So, while it’s not to the credit of sales people to be willing to sit back and wait for people who WANT to talk to them, it’s understandable. It’s not acceptable though and unless your sales people are willing to put themselves on the line to make a personal contact with your prospects, your revenue will suffer.
Current stats all point to a failure of many nurturing programs to translate raw leads into sales and the timing and distribution of new content seems to be the leading solution, but the removal of personal sales contact is probably at least partly to blame.
The role of a sales rep shouldn’t be diminished, but it needs to evolve. The challenge facing sales teams is to approach your prospects with enough knowledge and skill to serve the needs of both the buyer and seller. The new sales rep is the voice of your marketing program and will subtly take ownership of the sales process by ensuring that your prospects are not cherry picking information, but actually absorbing the right information that will lead them to make the choice to buy from you.