Sales and Marketing In Today’s Changing E-commerce
- November 16, 2017
Thriving as an Enterprising Sales Professional in our E-Business World
If you think the Internet and the proliferation of e-Business have changed the rules of selling, you’re right. Talk to today’s professional salespeople, and they’ll affirm that the business world is changing faster than ever before. And with today’s buyers having Internet access at their fingertips, they are more informed about available products and services than they were just ten years ago. The old selling rules are gone. If your script is ten years old, if your web presence is ten years old, you’re missing the mark. Your salespeople are asking one fundamental question: “How do I differentiate myself?”
You may be wondering why, even scratching your head, why your quota performance has not been at the level you’re accustomed to. And while you’ve been successful in your career so far, you may be concerned about how to sustain that success going forward. Or maybe you are just getting into the game and want to get ramped up as quickly as possible. Regardless of where you are in your selling career, your number one concern should be: “How can I retool myself so I can thrive going forward in our e-Business world?”
Having coached and consulted with the best of the best, I have devised twelve “e-strategies” which, when applied on top of the skills you already possess, will 1) provide you with an alternative sales approach based upon today’s challenges, and 2) provide you with direction regarding where to spend your time to maximize your professional development.
Get out of your comfort zone
Before we get into those strategies, allow yourself to have an open mind. Some of the strategies suggested require change—the kind of change where you decide, right now, that you are going to do something differently from this point on. It was Charles Darwin who said, “It’s not the strongest of the species that will survive, neither the most intelligent, but those who are most responsive to change.” To survive in this changing business world, successful salespeople deliberately expand their thinking and exhibit new behaviors outside their comfort zone.
The choice is yours. Stay in your comfort zone with your safety net and be left behind, get pulled out of your comfort zone involuntarily and be somewhat useful some of the time, or you can proactively expand your comfort zone and control your professional destiny.
With that in mind, here are the twelve e-strategies:
1 — Emphasize the business part of e-Business.
The first step to being successful in the world of e-Business is to realize that e-Business is just plain business. The keyword here is “business,” not the letter “E.” Within a relatively short period, the “E” component will have been integrated into all the other processes that keep companies running and hopefully generating profits for their stakeholders. “E” is just like other trends that have been assimilated into the world of business in the past, such as TQM (Total Quality Management), MBO (Management by Objective) and client/server technology. What “E” denotes—electrons and light moving through wires and cables—will not go away. But the letter “E” will.
What does it mean to you as a sales professional that the core of e-Business is just business? It provides you with an understanding that, more than ever before, you will need to focus on how your product or service is going to contribute to your customer or client’s ability to achieve their business plan. From a financial point-of-view, you know you can either contribute to increasing your customer or client’s revenues, decreasing their expenses, or both. If you, as a sales professional, cannot demonstrate how you will do that and by how much, then you don’t stand a very good chance of getting and maintaining access to the key executives who make the decisions.
Too many times, companies and the people who sell for them get all tied up in the “E” and lose focus on their business. Beware of that trap.
2 — Educate yourself.
To thrive in our e-Business world, you need to know a lot about three things: Your customer’s business, their industry, and how the Internet is changing the way business is being done in their world.
Get onne and gather information about your customer’s business, especially if they are publicly held. It’s imperative that you familiarize yourself with your customer’s world—their customers, their competitors, their suppliers, their industry, their challenges, their opportunities and, even if you are not selling technology, how the Internet is being used in their marketplace.
Do what it takes to enable yourself to talk to them about their world in their terms.
3 — Expand your general business knowledge.
Develop the skill of zooming-in and zooming-out—looking at your customer and client’s companies from 40,000 feet, diving deeply into relevant details, only to zoom out to the big picture again. You should also consider becoming familiar with the concepts and current practices in such areas as business strategy and planning, E-commerce, E-collaboration, and change management. If you can’t read and interpret key financial statements to the extent that you can determine the relative health of your prospect as compared to other companies in their market space, you’ve got some work to do.
It is not necessary to become an authority in any of these areas unless your job requires it explicitly; however, when you are conversant, you will better understand your customer and how your solution fits into their overall plan. And when you can discuss, in financial terms, what your product or service will contribute to the customer’s business, then you will have earned credibility.
4 — Extend your research tools.
The top sales professionals understand that most of their research about the industry into which they are selling, and their customers and clients have to be done through trade publications, business periodicals, and the Internet. Subscribing to (and reading!) trade journals that cover the industries into which you are selling is an extremely worthwhile way to spend some of your time. Also, consider reading publications such as Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, WSJ (the Wall Street Journal), Fast Company, etc. for generic but extremely relevant business information. The fact is that you can spend weeks trying to get a meeting with an executive. At that point, you do not want to lose credibility by not being able to state an opinion about a business or industry topic you should be familiar with.
There are also some books well worth reading. But in general, by the time a book is published, the leading edge concepts that are discussed may very well be dated. You may be wasting your time preparing to deliver yesterday’s news to your prospect. It would have been better to pick up the author’s ideas when he or she wrote the magazine article that prompted the book.
Before your next sales meeting, ask yourself this: Can you talk for ten minutes about what is going on in the industry into which you sell? Can you talk for ten more minutes about your most important prospect’s business?
5 — Elevate your selling efforts.
To consistently win business—when you forecast it, and for the value you forecast—it’s imperative to be selling to the decision makers in your accounts. You’ve likely heard that before. However, you also know that it is harder now than ever before to provide your prospects with the information they can’t get somewhere else. The Internet has created a big challenge for us here.
If you believe, as I do, that the way to gain and maintain access to those influential people is by becoming a business resource for them—someone they can go to who can provide insight about their marketplace, their competitors, their challenges and their opportunities—your job has gotten tougher. You have to be more resourceful today than ever before. Some professionals go so far as to bring in other people with perceived value to the prospect’s executives—experts within the company, from the customer or client base, and from other, non-competing, business partners.
If you are selling into a new account and have not been referenced by someone the prospect’s executive trusts, you generally have to earn your way into that position. Becoming the keeper and dispenser of information, insight and expert resources, beyond what they can get online and what your competitor can deliver, is a proven path to executive-level sponsorship.
6—Expedite the selling process.
Time is not on your side. Seize the moment before your competitor does, and you won’t believe how quickly deals are happening, compared to the recent past. Customers feel competitive pressure and know when you are ready, willing and able to drive them even faster in going forward so they can more quickly reap the benefits of the services. If you or your salespeople take a moment to pause, someone else runs, not walks, away with the business.
If you have properly qualified them, get back to your prospects right away, every time they call. Get information to them ahead of your competition. Have a sense of urgency that is at least as strong as theirs. Be more responsive than your competitors. When measured in Internet time, that’s a real competitive advantage.
7—Enlarge your audience.
Enterprise selling includes a broader base of interested executives than before, often including boards of directors.
Typically called, “Management-by-Magazine,” it works like this: The board member of a company sits on an airplane and reads an in-flight magazine about new trends, products or services. They rip the article out and fax it to the CEO of the company with a note, telling the CEO that he wishes a discussion on the company’s activities in this area added as an item on the agenda for the next board meeting. The CEO is trying to form. If you are a trusted resource for this leader, you may be invited to the board meeting. Are you prepared for this?
Take the time and effort to find out who in your potential company supports investing in your products or services. For example, the Development VP may use the money the company saves as a result of investing in your product or service to finance a new program or initiative. Always make sure that you save money in the long term by investing in your merchandise management system, your highly efficient lighting systems, your fuel-efficient delivery fleet, and more.
8—Enhance your relationships in your accounts.
Perhaps now more than ever, selling is about relationships between people. With all the great technology we have at our fingertips, we can fall into the trap of assuming that any communication is sufficient. For expedience, I occasionally find myself resorting to e-mail and voicemail as the primary communication mechanism with a client. I can justify that behavior as well as anyone else—through e-mail, I maintain an audit trail of our communication, it’s quick, I can communicate during off-hours, we don’t resort to phone tag, etc.—but it jeopardizes the relationship. Let your competitor have an electronic connection. Keep yourself real.
And with whom do you establish these relationships? The decision makers and influencers in the account. Briefly, you need to find out how decisions were made in the past relating to the procurement of products and services such as yours. Unless things have changed dramatically, some or all of the people involved with those decisions will be included with yours.
9— Exceed the level of value your customers expect you to provide.
As always, an important part of the value that your customer receives has to come not from your company, your products or your services, but from you. The reason for that is the product proliferation I mentioned earlier. A challenge today is that there are too many products, too much hype, too little differentiation, too much discounting and too little importance placed upon us, the sales professionals.
Our competitors will be attempting to differentiate themselves on some aspect of their product or service, a feature, a function, a unique selling point. When your unique selling point is you and what you can bring to the table—knowledge, experience, insight, contacts, integrity, resources, friendship, an outside perspective, how to get things done in their company and yours—you will have again gained a competitive advantage.
10—Excel in your competitive skills.
Who is your competition? What are they doing right now to take your customers away? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you and your livelihood are at risk. Once you get to know your competitor—not only the company and their products or services but also how the salespeople compete—you can begin to employ strategies and tactics based upon that knowledge that will consistently put you in the lead.
Let’s say for example your competitors are the “big boys.” When you compete against them, you know your size is always brought up as an issue. So, learn to inoculate. Raise the subject right up front with every prospect and talk about the numerous advantages of doing business with a focused, specialized, lean organization. Provide answers in advance to the objections you know your competition will raise. Don’t do it defensively, but offensively, cleverly creating a trap for your competition. Then professionally and subtly predict to the prospect that you will be attacked on your size.
When the big guys begin to exploit your size, the prospect is prepared and generally shuts down the conversation, leaving the attacker in a very uncomfortable position.
11—Examine your skill set and attitudes now, objectively.
A requirement for consistent, successful selling is objectivity. Opportunities have to be qualified unemotionally and objectively, as does what people in your accounts tell you as it relates to what it will take to secure an order.
One of the hardest things to do is to unemotionally and objectively measure our skills compared to what is required to win consistently. Do you know how to cost justify your product or service in financial terms to your prospect’s CFO? Are you considered an expert in your prospect’s industry? Do you know exactly how to beat your toughest competitor in a particular classification of sales opportunity? Do you write grammatically correct letters with perfect spelling? Can you capture and maintain the attention and imagination of your audience during a presentation? Can you find what you need to know about a prospect or a competitor on the Internet within an hour?
If there are skills that are required to excel at your job and you don’t measure up, admit it to yourself and figure out how to obtain those skills. If you don’t, your competition will show no mercy.
12—Embolden yourself to change now.
As sales professionals in this competitive, demanding e-Business world, we have challenges that we never had to face before. If you agree that at least some of the strategies listed might improve your effectiveness, now you must make the changes required.
To paraphrase Jim Hennig, “Successful sales professionals have formed the habit of doing those things unsuccessful sales professionals dislike doing and therefore will not do.”
The first step is for you to accept responsibility for your professional growth. No one can do that for you.
To have me speak to your team on how to tap into new markets and make more money, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
Michele Y. Thompson is an author, contributing writer on MyStock911, DLAndroid24, and MortgageExpertGuide , commercial mortgage broker, entrepreneur, and branding coach. The culmination of her work in the United States Air Force, finance, real estate, and media consulting; along with her advanced degrees has driven her to help new and existing businesses reach their goals for over 20 years.