In his book, Business @ the Speed of Thought, Bill Gates said, “The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”
The book was published in 1999, and Gates’ prediction has certainly come true. In today’s world, people use the internet to pay bills, apply for jobs, stream entertainment, get news, communicate with friends, and conduct research about potential products and services. That’s why you need a sales process that fits the way people buy in the internet age.
Before the internet, customers relied heavily on the knowledge of salespeople to help them make a buying decision – a seller-centric model. Today we have “information parity” is a situation in which both parties in a transaction have equal information related to the transaction. Meaning prospective customers come to the salesperson already armed with a ton of information about the product or service – details, pricing, competition, and other customers’ personal reviews.
This doesn’t, however, lessen the role of the salesperson in the sales process, but it does change it. To succeed, sales professionals must adopt a buyer-centric sales model where the focus is on the customer and less about the vast depth of knowledge held by the salesperson. This is often referred to as an inbound sales process, which means the focus is on the individual customer and his or her personal needs and goals.
Inbound selling is a process that supports the prospect through the buyer’s journey. It consists of three stages:
The salesperson has a very important role to play as well. That role consists of four action steps necessary to convert strangers into customers:
- Identify – turn strangers into leads
- Connect – turn leads into qualified leads
- Explore – help prospects discover their needs
- Advise – advise prospects on why your offering is uniquely positioned to address their needs
With so much product information just a mouse click away, most customers are well into the awareness stage before they ever reach out to a salesperson. Active customers may have recently visited your website, filled out an online form requesting more information, or virtually toured your model home or showroom.
Invest a few hours each week to review your online presence – website, reviews, social media, etc. The information and images need to be fresh and up to date. Publish photos, respond to relevant conversations, and share other people’s content that might be interesting to those who fit your ideal customer profile. If this is not a strength, find someone to manage this aspect of your business for you. (I do!)
When reaching out to prospective customers, personalize your message to their unique circumstances. The more you know about them, the better. Do your research. Ask questions. Find connections.
Armed with this information, you can tailor the message to their circumstances. Determine which communication medium they prefer. Establish what additional information they need to help meet their needs.
During the exploratory stage, the focus is on the specific needs of the customer. The salesperson’s role is that of questioner and listener. Ask open-ended questions to show the customer is directing the purchase process. This will establish trust in the relationship.
- People are hesitant to purchase something unless they see a challenge that must be overcome or a specific need that must be met. During this stage of the conversation, use the word “challenge” instead of words like “problem” or “trouble” and “need” instead of “want.”
- Connect challenges to goals. Ask what their goals are in relation to your offering, and listen for their realization that they don’t have what they need to overcome their challenge and achieve their goals.
- Explain, in general terms, how your offering is uniquely positioned to help achieve their goals.
- Clearly outline the next steps
Be prepared to lead the customer through the end of the sales process. Now is the time to walk your customers across the finish line and show them how your product or service best fits their needs. Restate what you’ve learned about the customer’s goals and suggest specific ways you can help attain those goals with your customized solution.
Customers are confronted with more choices than ever before. The Internet has transformed the salesperson’s role. They are no longer relied upon to provide product information. Information is now readily available on the Internet.
The new role for salespeople in the Internet age is to assist customers with the decision-making process. To be successful, you need to help customers navigate through the complex web of available choices and provide value in the buying experience beyond just product knowledge. Sell like ya mean it!