Traditionally, the sales call for prospects was to reach, qualify, and then pitch — by phone or in person. This worked well, because the buyer had one resource — you, the salesperson — to provide vital information on your company’s products and solutions. Today, that sales call has changed. To be effective today requires a whole new skillset: self-branding and content.
Why It Worked – Information Asymmetry
First, let’s take a quick look at why sales call were effective. A given company had specific needs, also known as pain points within their organization. Sellers who could address those pain points were often the party in a transaction with more and more importantly, superior information compared to the given company, a condition known as information asymmetry. If you want a great example of this, think of antivirus software, where domain expertise is uncommon and complexity is high, yet the need for a company’s computer systems to be virus free is universal.
Sticking with computing examples, perhaps they needed a new computer networking system because their old one was too slow, or too buggy, or the company had exceeded the network’s ability to scale. During that sales call, sellers could usually elicit pain points and show how their products would be the solution– as well as create fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about the costs of not solving the problem.
Why It’s Not Working Any More
Buyers today, however, routinely conduct their own research online, soliciting peer advice, comparing products side by side, assessing sentiment on social media, chat boards or Google results, and getting a long way towards shaping a decision before they ever connect with your brand. They do not need to rely on single sources of information any longer.
Just as importantly, the timelines for making any decision have shifted. Greater information means greater flexibility regarding purchase behavior. Greater information also leads buyers towards greater emotion in their decision making (this is a counter-intuitive realization). A full 71% of B2B buyers who see personal value will buy a product. And personal value trumps business value almost 2-to-1 in those same B2B buying scenarios.
That means depending on a convince-and-convert old-style sales calls will be largely ineffective. Not only has the buyer already learned what you’re telling them, they’ve probably already interacted with your product’s users, gathered opinion, and shaped an emotional feeling about your brand for their potential purchase. If they’ve not yet heard of you, forging personal value in a cold call is darn near impossible.
So what’s the new path for an enlightened sales professional?
Meet the Buyer on Their Chosen Turf
Where are buyers setting up their command central for product discovery? It’s the Internet, so let’s hope your Marketing team has been busy. Undoubtedly, buyers are also on social channels, where they can get opinions, facts, support, and pointers to other resources.
They’re Tweeting things like:
They’re going to LinkedIn forums and groups:
They’re asking questions on Quora. Lots of questions on Quora:
They’re looking for the unbiased, “non-salesy” opinion. They want to judge from a variety of sources and expertise.
“We live in a ‘review based’ culture now where our successes (and particularly our failures) will be talked about online, and broadcast to the world, so we need to ensure that we have enough positive content online to present the message that we want to share about our brand or business,” says Glen Smyth, host of the Sales Professionals Podcast.
You’ve been programmed to find a way to demonstrate the advantages, benefits, and superiority of your product. Your intentions are honorable. How can you then get out in front of prospects and raise awareness and interest in such a way that it will be seen and absorbed?
It’s All About the Brand
Drumroll… The Answer Is: You, as a representative of your brand, must build your own personal brand, become a trusted expert, and “go long” with prospect relationships. You must take a position not of a seller, but of a helper– with no expectation of a sale at this stage. This seemingly counterintuitive attitude is what now takes the place of the old sales call.
“The truly innovative sales people are writing ebooks, blogging, have podcasts, are owning their media, are speaking to groups and conferences. They are positioning themselves correctly….and in so doing, they have distinguished themselves from the ‘commodity masses’,” advises Bill Caskey, host of the Advanced Selling Podcast.
There’s an easy litmus test for this, too, says sales author Errol Greene, “Ask any telemarketer how much they love their jobs? Instead, ask consultants how much they love solving problems. Quite a different answer.”
The goal, of course is to establish your brand as a valued sales consultant, capable of delivering expertise, not reinforce a tired stereotype that the world actively looks to avoid.
6 Steps to Building Your Personal Brand
1. Change your mindset. Don’t begin the relationship with a pitch.
You need to bear in mind at all times that in social selling, “if you’re helping, you’re selling.” Sales pitches have been replaced with genuine help for the prospect or customer.
2. Get Into LinkedIn.
If you’re engaged in B2B selling, the most important site for you is LinkedIn, currently the #1 site for B2B social selling. Start by reading and listening. Follow potential prospects, get a real feel for them. Go into forums, look over the content. Once you have a solid overview, begin responding—but only from the standpoint of help. Keep product pitches out of it—in many cases they’ll get you kicked out anyway. Anything that smacks of traditional sales practices will get you deleted immediately. From your own expertise and knowledge of your industry, answer questions and make friends. Do everything you can to become a “go-to” for questions.
Don’t limit your helpful behaviors to your own segment, though. You can become a connector, referring people to information and contacts. Help wherever you can. If, for example, you’re an avid golfer, answer prospective prospects’ questions on the subject when they come up, or engage in conversations where appropriate. Think of the process almost as you would a cocktail party conversation — it’s about getting to know people, helping them get to know you. In time, trust blooms and confidence goes up.
3. Start Tweeting and Re-Tweeting.
Be smart about Twitter. Follow the people and prospect companies you’re targeting. Follow other decision makers at their company. Follow your competition. Look at the accounts they follow — keep building on Twitter. Once again, don’t respond before listening and observing until you have the lay of the land. At every opportunity, provide help.
Become a knowledge broker — a curator of great information. As you follow along on Twitter, re-Tweet posts or items you agree with or think will add value.
Start and establish your own blog. A personal blog is your chance to draw people to your helpful advice — not a product marketing vehicle. Answer the questions they are asking online — when they do a Google search, your name will start showing up as someone in the know. Be engaging—blog about topics that readers are showing interest in (utilizing your research from other social media). Not a great writer? Share relevant content other than your own (with permission)—this is not only helpful to your readers, it will pull additional traffic to your blog. As your blog gains steam, share your posts through social media promotions. Post your articles to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and any other appropriate platforms.
Blogging has been made even easier today, with micro-blog sites such as Meddle that allow you to do small posts any time you have a thought, want to quickly share content you’ve discovered, or offer a piece of helpful advice. Your post is automatically shared in social media sites you are connected to. Here is an example of a Meddle site showing the types of content that can be shared.
6. Set Goals and Measure Them — Even Informally.
You can only find out what’s working well by tracking and measuring your results. This isn’t always easily quantifiable, so set goals that will lead to a difference in terms of savings or increased revenue. For example, you can measure increases in community engagement, brand “share of voice,” and your increased connectivity to external influencers.
The Big Picture
As you move forward in this way, you are building your own personal brand using your areas of expertise. If, for example, you sell database systems, there is plenty of expert advice you can offer to buyers looking to purchase or switch, or to others dissatisfied with their current solution, or to still others with general questions or problems. When someone you are in contact with is in the market for a database system, they will likely think of you. A personal brand, carefully nurtured, is a way for you to stay top of mind.
What is the goal of creating your own brand? Who is it that you trust when seeking advice on a purchase yourself? The answer: experts and friends. Make yourself into a trusted expert and friend of your potential buyers. You then become someone they automatically come to when looking to purchase a solution you are offering.
So as you can see, personal branding is the new sales call! Make sure yours is effective.