Consumers today are surrounded by sales — ads on their computer screen, commercials on TV, sponsors on their podcasts, spam in their inbox. That flood of incoming information has led to fatigue. Nearly half of consumers distrust brands and only 6.7 percent believe information coming from sales is very trustworthy.
As a result, consumers are rebelling. They do their own research via Google, blog posts, and customer reviews. They ask friends on Facebook and colleagues on LinkedIn to weigh in on their buying decisions. By the time a prospect today talks to a sales rep they are already more than halfway done with the buyer journey.
Contrary to apocalyptic-sounding headlines, this doesn’t have to mean the extinction of the sales profession. Instead, as with any environmental shift, survival will require evolution.
The new breed of salesperson will think like a rep, act like a marketer, and react like customer service.
Think Like a Sales Rep
Sales is the oldest profession in the world. While it certainly looks different today than it did even five years ago (not to mention 500), the qualities that make a successful salesperson hold true.
In a personality study of 1,000 salespeople, a few traits stood out as being predictive of who would be the most successful at the job. First, lack of discouragement — top salespeople bounce back quickly from losses without dwelling on failure. This is a crucial trait when 80 percent of sales require at least five follow-up calls.
They also lack self-consciousness. Offhand, that might sound more like an HR risk than a trait to hire for, but put it in other words — courage — and it sounds much better. Successful sales reps aren’t bashful about calling on a major prospect or making a bold (but true) claim.
Though sales is changing, a courageous mindset is essential to maintain. What needs to shift is how sales reps put those traits on display, which brings us to…
Act Like a Marketer
The hard sell is dead. The cold email is dying. And what those two things have in common in this — they don’t sound very friendly. Do you know what does sound friendly? Lead nurturing. Storytelling. Personalization. Lifestyle marketing.
Where marketers have their act down in comparison to lagging sales teams is with the human side of turning a prospect into a customer. Businesses that nurture leads using marketing automation see a 451 percent increase in qualified leads. Personalized emails increase conversion by 10 percent.
Consumers, particularly younger generations, are increasingly loyal to brands with values that align with their own, that tell the story of why they exist, and make a commitment to the greater good.
The key takeaway for sales reps is to be willing to give before you get — provide valuable content, take the time to personalize, and partner with your marketing team more than ever before.
And if you think these rules just apply to your brand, think again. Consumers are researching you as much as the company you represent, so start building that online presence.
React Like Customer Service
Customer service has one goal — customer satisfaction. And sales reps need to adopt a similar approach for a similar goal — prospect satisfaction.
This may seem at odds with an “always be closing” approach, which would suggest shutting the door on an uninterested lead to prioritize a hotter prospect. However, today’s reps need to think longer term and bigger impact.
On the longer term side, today’s “not interested” could easily be next month’s “I’m in.” Marketing and sales automation tools make it possible to stay in touch with those leads without a huge investment of time. Reach out from time-to-time with a “gift” — content, an introduction, a friendly well-wish — and when circumstances change, they’ll think of you first.
As for bigger impact, today, word-of-mouth spreads further (thanks, social media) and matters more to consumers than other purchasing influences. Recommendations from friends and family are consumers’ most trusted source of information.
Though a prospect may not be the right fit for your product or service, they may very well know someone who is. Treating every prospect like a top-paying customer will help send referrals your way and referred customers stick around longer and spend more than anyone else.
Remember that sales rep personality study? Another trait that it listed as predictive of success in the field is one that may surprise you — humility. It’s a trait that top reps will need to call on to recognize the shifts in the environment, be open to change, and seek out the right team members to emulate.
Also published on Medium.