Back in the old days of sales, when your grandfather was still going door to door, a good salesman was an adviser to his prospects. They relied on him to help them understand their needs and requirements.
Today, Google is our universal adviser. This means that your prospect (“Sam”) is informing himself about his own problems, and about the options available to solve them. He will identify his own needs, and try to design his own solution, long before even thinking about talking to a salesman.
Indeed, according to CEB, buyers are now 57% of the way toward a buying decision before they make first contact with a salesman. SiriusDigital puts this figure at 67%. Online search has replaced personal sales advice.
To put this in perspective, today your sales team has about two thirds less input and influence with Sam’s buying decision as they might have had a generation ago.
Does this mean you have two thirds less control over the sales process?
No it does not. What it means is that you must adapt that sales process to fit into Sam’s self-guided buying workflow. He still needs the same information and advice that he always did in order to make a good purchase. He simply expects to get it from different sources than a salesman.
Sam’s new sales sources
Although the democratization of information has the downside of diluting your control over the sales process, it has a far greater upside—if you’re willing to adapt. No longer is the biggest company automatically the one with the most authority. No longer is the most powerful brand the one with the most perceived value. No longer is having the deepest pockets equivalent to having the most sales power.
Now it is the company who can best help Sam understand his problem, and most helpfully guide him toward a solution.
The fact that this isn’t done in person by a salesman is a benefit, because it means you are no longer limited by how many people your sales team can talk to, and how well trained they are.
Today, your online content is your sales team—and the quality of that content is the deciding factor in whether Sam pursues a purchase. This is why he typically visits a website seven times before filling out an inquiry form. He is verifying with your “automated sales team” that it’s worth his time to talk to your human sales team.
Adapting sales conversations to a digital medium
So just because Sam spends most of his decision-making time online doesn’t mean your sales team can’t be involved at all stages of his journey. You simply have to translate their expertise into an online medium. In doing so, you can become an indispensable part of his early research.
But it takes a complete mental shift from the old-school sales model.
If you’re willing to make this shift, you’ll have a tremendous head start over nearly all of your competitors. There is a surprisingly large gap between customers’ sophistication using the internet for buying, and companies’ sophistication using it for selling. In most industries—even technical ones—the majority of vendors are way behind. That means you have a chance to get out in front—and the potential returns are heavily disproportionate to your initial investment.
But how do you start?
Perhaps the simplest way to summarize the mental shift you must make is as follows:
Stop thinking of marketing and advertising as distinct from sales.
Every single piece of content you produce, whether it’s a banner ad or a website or an email campaign or even a billboard is sales content.
There is no longer any such thing as non-sales content.
Because Sam’s buying process has moved online and become non-personal—not to be confused with impersonal—your sales process must do the same. What was once a very focused personal process must become a distributed online process, where any piece of content is a small step in a larger thought sequence that moves Sam toward a sale.
You’ll often hear people call this a “funnel,” but candidly, this metaphor is fundamentally confused. The process of guiding buyers through an online decision-making process is nothing like guiding water through a funnel—the persistent use of this metaphor has produced a great deal of bad marketing training, and expensive marketing mistakes.
The closest analogy is actually to a journey in pursuit of a goal. This is why at Superhuman Sales we refer to this process as the quest.
Not every prospect will succeed in your quest. But the central idea of your new mindset, your new strategy, is to make it as likely as possible that good prospects will eventually work their way to their holy grail—your offering.
What does this look like in real life?
Because this mental shift involves eliminating the distinction between marketing and sales, perhaps the most critical element is in transitioning from an “ego” model to a data model.
If you want to leverage the web to increase sales, you have to rely on data-driven content decisions—not ego-driven ones. You must be able to track the ROI of each change you make. You must be able to scientifically, critically, unemotionally assess whether adding that workflow or changing that button has increased or decreased your overall sales.
Your website should be like a guidebook for anyone on a content journey with you—a place where they can always find information about your offering, and about becoming a customer. And this guidebook must be compiled based on their actual behavior and needs, rather than the loudest stakeholder’s opinion. Whereas most websites are created through a “Madison Avenue” approach, where their designs and content reflect whatever the stakeholders think looks good, you must shift into a direct-response approach where every element, every word, and every click can be proved to turn visitors into customers.
Jargon, pompous industry puffery, and copying what your competitors are doing, won’t connect with Sam, and won’t generate sales.
Although undertaking a wholesale shift like this is obviously a huge and ongoing procedure well beyond the scope of this piece, there are some initial strategies to consider at the very beginning:
As a starting point, always make sure you’re tracking everything in your analytics—and have someone who knows check that this is actually set up correctly. Without capturing information about user behavior, and being able to trust that it is untainted by bad configuration decisions, you can’t make any informed plans about adding or changing content.
Consider the full picture. Don’t just run ads in isolation—but also, don’t run them just to get people to your homepage. The homepage is important for acting as a kind of online reception area, but it’s seldom the ideal place for Sam to start—you would rather he spoke to someone about a specific issue than to your receptionist. So map out a logical thought sequence for him based on the issue the ad is dealing with, and connect each piece of content tightly to the last.
- People buy from the authority in the space; we see this, for instance, with the meager 2% success rate of cold calls versus the 40%+ success rate of referrals. Because a referral is pre-qualified, you already carry authority status—a kind of psychological imperative. By the same token, if Sam perceives your online content as the most noteworthy voice among a sea of contenders, he will take it much more seriously. Building credibility through case studies worked well for one of our customers with a highly technical product that solves a real business need. Articles, videos, and podcasts are other common high-leverage ways to build authority.
- No matter how good your “one-off” content, authority is difficult to establish if you can’t be proactive about continuing to talk to Sam. Therefore, consider ways to get his email address. Email is almost always a critical path in Sam’s quest, ensuring that you build up rapport and establish yourself as a trusted advisor in his inner sanctum—his mailbox—rather than hoping he’ll one day return to your site of his own initiative. Email automation is true automated salesmanship, and the heart of most successful online sales methods.
- Start offline. Ultimately what you’re aiming to do is translate your old-school sales process to the web; so start by mapping each step and thought in that process. Once you have a clear map of how you turn prospects into customers offline, you’ll have a solid foundation for turning visitors into customers online.
Because the process of developing a quest—more correctly, quests, plural—is both complex and different for each organization, we can’t give you a paint-by-numbers guide. But if you’re in the tech space, we can certainly give you a good overview of how to proceed. Why not get started with our 3-part quest video series?