Sales is changing fast. Mostly it’s getting more difficult.
It takes more emails, phone calls, and other touchpoints to land a meeting. Now teams of decision-makers weigh their buying decisions without your involvement. You may not even be needed in the buying process until its nearly over.
It’s harder than ever to reach buyers and influence their process.
In this article, I cover the source of this seismic shift happening in sales, and the skills you need to be successful now and in the future.
So, what’s triggered the seismic shift?
When it comes down to it, buyers often have a lot of information and don’t need you to get it. Thanks to the Internet, social media, apps, and mobile devices, people have more information and it’s free.
It’s inexpensive to communicate in today’s world. As a result, people are inundated with hundreds of emails, social media posts, and ads every day.
With abundant information so readily available about products and services from across the country and around the world, making a decision about what to buy and where to buy can be overwhelming. It’s no wonder buyers are now involving more people in the decision-making process. In fact, these days there are typically 8 or more people involved in a complex enterprise sale.
This means sellers have to compete in an environment where there are more people involved in a buying decision who have greater access to information and shorter attention spans. So what to do about it?
Change can be a good thing.
Sales isn’t the only industry that’s experienced a core-rattling shift. The good news is that change often brings improvement. Just take the invention of the container ship as an example. It changed shipping forever.
In the old days, goods were shipped in small boxes, crates, and even sacks. They were different sizes and different shapes. Loads were manually balanced, and goods were loaded and unloaded from ships practically one at a time.
There was no easy way to get things to a ship, load and secure them, unload them, and then deliver those same goods to their final destination. That is, until the invention of the shipping container.
In 1951, container ships began operating in Denmark and between Seattle and Alaska. It took another 13 years before the world’s first purpose-built container ship was built.
Now containers hold up to 64,000 pounds, they’re offloaded by gigantic cranes, and set on trucks and trains to move them efficiently across land and water. We take it for granted that we can buy just about anything, from just about anywhere in the world, and it wouldn’t be possible without containerization.
For most of human history, moving goods across great distances was really hard and really expensive. Now containers make over 200 million trips every year.
The changes that created today’s selling environment are for the better, too. They require sellers to become more useful, insightful, and empathetic to their buyers and client. It’s not enough to provide a product or service.
The sales process itself must be a useful service, too.
The new trust-building calculus.
Of course, you can only be of service to a buyer if they trust you first. They have to trust your intentions, and your credibility, and your ability to deliver something valuable to them.
Building trust was relatively easy previously because simply having the right information made you trustworthy. It showed that you lived in a buyer’s market and understood them. Now that there’s so much good and free information, you need to do more.
Sure, information is still important. But the information alone won’t accelerate you far enough up the trust curve to close the gap.
Trust is just the belief that someone will do what is expected. And that means you need to make and fulfill small – and increasingly larger – promises in order to build trust with your clients.
Given that you have to show up and provide value starting with the first interaction, can you fulfill that promise? Or if a buyer’s not ready to buy and you promise to follow up in 3 months, do you do it?
It’s not that the human operating system for building trust has changed. That’s pretty much fixed.
What’s changed is the number of promises being made and broken on a regular basis, so people are more cautious and less trusting. You’ll need some marketing skills to stay current so you can build and maintain trust with your buyers and clients.
The skills you need to own the change.
To thrive in today’s selling environment, you’re going to have to adopt a more service-oriented position by consulting your clients with helpful insights. Serve, don’t sell. Get it? Otherwise, you’re just another person saying the same thing as everyone else, which makes you totally useless to your client.
So, how do you do this?
Telepathy. You don’t actually have to be a mind-reader, but you should be able to convince your clients that you are. Your capacity for empathy should be so strong that you’re able to predict what people are thinking and, therefore, how you can help them. You can start by learning to listen actively and by asking the right questions (Check out our series on #SalesQuestions here).
Stand out. Think about those limited attention spans – mine included! Every person is a pattern-matching creature at their core, so you have to be different to be noticed and remembered. How will you be different?
Distribute valuable content. This will help build your credibility as an expert in your field, and become the go-to source of information for your prospects and buyers.
Master information flow. How does information move through your market and target accounts? And therefore, how do you transfer, find, and distribute information?
Automate. It’s the key to serving clients better, faster. Is there a part of your workflow process that could be done automatically without your involvement? An important part of automation is systems thinking so that you can automate the right things, and avoid over automation.
Learn core marketing tools. The technology is out there to improve the quality of your sales and make life easier. Are you taking advantage of it?
Start leveling up your sales with these marketing skills.
Serving clients well requires some thought and planning. Develop a Perfect Client Persona, a composite of your ideal client. Do you already understand the range of needs you can solve for your perfect client? Do you even know who that is?
It’s important to not make assumptions. Some level of market research is necessary to understand who your clients are, their problems, and their buying process. Do you have a process to research your clientele and their companies that yields useful information?
Take inventory of the content or information you have that can help that person win right now. Where are there gaps in information that clients and prospects ask for, but you don’t have?
Think about the movement of information within companies. For example, how does information typically move through the accounts you target? What media do they prefer? Audio? Video? Articles? Powerpoints? Are your powerpoints worth sharing? If not, you may not be speaking the right language to corporations.
And because this can’t be overstated, consider your options for automation. In the event that someone’s interested but not ready right now — and this comes up all the time — do you have a mechanism to follow up? What is it, and how well is it working?
Finally, consider the tools that are available in your trade that can help you make this happen and work well.
Goodbye selling. Hello serving.
Selling has changed, and it’s less about convincing and more about being of service. To adapt, you’ll need two categories of skills: providing useful insights and using some of your newly-acquired marketing skills to deliver value at scale. Keep in mind that it’s more important than ever to build trust with clients, which is what these skills will help you do.
Want to start working on your business telepathy?
Asking the right questions will help you develop skills for predicting and understanding what your clients are going through. Check out the entire #SalesQuestions podcast series:
#SalesQuestions – What’s going on?
#SalesQuestions – How long has this been happening?
#SalesQuestions – When did you notice this was a problem?
#SalesQuestions – What have you done to fix it?
#SalesQuestions – Who else is this affecting?
#SalesQuestions – Why is now the right time?
For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.
#SellersBecomeMarketers – Sales Skills We Learn From Marketers:
Break, bulk, cargo, what the heck is that, you ask. Well, I had to ask it too, and it’s what we used to do before the invention of containerization. Grouping goods together in containers so they could be moved more easily. It may not seem like it today, but containerization was a huge innovation. It was cutting edge technology.
See, in the old days, goods were shipped in small boxes, crates, and even sacks. They were different sizes and different shapes. Loads were manually balanced and goods were on loaded and offloaded from ships practically one at a time. There was just no easy way to get things to a ship, load and secure them, get them off, and then deliver those same goods to their final destination. That is, until the invention of the shipping container.
In 1951, the first container ships began operating in Denmark in between Seattle and Alaska. It took another 13 years before the world’s first purpose-built container ship was built. Now, containers hold up to 64,000 pounds; that’s what’s held in one single container. And ships have thousands of them. They’re offloaded by these gigantic cranes, set on trucks and trains to move them efficiently across land and water. We take it for granted that we can buy just about anything from just about anywhere in the world, and it wouldn’t be possible without this little thing called containerization.
And for most of human history, that’s been the case. Moving goods across great distances was really hard and really expensive. And now containers make over 200 million trips every single year. That is a gigantic change and shipping obviously, will never be the same.
Selling is going through some big changes too, and I contend they’re all for the better. In this episode of Modern Sales, I’ll cover the seismic shifts happening in sales, what’s causing them, and the skills you need to be successful now and in the future.
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.
This is the Sellers Become Marketers series on Modern Sales, where we’re talking about the huge shift in sales that demands we all become maybe baby marketers, marketers to some degree. In today’s episode, we’ll be covering the source of the seismic shift and the core marketing skills you’ll need to thrive in today’s selling environment. Each of the episodes will have the hashtag #sellersbecomemarketers at the beginning of the title, to help you find them quickly. This is the episode in the series, so welcome.
Before we dig in, this episode is brought to you by Serve Don’t Sell, my sales training and consulting firm. If you’d like to deliver winning presentations, win new clients, or expand existing clients, I can help you and your team do it. Just head over to Servedontsell.com to learn more about how it works.
So now, what’s this business about sellers becoming marketers? Now there’s a big shift in selling and you’ve probably felt it. If you’ve been in selling for many, many years, you know that it’s becoming harder and harder and harder to sell. In fact, in every study I’ve seen, sellers report that it gets more difficult every year to sell the same thing. It takes more emails, it takes more phone calls and other touch points to get a meeting. Sellers aren’t involved until the majority of the buying process is over and tons of conversations, meetings and emails are exchanged among the buyer’s decision making team, without your involvement.
We know more people are involved in an average sale and we know that it takes longer and longer for it to actually happen. Now, why is this? Well, one of the big reasons is the availability of information. There’s way more information than your buyers need and they don’t need you to get it. Sorry. Back in the old days, you were a bit of a gatekeeper to information, but that’s no longer the case, of course. Many buyers can solve most of their informational gaps without ever talking to you. And the reason of course is inexpensive communication.
Your buyers are getting a glut of communication that’s cheap or free from emails in their inbox to messages on LinkedIn, blog posts, news items from major publications, and of course advertising on every device they use throughout the day. In addition to that, many companies are practically becoming media outlets themselves. They are making tons of useful information and content, distributing it to the marketplace, and therefore you are not needed from your buyer for that kind of information. And of course, because so many people are involved in the decision making process, takes longer and longer and you’re just kind of shut out of a lot of the process, because in a complex enterprise environment, more people are involved than ever.
Now here’s what to do about it. I’m not making the sales is dead argument. I’m not going to tell you cold calling is dead. I’m not going to tell you that it’s hopeless, and I’m not going to tell you that email marketing is dead or whatever other blank is dead argument. I’m not doing that. But I am telling you that sales has changed forever. And the sooner we accept and adapt to this new reality, the better we’ll all be.
And one of the things I want you to do of course, is to adopt a more service oriented position in general, which is why my training company is called Serve Don’t Sell, of course. But you’re also going to have to start thinking and acting more like a marketer in order to compete in an environment where there are more decision makers who have access to more information, and whose attention is spread thinner than ever before. You’re going to have to work with them, without necessarily working with them directly. More on that in a second.
One of the problems you’re up against of course, really comes down to trust. And this is the psychology of why you need to think more like a marketer. There are so many messages and there’s so much information that it’s difficult for people to determine who they should trust and why they should trust them. When it comes down to it, trust is built when someone makes a promise and delivers on it.
How in the world can a buyer know that you’ll deliver on a promise? Well, they’re going to want to have some level of trust with you before they ever speak to you, which is why this idea of marketing before the sale is pretty damn important, right? Just begging people to get on the phone with us probably won’t work. We obviously need to show them what’s in it for them and also that we can deliver on even a micro promise. Like, “Get on the phone with me for 10 minutes and I’ll teach you something about your business or I’ll teach you something you didn’t know.” Right?
The other reason trust is so darn important and the other reason we need to think more like marketers, is that the buying cycle takes a while and it’s fairly uncertain. With more and more people involved in a buying decision, it can take a long time. The chance is that you’re talking to someone exactly at the right time, unless you have inbound leads, which yes, you should focus on building those. But unless you’re exclusively working with inbound leads, meaning people raising their hands and saying, “I want to work with you right now.” Unless you have that, you’re going to be talking to people who aren’t ready to buy now. And you need a solution to stay in touch with them and continually deliver valuable stuff to them even when you’re not there directly to talk to them. And that’s one of the core marketing skills that I’m going to talk about.
So here they are. Here are the core marketing skills that I believe you need to develop. Over the course of this series, I’ll publish a podcast episode on each one of these core skills. After I go through these skills, I’m going to give you some ideas on how you can start taking action to prepare for the upcoming episode. And then I’ll wrap up with some key takeaways.
The first core skill that I think you really need to develop and take away from marketers as a salesperson is what I’m calling telepathy. Now, of course you can’t read anybody’s mind, but you have to have such a strong level of empathy about your client and about what I would call, your perfect client profile, that you’re able to predict what people are thinking and therefore, how you can help them.
Now, the one thing you should not do, is make assumptions. But you should be doing some level of market research or collecting feedback and information from the market, so that you can have a strong sense of what people’s struggles are, of what problems they’re wrestling with, of their emotional state when they’re ready to work with you, of their buying process, of the types of information they’re looking for. All of these things can be known, and if you go out and collect the information, you’ll be in a position and ready at the time that it comes up, to actually help each individual person.
Of course, what each individual needs is going to be slightly different than what this composite, your perfect client profile. It’s going to be a little bit different than that composite; that’s fine. But you have to develop such a strong level of empathy and such an ability to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what life is like for them. That it’s almost like they feel you’re reading their mind.
Now, the next core marketing skill that you can develop as a salesperson that’s really going to do wonders for your career, is understanding how to stand out. It’s hard to imagine that technology could take up more of our attention than it does now. I mean, I’m practically glued to a screen all of my waking hours. It’s not quite the case, but for many of them, and in fact, certainly the majority of my waking hours, I’m staring at a screen. And so everybody’s attention is already spoken for, right? So if you’re asking for someone’s attention, you have to be different in some way. You have to prove to them or show them or demonstrate to them, that it’s going to be worth their time to pay attention to you. So my question to you is, how will you be different?
Now in sales, we typically think about this as simply differentiating ourselves from the competition, in terms of the features or the way we deliver our service, or some sort of mechanism or intellectual property we have, whatever it is that you use to stand out. You’re probably already thinking about this to some degree, but when it comes to getting attention, there are all kinds of other devices we can use, like a podcast for instance, right? I have your intention right now as you’re listening to this, maybe it’s writing interesting emails, maybe it’s sending people handwritten cards or gifts or insert the blank, right? Whatever it is, there are lots of ways that you can be different and creativity is going to get you a premium here. And so thinking about standing out and how you’re going to stand out is a really critical skill to start to develop.
The next core marketing skill that you will need to develop as a salesperson, is content; making and distributing valuable content. Now, do you need to be the best at making content? Definitely not. I’m not saying you need to turn into a media business or a media producer. What I am saying is that if you can start to think in terms of how content is made, what kind of problems it can solve, what types of different media are best for solving different types of problems or in different situations, and then you can communicate that back to your marketing team, that’s going to be a huge edge. It’ll also help you choose or curate the types of content that you pass along to your clients, right? If people are getting too much information right now, which hopefully you are nodding your head along with, when I talked about it earlier. Let’s just assume we agree on that point, right? There’s too much information out there.
So what’s required now? Curation. Your clients are looking for trusted sources of curation, so that they don’t have to go sort through the entire internet and figure out what’s worth their time and what’s not. You can help them do that. So curation is critical and in order to be a good curator, you really have to understand something about content, and you have to understand what’s available out there and why some things are better than others.
Skill number four that I would suggest, is really critical for you to start thinking like a marketer, is how information moves, how information is transferred, how it’s found, how it’s distributed. Essentially, you become a marketer to every single account that you touch. And so you can think about two different levels of information movement. One is, how does information move within a market? And the second is, how does information move within a company, right?
Because if we agree that we have less and less ability to have FaceTime or direct what I would call synchronous time, right? We’re on a call or a meeting together with a client, we’re going to have less of that and there’s less and less and less and less of that. The amount of time we can spend with clients keeps going down as a percentage of their overall buying process.
And so if that’s the case, what we’re going to need to do in order to be present in some way, is be the provider of information and make sure that information moves within the accounts that we’re working. We have to make sure that information moves within the markets that we’re working on. So how information moves. This is a critical, critical marketing skill, because it’s really what determines which ideas can become known within a market or an industry or within companies. In which ideas, no matter how good they are, are just totally forgotten. And so we need to know how information moves.
Core marketing skill number five is what I would call automation. Now I know automation is part of a lot of sales practices, SDRs and BDRs, that is sales development representatives and business development representatives. They do a lot of automated emailing and LinkedIn and there’s all kinds of platforms that do that. But in order to do it well, I think we do have to think like a marketer. We need to start to abstract a way, and not just think on a one to one basis, but think on a one to many or maybe more accurately, one to few basis. How can I write emails or messages or relevant communications let’s say, to a group of people, without having to write it custom every time.
Now the key to automation is not to send out huge numbers of communications to people who we don’t care about and we’re not spending any time learning about. That’s not what I’m saying. This is not the spray and pray approach. What I am saying though, is if you take the time to send a well-crafted email, and you take the time to send some piece of let’s say snail mail or pick up the phone and call someone, the likelihood that they’re going to be responsive right away, is pretty low. However, if we follow up with them on a regular basis, it is definitely more and more likely that we’re going to get a response from people. And so going from a customized message with no followup to a customized message with just three very simple followup emails, we’re probably going to double, triple or quadruple the likelihood of getting a response. And so automation, very simple automation, but automation nonetheless, is a very critical skill to develop. I’ll be dedicating an episode to that.
And next, the final episode of the Sellers Become Marketers series, I’ll be talking about tools of the trade. Now throughout the series, I’ll be talking about different tools that you could use that are associated with each individual thing that I cover. But that final episode, we’re really going to talk about a minimum stack. And I do have an episode that I’ve already done called a Minimum Viable Sales Stack back in the past, and there may be a little bit of overlap there. But essentially, what I’m going to tell you are some more advanced, more marketing-oriented tools that I think can be very, very useful for salespeople, that you may not have heard of. And so in that episode, I’ll be talking about some of the cutting edge tools that help us do prospecting, that help us do research, that help us do automation, that help us create content, and then help us stand out in various different ways.
Now to take action on this, normally at the end of these episodes, I give you immediate and tactical advice. But some hard problems require thought and planning. And so today, I want to leave you with something to think about, as we dive more into tactical steps in the following episodes of the series.
The first one is, develop a perfect client persona. Do you already understand the range of pains that you can solve for your perfect client? Do you even know who that is? Do you have several perfect clients who you sell to because you’re selling a horizontal solution to many different industries? If you haven’t done this exercise or someone on your team hasn’t done it for you and told you who your perfect client persona is, I really, really recommend that you do this.
The next thing I recommend is research. So a persona or a perfect client profile, as I call it, is a composite of your ideal client, but you’ll be talking to real people with real problems and real objectives in working with you. Do you have a process to research them and their companies that yields useful information? Now, I’m not talking about market research here, what I am talking about is, when someone becomes engaged with you at any level, do you have a process and the tools in place to learn a little bit about them so you’re not going in cold?
The next action item you can start to think about is an inventory, and specifically, a content inventory. What content or information do you have that can help your perfect client win right now? Where are the gaps in information that clients and prospects ask for, but you don’t have? Take an inventory, make a list, whatever you need to do. Start thinking about how you can beef up your content efforts and where your gaps are.
Next action item is to start to think about the movement of information within companies. How does information typically move through accounts that you target? What media do they prefer? Do they like audio or video or articles or PowerPoints? Yes, PowerPoints, they seem to be the love language of corporations. I’ve had many people tell me, “If you can’t make a good PowerPoint, we can never hire you.” So how does information move? What are the preferred media? And of course, what makes that information worth sharing?
Next action item is to start to examine your automation. In the event that someone is interested but not ready right now, and that comes up all the time as you know, do you have a mechanism to follow up with them? What is it, and how well is it working? And finally, tools of the trade. Do you have tools in place to make some of this stuff happen and work well?
The key takeaways of this overview of Sellers Become Marketers are number one, selling has changed and it’s less about convincing and controlling information, and it’s much more about being of service. Two categories of skills you’re going to need: one, the skill of consultation and delivering insights, the whole Serve Don’t Sell thing? And two, some of the basic skills of a marketer. And finally, building trust is harder than ever and that’s one of the ways that marketing skills can help, because you can make and deliver promises outside of one to one conversations.
That’s it for the first episode in the Sellers Become Marketers series. In next week’s episode, I’ll give you some ideas on how to develop your telepathic powers, not to line your pockets with dollar bills, my friend, but to develop a better client relationship with a faster path to trust and understanding, and why the only tool you need to do it, is a mirror.
If you aren’t already subscribed to this podcast, please do so by clicking the subscribe button. You can also get notified of all podcast episodes with behind the scenes info as well as other exclusive content I put out, by signing up for my newsletter at servedontsell.com/newsletter. It’s totally free and it’s linked in the show notes. And finally, if you’re looking for help training your team to sell more of your big hairy, complicated products and services to big companies, I can help with remote and onsite training options. Just head over to servedontsell.com, click the contact button and you can fill out a quick form to begin the conversation.
Thanks so much for listening. I’m Liston Witherill of Serve Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.