I was chatting with the CEO of a midsize organization about the evolution of the sales cycle. Much of her career had been centered on sales. She had helped build the business by bringing in new clients while retaining valued customers. Back then, it was a different game. In her day, she was the educator and problem solver. People came to her wanting answers. Today, more often than not, consumers come to companies with an answer wanting to know if the company can fulfill it. The sales process has drastically changed, which means businesses must reevaluate their sales process or face being left behind.

The Salesperson as an Educator

There will always be a need for salespeople to educate consumers, but that need has shrunk dramatically. When I was in sales, my primary role was to train consumers about my product and how it fit their needs. Prospects would call or visit with a question or problem, and I was expected to deliver an answer or solution. Today the sales process seldom begins this way. Consumers have access to the same information  as sales representatives. The majority of prospects seek and find solutions before contacting an organization.

Consumers are Shopping

Recently an old friend said, “These internet leads aren’t as good as old fashioned call-ins because they’re talking to three or four other providers.”  Think about it. In this day and age, isn’t that what most of us do? When we have a need, we go online, search for solutions, and compare providers. It shouldn’t surprise us when our potential customers, whether B2B, B2C, or NFP, do the same. Possessing this knowledge helps us prepare. It’s more important now than it has ever been to promote your USP (Unique Selling Point.) What sets you apart from your competition? Is it tenure, experience, equipment, or training? Whatever it is, it should be shared. It needs to be easily accessed by prospects. When a consumer searches your website is your USP immediately apparent?

The Modern Sales Cycle is a Two-Part Process

In the past, when clients came to sales people with questions, the answers began the sales process. Along with problem-solving and education, rapport was established, trust built, and credibility accepted. The sales process today begins in the middle. Consumers have found answers and vetted organizations well before contacting them. Their questions are more about how the provider can meet their needs and less about establishing the need or  product knowledge. Since salespeople are contacted later in the sales cycle, there’s less time to establish a business relationship. Add to this segmentation, Cooperative Enterprise, and content marketing and it becomes apparent a new sales process is called for.

Build A  New Sales Process Now

I don’t have the answer for your business. You do. But I can share where you need to concentrate and where to start building a 21st century sales process.

  • Website Fluidity– If consumers are searching for answers, which you provide, will they find you online? Your website needs to be proactive and continuously updated.
  • Content Marketing – Useful content is king. Blogs, case studies, eBooks, video, photos, and infographics all direct consumers to your business.
  • Segmentation –Market segmentation is the identification of portions of the market that are different from one another. Segmentation allows the firm to better satisfy the needs of its potential customers.”– NetMBA
  • Cooperative Enterprise –Making customers part of the marketing process by soliciting their needs, opinions, and ideas about and for your product or service.
  • Responsive Sales People – Consumers may take days or weeks searching for answers, but when they’re ready, and make contact, they want an immediate response. It’s a poor business plan to contact inquires the next week, day, or sometimes—even the next hour is too long.

 Are you On Track?

Is your sales process state of the art and able to meet the needs of the modern consumer or is it like many—part new age with old school remnants? Do you and your sales people reminisce about the “good old days” or see the opportunities available for those ready, able, and willing to fulfill consumer’s expectations? Many organizations are at a crossroads—integrating modern sales processes while holding onto outdated sales systems and techniques. Which road will you take?