11 Jun 2018
As an IT sales professional looking at a second career in sales after 50, the sales trends are indisputably in our favor! Sales trends in IT, in B2B selling, and in the ways to achieve them, reward knowledge and experience over dogged determination.
Pounding the streets and knocking on doors are methods that worked in the past, but today’s world of IT sales is much more sophisticated, much more knowledgeable, and therefore much more suited to senior sales professionals. Many of us learned the business before or at the beginning of the Information Age. We used phone books and had lists of leads that we used to cold call potential clients. We did not have advanced targeting tools, search engines, or vast professional networks on which to rely.
But that does not mean that the methods we learned are no longer valid – it only means that we have much better tools for the job! Armed with the sophisticated new tools of the trade, with the hard-won wisdom and knowledge gained from our long experience in the field, at 50 we are better prepared to take full advantage of the exciting trends that are affecting IT sales and sales in general in the coming years.
A good salesperson in IT knows that this is a knowledge business. The trends in IT sales reinforce that fact. We have put together a list of seven key trends that will help give you an advantage in this highly competitive world and bring out the qualities that you have spent a lifetime refining.
When people say sales is a “young person’s game,” it only means they do not see the big picture. The big picture shows us that more and more deals are being closed by seasoned professionals who know how to choose their targets and how to stay in control of the conversation.
And that can be you!
Analytics in Prospecting
Data is everything! Gone are the days when leads were generated randomly based on company names and generic descriptions. Today we have the ability to know our clients and customers quite intimately, learning what their needs are and how we may fulfill them.
Prospecting is probably the most critical and the most time-consuming part of IT sales today. No one wants to waste their time pitching a company that has no interest in what we are selling. On the other hand, a well-curated and qualified list of prospects is worth its weight in Bitcoin. There are many free and inexpensive tools on the market today to help qualify your prospecting leads. The trends for 2018 and forward are to tailor-make offers so specific as to make the client unable to refuse!
Stay with the trends and use analytics platforms to fill your pipeline. LinkedIn, for example, is a great way to be seen but also to research your clients. There is a free and a premium version of the platform and both can be leveraged to get a great deal of information on your prospects and on similar companies. Another good tool is Data.com. This site uses business data and industry intelligence to supply sales forces with enough information to create highly-targeted lists.
Senior sales professionals have a distinct advantage in using these tools – we already have a good idea of the criteria that make a convertible prospect!
The Influence of Content Marketing
Knowledge is power, says Francis Bacon. Content marketing, according to one definition, is “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Over 70% of businesses are creating more content in 2018 compared to 2017. One of the biggest challenges impacting sales teams is that salespeople are spending less time selling and more time updating websites and creating content. For the senior sales professional, however, this is great news! While other salespeople are working hard to tell you about themselves, we should be working hard to glean valuable information from all this content. Blogs and insights published by potential prospects will consistently let us know 1) what they think they are good at, and 2) what they really need.
On the other hand, implementing a sound content marketing strategy on your side will draw clients toward you. You can set yourself as an expert in your field or product and you may find yourself fielding calls instead of seeking them out. Using content marketing is seen as a trend in sales, both for gathering and for disseminating vital information. One of the goals of content marketing is to achieve greater visibility for the company in search engine results, making your job easier when you are looking for new potential clients.
Emphasizing Customer Experience
IT sales is a crowded market. As more and more products are launched and introduced, the sheer amount of information facing the client can sometimes be overwhelming. This will lead them to judge you according to different criteria. Providing an enhanced customer experience is a trend in IT sales that cannot be overlooked.
This kind of experience involves engaging their attention with compelling, personalized content throughout the sales cycle. According to Forbes, “43% of millennials rank authenticity over content,” meaning that it is not about flooding them and overwhelming them with good content but making sure that it authentic and personalized as much as possible for them. This affects the way millennials make buying decisions. This puts a lot of pressure on sales teams to offer the right content proactively, making sure it addresses an individual buyer's needs.
The sales process according to this trend is shifting into a sales conversation rather than a pitch. You need to engage their minds and hearts in order to bring them to a sale. For the senior salesperson, this is again advantageous. With the experience and maturity we bring to the table, it is easier for a more experienced person to read the signs and ensure that the prospect stays engaged.
Instant Communication, Sales and Prospects
I think all of us probably remember the days when we would write letters to the clients or prospects. A business letter would take two to three days to arrive and then maybe a week before a response could come back, signaling the time of a phone call or a personal visit! Before getting nostalgic about those times, just think about what that meant in terms of advanced preparation! That required dedication and discipline to make sure that the business end of the pipeline was converting sales while the backend was slowly being filled.
Today communication between the prospect and the salesperson or team has to be immediate – because we can. Today we can communicate with distant prospects instantly by use of IM tools and social media platforms. And when the prospect has a question, we have to be ready with the answers just as quickly. Using tools such as Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Viber, WeChat and many others, we can and should be available at any time to discuss an issue which our potential client might have.
Harvard Business Review found 24% of companies took more than 24 hours to respond to online leads. Even worse, 23% did not send a reply at all. As part of this year's sales trends, companies are working to shorten response times for leads.
What is sometimes lost on younger generations, however, is the development stage of the pipeline. While we are online with active prospects, we still have to do the legwork to keep bringing in new leads. This is work that is second nature to more experienced sales professionals. Instant communication is a huge benefit for sales across the board, but the while the lines of communication are open, it means we have to be ready with new prospects just as fast!
It’s About the Whole Team
Part of building better relationships with new clients and customers is showing them that there is a team behind you. Sales in IT are most successful when they set up a relationship of trust and not just grabbing a one-off sale. This is especially true with SaaS products (software as a service). You may close a deal with a prospect, but if they do not have a good relationship with support, finance, and after sales service, that could be a hollow victory indeed.
As someone with more experience in the working world, a senior sales professional will have learned that it is not all about ego. The real trend here is shedding that ego and recognizing that your team needs to be as involved as you are in the sale.
This trend comes about because of the many "one trick ponies" out there who burn through their prospects at lightning speed and are only thinking of the day's sales. The IT sales environment is much more strategic than it used to be and many clients are trying to streamline their suppliers and service providers according to a quotient of trust and reliability.
This trust is built on a personal level with the sales professional but shared across the competences of the team behind him or her.
No More Order Takers
In B2B sales, the ambiance is rapidly changing. This area was once filled with various non-selling sales roles. Order takers who waited for the clients to come to them are losing jobs at an astounding pace, while consultants are gaining ground just as fast. In B2B, a company cannot expect their pipeline to be filled for them. Instead, the trend is toward developing the role of the consultant.
The consultant is generally more experienced, a trusted business ally, and someone who adds much more value to the sale. This change in B2B sales trends makes the successful B2B sale much more like B2C. It must be personalized, relevant, compelling and impactful.
The consultant is ideally a senior sales professional, a person with a 25-year career behind them instills much more confidence as a consultant than a typical MBA just out of school.
We Still Use Phones
With all of the trends showing more use of analytics, of big data, of AI and chatbots and automated sales processes, the one thing trend that is coming back quickly is the human voice. In our effort to be more efficient, we cannot overlook the reassuring role of talking to a client on the phone.
But the trend is not to do all your relationship building on the phone but to reserve it for important moments. When the client appears to hesitate, when he or she is ready to buy, or when it looks like they are trying to find the back door, that is the right moment for a telephone intervention. Companies that may tend to overcomplicate sales by automating as much as they can ultimately lose out to the ones who remember that sales is about people.
A mature and understanding voice on the other end of the phone can go a long way to building the trust you need to be successful. And this is a trend to follow!
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