22 Mar 2018
I just got a call from a very nice young woman. She told me who she was, where she was calling from, and wouldn’t I like to set up a meeting with her? I paused for a second before answering.
“Are you asking me out on a date?”
A little shocked, she was silent. But the reality is that here she is, calling me out of the blue, asking me if I want a meeting but not telling me why! Is she looking for a donation? Advertising? Does she want me to participate in something they are doing? Does she need help from my “important global company”?
Cold calls should be a thing of the past, right? But the big question about the future of sales and salespeople in the information age must be answered. If you are an entrepreneur and want to bring your product to market, you need to know very precisely what your salespeople should do, what they should know, and how they can convert sales for you.
Going to market in 2018 is about seduction and allure, not about pushy sales pitches.
Selling is very different than it used to be. Customers and consumers have a lot of information available. They inform themselves. They do NOT want to be cold-called. They do not like spam in the inbox or pop-ups on the screen.
Telephone sales are now called telemarketing or, more innocuously, inside sales. The original psychology of the telephone sale was quite sound. You get a call from someone who appears genuinely interested in you, who offers you something you have never heard of that will benefit you, and offers you a low-low price to get in. It was a numbers game: call enough people, make your pitch and a certain percentage will buy.
The problem with inside sales today is that the consumer has become fed up with it. We are jaded by scams and scandals and pyramid schemes. Moreover, in an age where all information on everything in the universe is available to us through a simple search engine query, we want to verify. We want to make sure that this stranger on the other end of the phone is not just trying to liberate us from our money without anything of value behind it.
When it was more popular and possibly more ethical, companies that used telephone sales were quite successful. These included insurance companies, advertising sales, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, long-distance services (do we still have those?), or travel agents.
There was once an art to it. The salesperson generally worked from a script that led the conversation from the hook to the interested questions, to the customers’ business, to the needs, and finally to the solution! Buy now! Much of this kind of sales was about closing a sale right there on the phone.
How is the sales environment different today? Attitudes have shifted, trust has eroded, and the information is freely available.
Today’s salespeople cannot rely on the possibility that their customer, who has just been wrong-footed by answering the phone as she gets out of the shower or is making dinner or is dealing with unruly children will suddenly set all this aside and give full attention to your pitch.
Moreover, change comes in the way we communicate too. We use text messages and IMs and chats more often than once we did. This is so prevalent that many people do not even answer the phone if it rings unexpectedly. To make things worse, caller id allows us to screen all of our inbound calls and pick and choose how we behave. If it is an unknown number, we may let it ring out.
Contrary to the behavior of many companies today, this is a call for change. It is a Red Alert! If we are using cold calling as part of a market strategy, is it really working for us? Really?
When you are bringing your new product to market, a big question is how to sell it effectively.
A good go-to-market professional knows that a ghostly voice on the phone will no longer do the trick. But does that mean that inside sales are dead?
Of course not! Talking to a human is still a very convincing means to sell. In fact, personalization in all parts of the sales process is a huge trend. But we should spend time and effort to prepare the customer to hear from us. If the customer has seen the product used, advertised, or spoken about on social media, he is much more likely to become a buyer.
This is where your go-to-market plan needs to turn to branding. We like brands because they inspire more confidence. A good brand comes into our lives by invitation. We see its images, read about its values and personality, and we develop an emotional connection with it in one way or another. Branding can be with a product (Nike), a company (IBM), or a person (LeBron James) and it should be the lift-off point for any good go-to-market strategy because it gives the potential target consumer or customer a preview of what is to come.
The nexus of branding and telephone sales is an important one to explore. If you insist on a cold calling campaign, how much more successful will it be if the person you are calling has already a predisposition to the brand you are pushing? It is a difference between Chase Manhattan and “Fred’s Bank.” Fred has to first convince you that he is a really a bank; Chase did it long before the call.
There are a number of consumer trends that give credence to the idea that telephone sales are going to be around for a lot longer than we might imagine, even if cold calling is not part of the evolutionary chain.
One of the most obvious is digital marketing. Using the web to communicate and insinuate your product into the hearts and minds of your potential customers is now common practice. We use websites, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube to put it into pictures and videos. We use Twitter and Reddit and Tumblr to put out news and information. We employ SEO experts to get our sites and links to the top results on Google, Bing, and Yahoo!
In this way, digital marketing and web presence take the chill off the cold call because it warms up the customer for a pitch. They have seen it. They like it. And they think about it. According to some researchers, it is possible that business customers accomplish nearly 70% of the buying cycle by themselves before ever speaking with any salesperson.
Another trend is self-marketing. As we are more and more an online species, a customer uses these methods to make themselves into qualified leads. Maybe they have looked at your website twice this week. Maybe they have placed an item or two in the shopping cart. And maybe they have clicked all the way through to the checkout page. These customers are ready to hear from you – by mail, chat, or even a phone call.
Self-marketing cuts both ways, however. The guiding principle is that the consumer invests much more in his or herself than in any kind of commercially available products. Self-marketing introduces the mirror effect – if I can picture myself in the mirror with this product, I can then make it part of my personal brand.
The third trend that is worth looking at in this context is experiential. Much has been said about experiential marketing, branding, and sales, but the bottom line is that consumers want to experience a brand or a product before they buy. This means the inside sales guy has no chance of selling unless there has been some kind of interaction with the brand. If you are an insurance company, for example, how can you provide any kind of experience for the consumer?
Videos offer a good substitute for actual hands-on experience, especially for online businesses. A good video clip can communicate the allure, appeal, and benefit of your life insurance by depicting an ideal family scene, a pleasant interaction with an agent, or even just a happy person.
Getting your new product to market today is a matter of steering, not pushing. Consumers are savvy and informed and up to speed on almost everything – and if they are not, they want to be before buying anything. Your strategy must take this into account.
The future of telephone sales, as we have seen here, is far from certain. While consumers want the personal touch, they would prefer to call than be called. They do not respond well to surprises over the phone, and they are willing to provide you with a great deal of personal information in order to qualify as leads. Or not.
What is certain is that “cold” is no longer an option. A go-to-market strategy that does not include an element of branding as a means to warm up the consumer will run into trouble fast. The ways and means available through digital marketing are vast and changing all the time.
As IT professionals, this is not news to you. Taking your product to market requires you to set the stage first. In this, it is always a good idea to consult with experts in the field who can set you on the right track to making sure that the customers ready for to take action.
Today’s consumers do not want you to sell to them. They want to engage.