Press the “Buy Now” button and you can get almost whatever you want online.
Click on a link in an email and you can get a free trial of a sophisticated enterprise software-a-service (SaaS) application.
Pick up the phone and you can order not only flowers, but a wide array of products and services from companies in multiple industries.
With all these conveniences at hand, the question begs to be asked: should sales reps start thinking about a career switch?
We’ve certainly come a long way since the days of the door-to-door salesman. For one thing, those in sales are by no means predominantly male anymore. In fact, the profession is now open to an increasingly wide range of ethnicities, backgrounds and age groups, and firms whose values include diversity and inclusion are hiring accordingly.
There’s also less need to knock on every door randomly in the hopes of finding a customer. Thanks to the rise of cloud-based CRM, sales managers and their teams can now find the prospects that are most likely to convert into paying customers, and to approach them only when they are ready and even eager to make a purchasing decision.
What hasn’t changed, however, are some fundamentals involved in the selling process, which you might think of as different stages of the customer journey. Reps can bring a lot to the table at every one of these stages.
By all means you should embrace digital channels that bring you closer to customers, but before cutting back on sales talent — or imagining that a dedicated sales team is no longer needed — remember these points:
1. Customers aren’t just looking for a product
The most successful companies grow the way they do because they become intimate with their target market’s pain points. As a result, they aren’t merely focused on manufacturing goods, but are fundamentally trying to solve problems.
In this sense, salespeople are the ambassadors for the solutions a company has developed. They can help not only explain how features work but how a product can be most successfully applied in a particular market or other context.
Customers often aren’t sure of exactly what they want, which means sales reps are conduits for expertise and advice. They tend to get better and more knowledgeable the longer they’ve been selling something, which means the companies that employ them will only see their investment in hiring continue to pay dividends over time.
2. A buying decision can be a lot more complicated than it appears
We think we know what “purchasing” looks like, but we don’t.
It’s not just someone goes walking up to a cash register in a retail store, or filling out a contract online. That’s the final step in what can sometimes be a much longer and more protracted process.
When companies are buying from business-to-business (B2B) vendors, for instance, there can be many different people who will be part of the buying decision. There might be multiple sign-offs before a deal is closed. Depending on the nature of the customer in question, there might be other procurement rules to be followed for regulatory hurdles to be overcome.
It isn’t necessarily that different for companies selling products to consumers. Kids may need to win over their parents before they can buy an expensive bicycle. Someone buying a major appliance may need to come back with their spouse or partner before they are ready to make the final call on the model they’ll get. For larger items, like a home or a car, consumers may need to look into financing options or save up money.
A good salesperson will learn all the steps involved in moving a potential sale from vague interest to someone signing up or opening their wallet. They will be able to do the legwork or due diligence that speeds up the process as much as possible and attempt to remove any other obstacles that might come up.
3. Salespeople answer the unasked, but vital, customer questions
Most technology is reactive, in the sense that it responds to a request or command that we give it.
Do you want to see a wider selection of products? Technology can do that.
Do you want to see what customers like you also bought? Here you go.
Need more details about customizing your order or shipping details? You’ll have them in an instant.
What salespeople add to this is the power of persuasion. The best salespeople don’t merely take orders. They convince.
Think about the reasons customers tend to decide not to buy. It always seems easier, or safer, to do nothing. A good salesperson will answer the unasked question, “Why should I buy this — and what’s the risk if I don’t?”
Even with a lot of great marketing collateral, meanwhile, customers may sometimes be thinking (even if they don’t say it aloud), “Why this company versus one of its competitors?” The highest-performing reps love digging into this question and providing proof points that support their firm’s particular products and services.
The ease and availability of digital channels also gives customers the power to put off a purchase. Salespeople are trained at addressing the “Why now” for potential buyers, creating a sense of urgency based on the opportunity to make someone’s life or work better in some way.
Salespeople often do a lot more than sell. They also help build and maintain relationships with customers.
This is when assisting (or facilitating conversations) with the customer service team after-sale support becomes important. There is also a strategic component, in which reps coordinate efforts to upsell and cross-sell to existing customers based on what they learn from a CRM.
Even in the age of the Internet, chances are you’ll continue to see salespeople play a vital role. And your customers will be grateful you continue to develop their skills to strengthen their job security even more.