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For a sales organization, selling is becoming increasingly complex. But buyers are just doing what comes naturally. Who isn’t starting online when searching for a product, checking out online reviews, asking our friends what they use, or seeing why other companies use a certain solution? We all do it.

According to research from CEB (now part of Gartner), nearly 60% of the buyer’s journey is already completed before a sales rep ever gets a chance to engage. That’s a huge chunk of the vetting and decision-making process already done before a brand even gets a chance to “get sales involved.” Here’s how you can effectively improve your performance during the remaining 40% of the journey and convince the customer that you have the right product or service they need.

Follow the digital breadcrumbs.

Digital breadcrumbs are all of the activities someone does online as they move through their buying journey. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to know as much as possible about what the buyer has already done during that first 60% of the journey. The truth of the matter is there’s no way to capture that information at scale or learn about their personal preferences or interests without technology.

By knowing what they have read, downloaded, or shared on social media, you can be much smarter with the remaining portion of the journey. Take, for instance, a customer who downloads a white paper and fills out all their contact information in order to get it. Then that customer calls the sales department to find out more, provides their information again, and listens to the sales rep recommend the same white paper or educate them on many of the points already covered in the white paper. It’s not a great experience for the customer — and the rep should have known this already had it been captured as part of the customer’s digital breadcrumbs.

During the initial digital journey, customers tend to reduce the number of brands up for consideration. In other words, buyers may not initially know who can help them, but through their own research, may narrow it down to only a few possibilities. The last thing you want to do, when you’ve made it on the short list, is give them a reason to cross you off the list because you weren’t able to provide the experience they were looking for.

Know your customer.

This is the natural next step: If you have moved a customer from “unknown” to “known” along their buying journey, then from that point forward, you should communicate with them like you know them. Once you have a handle on who they are, you should put selling on hold while you determine the best way to add value to the buying process beyond what the customer has already come up with on their own. It may mean doing additional research on the customer’s company and industry so you can determine what will resonate and what challenges the customer potentially might face. Arming yourself with in-depth views helps to set up a much more impressive and fruitful initial conversation.

At the same time, reps can go back to what they learned from those digital breadcrumbs and discern the type of problem a customer might want to solve. For example, what exactly did they download from your site? Was it more product-oriented or value-based? Are there any patterns that may indicate what they might want next? Finding the opportunity for personalization sets you apart and helps you avoid delivering content and information they may have already consumed.

Be predictive.

Now that you know who the customer is and what they might want, it’s time to predict what they will want next. All of this might sound like you need a crystal ball. But you can anticipate what they want next based off previous behaviors and patterns with like-minded companies. Maybe you’ve seen the customer download four things about a certain topic. It makes sense to send something helpful and different about that same topic. And with the growth of artificial intelligence (AI), this process will become faster and even more accurate.

If you’re capturing all the information along the way, you can take the sales process out of the reactive mode and make it much more proactive and predictive, especially with the use of AI. AI is necessary if you are looking to improve the engagement and value exchange you want to have with prospects and customers alike. It can help eliminate many of the non-selling activities so reps can focus on the best personal engagement and customer experience possible. And when you only have 40% of the journey left, you can use all the help you can get.

Nearly 60% of the buyer’s journey is already completed before a sales rep ever gets a chance to engage”

Tiffani Bova | Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Salesforce

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