It’s not what your sales people can do for you, but what you can do for your sales people
Only 18% of people rely on sales people when making purchase decisions about business software, compared with 60% trusting word-of-mouth, friends and social media referrals, according to research project involving 4000 business people.
What the results in this survey suggest above all, is that the greatest “selling” tactic is doing a good job for your customer. In this digital age, where everything is so transparent, it is hard to hide a poor product or inferior support.
Most decision-makers won’t rely primarily on a sales person, as they want a more objective view of a product. That’s what they can get from their own network, from other customers, from analyst reviews.
What the survey also shows though is that producing helpful content can help build trust with the buyer. 43% said they relied on it in their purchase decisions. This is not product literature or demos, but helpful information that helps a buyer understand and define their business problems and work out how your product meets that need.
Do the survey results suggest you should actually sack your sales people? For some software products, especially smaller software-as-a-service plays, automating the entire sales process is becoming more and more possible.
However, as a general rule the answer is not eliminating your sales team but actually looking at their role differently. To paraphrase US president John F Kennedy, ask not what your sales people can do for you, but what you can do for your sales people.
Often sales people aren’t failing business managers, business managers are failing their sales teams. Too many tech companies set up their sales people to fail, expecting them to produce results from thin air, beset with unrealistic expectations and too little support.
Sales people get a bad reputation (and a low ranking in these kind of surveys) when they have to constantly do the whole sales job, from generating initial awareness (i.e. door knocking/cold calling) through to finally closing the sale. Their role is much more efficient and effective when it is focussed on working with a prospective customer whose interest has been qualified.
The cost of funding a sales person to do the early prospecting work is also very high. They can only focus on one prospect at a time, wasting time on those who are not interested, or not in a buying cycle at that time.
As opposed to undertaking a marketing programme, where you can invest in communicating one to many, moving people through those early stages of awareness and understanding. Those that pop up as interested ‘leads', a sales person can then nurture through to a closed or lost sale.
Some tech business owners or managers get frustrated with their sales people because they are not producing enough results, but aren’t investing in supporting them with lead generation programmes. The more you can focus your sales team on that part of the equation, the more effective they are likely to be.
This sort of ‘lone wolf’ selling model typically results in a high cost of sale, which remains constant. In the tech sector especially this means being very reliant on high quality sales staff, who work through long lead times to secure sales. Revenue can consequently be lumpy, and your growth restricted by the sales of your direct sales resource.
Adopting a more efficient approach where you use various marketing tactics to raise awareness and generate demand, should result in average cost of sales dropping as sales activity builds. Broader parts of the company can become involved and add value to the sales process, by providing input into content and other lead generation activities. Companies can more easily build scale without having to build a large sales force.