For more than 25 years I have been expounding the virtues of a highly trained and motivated sales force for companies of all sizes. Back in the 80’s and even into the 90’s, the cold call ruled as a source of qualified lead generation. Whether companies employed call centres, hunters or had the salesforce making their own calls, the effectiveness of cold calling in separating the wheat from the chaff was unparalleled, although costly in terms of time and value investment. Once the lead was qualified, the salesperson met face- to- face to close the sale.
Today, lead generation is more focused on positioning your business so that when a need arises, it is easy for customers to find you, and information about your goods and services. Business strategies need to include getting found, as opposed to finding others.
Studies have shown that having an effective inbound B2B marketing strategy results in a “60% lower cost per lead.” The shift has been made in creating a new “refining agent” for qualified leads, or in other words, clients who have already recognized a need and have entered the initial stage of the buying cycle. These businesses have entered a new era in lead qualification, however, let’s be clear – no sale will be made without customer engagement and relationship development.
I have spoken with some companies, who are under the false impression that the salesforce can be minimized now that clients find them and are able to gather their own information without human interaction. The salesperson is more critical now than ever. In the age of electronic tire kickers, the buyer is shrewd and better educated than in the past, however buying signals can be misinterpreted without human interaction.
There is still the need for a salesperson to engage these customers, further qualify their intentions, uncover other needs and opportunities and close the deal.
Despite changes in the buying cycle and the expression of need through online interest, the marketing criterium remains the same, as does the sales cycle. The marketing criterium ends with decision and commitment, and the sales cycle includes supporting the buying decision, closing and re-opening the discussion to uncover hidden needs. All of these involve sales interaction and relationship development that a trained salesperson is capable of providing. Businesses that recognize the importance of the salesperson, and continue to upgrade the training, competencies and sales skills will win the B2B sales game in the end.
There is no doubt that the client-salesperson relationship will continue to be the focal point of any sales process in the foreseeable future. Options for expression of need will continue to evolve; however, the final decision will continue to be based on relationships, and the consultative sales process.
Jeff Bowman is a professional sales trainer, facilitator and speaker with the Marketing Pad Inc, a sales and marketing integration, communication and automation company.