3 Big Learnings from the Digital Growth Conference 2016

DigitalGrowthConference

This week I attended the Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco put on by SalesforLife.  It was a remarkable event packed with great content, inspiring and thought provoking speakers and some of the industries most respected thought leaders in the digital and social selling world. The attendees listened, asked questions, pondered, and talked with one another about how to effectively interact with today’s digital buyers, all while grappling with the ever-present challenge of how to transform our sales people into social sellers.

Here are my 3 Big Learnings from the conference:

  1. Today’s buyer is far more disruptive to the buying process than technology. Social selling evangelist Jill Rowley said during her keynote, “The buyer has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100.” The disconnect between our buying habits and preferences as consumers, has not followed us into our businesses. Buyers are hyper-connected, plugged in, educated, informed, and knowledgeable. They are no longer waiting to be sold, but instead, they are controlling the sales conversation and process. This evolution begs a change to traditional sales processes. Your sales people today must be brand ambassadors both for your company’s brand, as well as, their own personal brand. Jill drove this point home by saying, “Your online digital footprint is how trust will be built before you meet your customer, your personal brand is so important.” The modern sales person sees this, embraces this, acts on it, and is constantly working to develop his or her personal brand. The question we should all be asking is, what about those sales reps who are not making the transformation to the modern sales representative? What to do?
  2. Since the buyer is now in control of the sales process, the job of the sales rep is no longer to sell, but to facilitate the buyers journey. Viewing a sale in this different light may be quite stirring…perhaps even provocative to many. However, the digital buyer is here.  There’s no going back. Sales people need to be socially engaged where the buyers are learning. It’s no longer enough to simply know where the buyer is.  The sales person now has to be interacting with that buyer before the sale in the places the buyer is learning and with those who are helping to educate and inform them. Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Strategist for Salesforce said, “How much of the journey they (the buyer) have gone through is irrelevant. It’s where they went in between that’s important.  Who are their advisors, where did they go to get info?”.  The sales rep is no longer leading with the sale, but leading the buyer to the sale. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to aid in this transformation from a focus on the selling process to a deep understanding and alignment to the buyers journey?
  3. While the buyer has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, business has been much slower to change. Sure, it may feel to many that things at work are changing at light speed, but our sales process is still the same. Fill the pipeline, manage the pipeline, close the pipeline.  We may have changed the words we use, going from prospects, to pipeline, to funnel, but it’s still the same message, and same management. A true transformation to a buyers journey-centric focus requires great preparation, training, knowledge and assets that provide Sales with the tools they need to align with this “new buyer.” According to Sales Enablement guru Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Strategy Officer at Strategy to Revenue,” The #1 reason sales people fail to make a sale is due to their inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.” This reason, and its #1 ranking, hasn’t changed in 5 years. Why? The reason can be connected back to the disconnect between what we expect from our buying as a consumer, versus what we expect as a business person. This has to change.  To make this transformation we need to begin with hiring the right talent, providing that talent with the most effective on-boarding and training, and build a process that acknowledges the buyers journey by focusing on “education, solution, and selection.” It’s all about enabling your sales team to maximize all of their buyer interactions, because what got us here, won’t get us there. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to better enable our sales teams?

As I reflected on my Conference take-aways on my flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I found myself thinking about the pace of change in our consumer lives and Moore’s Law – the speed of technology will double every two years. We all use technology to improve our lives, educate ourselves, inform one another, and buy things. The age of the customer has arrived.  They’re looking for an advisor. They want answers. And while today’s buyers conduct much of the buying process on their own, results of an Accenture survey presented at the Conference showed 65% of buyers still want a combination of digital and human interaction when buying.  This requires being there (where the buyers are), and being prepared (talent, training, knowledge, assets). Business needs to recognize and acknowledge these changes have happened.  We all need to begin to let our behaviors and expectations as consumers follow us into our jobs. Those willing, capable, and brave enough to make this transformation will be the companies that become the high-water-mark the rest will be chasing in the future.

 

 

 

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Best Practices…Who Says?

Best Practice

Life is full of best practices.  These are the things we should all be doing because they worked for someone else.  We get caught up in copying the P90X workout, or the Zappos marketing campaign, or the Salesforce.com sales presentation, or even parenting based upon the sage advice of best practice preachers. For those with children, do you remember the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting?; it’s a best practice book! But what are best practices?

The most common definition I could find on the Internet says best practices are commercial or professional procedures that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective.  But by whom?  Who says they work? Where did they work?  When?  What kind of business did they work in?

I have nothing against best practices in general.  However, when organizations take an approach that proudly states they will deploy best practices to accomplish their objectives, I must admit…it does make me a bit curious.

My experience has taught me that an organization’s culture trumps even the best of best practices.  I’ve spent 13 years of my career in the payroll and human resource outsourcing space.  Several times I’ve attempted to deploy what was considered a best practice at one firm into another only to see it fail due to a cultural difference.  Like hiring one of your competitors top sales people only to find they were unable to be as successful selling in your company, implementing best practices from one place to another doesn’t always work either.  Top sales people many times excel in environments where they are provided with autonomy and the latitude to get a deal done.  Placing that same sales person in a company that requires their managers sign-off on everything they do is a certain recipe for failure both for the sales person, the company, and of course the customer.

Before thinking about copying a best practice be honest with yourself and your team.  There’s a difference between being capable of doing something versus being able.  Having the ability to change is quite different from having the capability of changing.  Most of us are capable of a lot more than we’re doing today.  The reason we’re not doing more is because we’re unable to…unable to cross the chasm…unable to make the change…unable to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

We should always be interested in, and on the lookout for best practices.  Just be sure to consider how far you’re willing to go to implement those changes.  How much change can you endure in order to make the needed change?  The truth is, for best practices to work, it’s entirely up to you.  It’s not about the practice itself but about how you and your organization can execute that practice that makes it work…that makes it a best practice.

Does Inbound Marketing Work?

Inbound

Yes.  Right out of the gate, Inbound Marketing does work.  But like everything else in life, success is largely dependent upon a few key ingredients beginning with a clearly defined objective.

Many companies look at Inbound Marketing as a way to simply accelerate their cold calling efforts. These are the companies that still believe that the only way to generate more revenue is to shake more hands.  The concept of Inbound Marketing however is focused on a virtual handshake evolving into a virtual hug.  It’s about creating a safe environment for your customer to learn, ponder, and explore at their own pace.  For Inbound Marketing to work your customer must believe the content you’re offering has value.  They must also believe you have a passion…a purpose…a genuine desire to help solve their problem the best way possible. This means the content you develop answers their questions and provides enough information to lead them to ponder new ideas or considerations.  It all begins with great content.

Some companies try to disguise their sales materials as content.  Don’t bother!  It won’t work!  Your customers are too savvy.  They know too much.  They have access to other competitors content that they are comparing yours against!  No.  Your content must be factual, original, thought-provoking, specific, and end-result focused.  That means you must understand your customers needs; in fact better than they know them themselves.

Once you’ve created killer content be sure to have a system in place that enables you to manage your Inbound Marketing efforts.  There are a number of solutions available for companies of all sizes to manage their Inbound efforts without breaking the bank.  Check out HubSpot, Marketo, and Pardot.  Each of these systems have their pros and cons depending on your own objectives.  The good news is they all produce great content to help inform you in your decision making process. After all they are in the business of Inbound Marketing.

In summary, Inbound Marketing is about being invited to the party rather than crashing the party with traditional Outbound Marketing activities.  It’s permission based.  Inbound’s philosophy is to establish virtual credibility and rapport first, before a sales attempt is made.  It’s about nurturing.  Cultivating.  It’s about content.  In my next blog I’ll show you some easy ways to great started on creating content that matters to your customers.

Let me know if this was helpful.