By Ryan Estis
We’re living in the middle of a major market transformation. Sales are changing more right now than it has in the past 100 years. Today, selling is about getting referred and getting found. If that isn’t happening, you’re stuck relying on traditional, interruption-based sales tactics that are only going to continue to become less and less effective.
At the MHEDA Annual Convention, I’ll be leading a conversation about these themes. How are customers changing? And, more importantly, what can you do to leverage this transformation to succeed and grow in this new environment?
We’ll talk about the challenge: Customer transformation. Our customers have more information than ever before. In fact, they have the same information that the sellers have. Today a customer is 60 percent of the way into a decision before they ever come in contact with sales. They travel the first mile of the decision alone, and when you do finally get involved, they have big expectations about the insight and value you should provide.
Savvy business owners are responding to these changes and turning them into an opportunity. It simply requires a different approach. Here are five ways you can start to rethink your sales strategy to meet customers where they are.
1. Embrace continuous learning.
Think of yourself as a student. Your job is to understand everything you can about your industry, your market, your own products, your competitors and, most importantly, your customers.
We’re working in an exciting time. You have endless amounts of information available to you — about your industry, your customers and your competitors. Start reading and researching. Follow the best blogs. Keep an eye on competitors’ social sites. Pay attention to Twitter chats and LinkedIn group conversations. Soak up all of the knowledge that’s available, for free, right in front of you.
Entrepreneurs who don’t push themselves to keep learning and applying that knowledge in the way they work with customers will get left behind. If you aren’t interested in learning, you can be sure that there will be others out there who are willing to spend time researching, learning, staying current and earning your customers’ attention and respect.
2. Provide compelling insight.
Your customers have a lot of information available to them, too. So when they come to you, they’re looking for more than what they can get on their own. Customers aren’t coming to you looking for basic problem identification and solution pitches anymore. Buyers expect more, because they’re coming to the table backed by their own research and knowledge.
So…that 50-slide deck all about YOU? Your customers aren’t impressed. Your goal is to be a trusted, knowledgeable consultant who can help them sort through all of the noise to make a good decision. Your thinking is what will give customers real value.
Look for ways you can provide insight and be helpful.
3. Think like a marketer.
Your customers are doing their own research on you, your company, and your solutions. As an entrepreneur, you have a choice: Be invisible online, or make an impact with your brand and reputation by thinking more like a marketer.
Customers are looking for trusted advisers who can deliver expertise, credibility, knowledge, relationships and have a great reputation. To build your brand and to get found by customers, you need to be creating and sharing content online.
Take a look at the information you’re sharing online. What does your LinkedIn profile say about you? What would a prospect find if he Googled you? If the answer is “nothing,” you have a huge opportunity to build your online presence and start winning customers before you ever meet them. Start using Twitter to learn about your industry and participate in the most relevant conversations. Publish a blog where you update customers on your new solutions and your experiences helping people solve problems.
If content marketing and social media seem overwhelming or foreign to you, remember that the basic goals are simple: Be helpful. Make an impact. Start by asking yourself: What questions do my customers need answered? Then start answering them online.
4. Earn referrals.
In this changing marketplace, referrals are more important than ever.
The key is to give value first, without expecting anything in return. If you’re working with a customer, deliver more than expected. Create reasons for them to want to reciprocate and help you. When your work is great, people are inclined to share!
People are also more inclined to help when they trust the relationship. Instead of leading with the ask, earn the right to ask for a referral over time. You’re much more likely to get a result. I’ve found that so many people want to help — and are more than willing when asked. You just have to create the right conditions.
It’s important to remember to be generous. Have you made a referral this week? Look for every opportunity to connect and support people in your network. How can you give value first? Get proactive about making your own referrals.
If you’re looking for some preconference reading, my new eBook, Leading Breakthrough Sales Performance, looks at how leaders can create teams of informed, motivated, savvy sellers that are ready to meet buyers’ new expectations. Download the eBook for case studies from dynamic leaders at HP, Grainger, the Dallas Cowboys, MassMutual and Medline.