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Successful Sales in the Age of the Search Engine Driven Customer

May 5, 2011

“What the heck do salespeople do these days?” said the small business owner.  He went on to say… “I used to hire and pay sales people to help educate my prospects and move them to being customers.  The salesperson would spend their time helping the prospect understand their needs and issues and how our products solved the problem for them. Then they would develop the price quote, explain it and get the order.”

This business owner was clearly frustrated with his sales process… continuing his rant “now, the prospects we want to sell to, have already done all the research via Google.  They know our pricing. They understand the alternatives and our competitors – sometimes better than we do.  All my salespeople do now is haggle on price “.  “Frankly”, he says, “I can get rid of the sales people, drop my price because I get rid of that cost, and make more money. Question is, should I do that?”

That, is a really good question.  Actually, there are a number of good questions here:

  1. What are your sales people really doing? ( Were they doing the right thing in the past?
  2. Do you need them anyway?
  3. How do I make the search engines my friend instead of my enemy?

Lets take them one at a time.  And start with #2 – Do you need sales people anyway?  Our recommendation is if any of the below are true, you do need them:

A – Your product or service has a sales cycle longer than 6 weeks from first contact to purchase

B – Your product or service is highly configurable with multiple dependent options

C – Your product or service (in a B2B environment) has to be approved by multiple departments and multiple layers of management.

(If none of the above are true, then you might want to consider some alternate routes to market through ecommerce, distributors, rep firms or others.)

Since you are still reading, We’ll assume you still need salespeople.  So on to number #3 – How do I make the search engines my friend instead of my enemy?  The answer is a phrase we’ve have seen used a number of times lately – the bikini concept.  Give 90% away – keep the last 10% that is valuable, close to home.  This bikini concept usually gets talked about in relation to consulting services, but it works for anything you sell that matches A, B or C above.  And it will help you with the search engines, immensely.

If your prospective customers are going to go and do research before they talk to you, then make it easy on them.  Help them find the 90% that you’d give away for free anyway, and make it more valuable than anything else out there they are going to find.  Rather than hold references and testimonials back – get them published on your website, on Yelp, on discussion boards.  Put your specifications in searchable forms.  List out your options and uses. Use video to show how your product works and pictures to show the results. The more the “mythical” prospect (mythical because you don’t know they exist yet) can get to know, like and trust you before they contact you, the easier it will be to acquire a new customer without price haggles.

As to that last 10% - well that is your secret sauce and it becomes the value add when they interact with you and your sales team.   It is why they will pay your price without a quibble  (sorry, watching too much Royal Wedding coverage).

So onto #1 – What are your sales people really doing?  In the past, they really weren’t doing sales – they were probably taking orders.  Giving prospects enough information to make a decision without confusing them into no-decision.   What they should be doing – actually what your entire organization should be doing – is acting as a host would at a very ritzy business networking party.

Your team should be looking at your prospects as guests you want to impress.  They should be reconfirming all the information that the guests got on their party invitation (the research they did on their own).  They should be asking to understand who they want to meet, see or learn (what are the most important needs and the impact of not solving those issues) They should be making introductions (coordinating resources from services, pre-sales, quoting).  And they should be setting the mood music  (what is the tone that the company wants to present out to prospects).  In summary, they should be making sure the guests are well fed, always have a beverage and feel included and knowledgeable.  Just the way you would want to feel if you walked into a networking event and knew no one but the host (and you didn’t know them very well).

If you think about your sales team in the manner, and get them to act this way, you are now creating a very welcoming environment for every prospect that has sought you out.  Their first encounter is a positive one and your unique differences – the value you really provide – shines through all the FUD that generally occurs in the beginning of a sales process.

If you need some help with this, give us a call.  And if you have something to add to the party, please leave us a comment.

Topics: Marketing Sales

Dan Kraus
Written by Dan Kraus

With more than two decades of experience in sales, marketing, and go-to-market strategies, Dan Kraus has developed a deep portfolio of experiences that he now uses to help small businesses profitably grow their businesses. As an entrepreneur, Dan understands the challenges of growing a business with limited capital and human resources. As a line of business manager in larger companies such as SAP America and Great Plains Software (now part of Microsoft), his experience launching new business ventures inside reputable organizations established his reputation as a creative and effective executive that could both plan and execute within corporate confines.

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