For centuries, traveling merchants toted their wares around to sell them from town to town. The added value these salesmen offered was their in-depth knowledge of innovative solutions. This is now largely in the hands of customers themselves. Does this spell the end for the traditional salesman?
Before the advent of the internet, salespeople had to visit their customers in person to share their knowledge. With the coming of the internet, the rise of high-speed mobile data connections in combination with smartphones and particularly the release of the first iPhone in 2007, this process has been fully digitised.
How inbound marketing has forever changed the sales process
From the initial introduction to a product to the ultimate completion of the sale; inbound marketing has changed the entire sales process. Everything can be done online these days. Even before people experience a problem, they go online to find information about that problem. They gradually realise that their problem needs a solution and that such a solution is possible. With inbound marketing, an organisation can satisfy their customer’s (information) needs at every stage of the buyer’s journey.
Looking for information is the first step of this process. Still, there are specific products or solutions for which it does not cross the customer’s mind to look for information, either because the solution is too complex or the product is too new and innovative.
When inbound marketing is not enough
With inbound marketing, people are increasingly often relegated to playing back-up roles; they are only called in when the computer systems cannot handle the work anymore. For example, customer service departments are largely operated by bots and people are only brought in to deal with complex situations. What can you do when your solution is too complex to be explained online to begin with, or when your product is so innovative that the customer does not even realise it might be a solution to their problem? These kinds of complex and innovative solutions cannot be sold using only inbound marketing. Instead, the use of highly trained human consultants is essential to bring these solutions to customers’ attention.
How can you sell complex and innovative solutions?
When inbound marketing is not enough, that does not mean you can simply revert back to traditional sales methods. Face-to-face contact will be important, but times have changed and it is now more crucial than ever to differentiate yourself from your competition.
Having perfect product knowledge is still an absolute requirement for every member of the sales team. This must be supplemented with a thorough understanding of the customer’s situation (the challenges and opportunities they face) and extensive market knowledge. However, that is still not enough. To really stand out, you must be able to inspire your customers. You must offer them insights and advice that is so interesting that they consider it to be strategically relevant. If you manage to do that, the customer will no longer view you as just another supplier. Instead, you become a worthy sparring partner; someone who develops and implements interesting, innovative and sometimes even disruptive ideas, concepts and plans that allow the customer to perform even better themselves.
To perform such a role, it is essential to be aware of the latest technological developments, the most disruptive inventions and the newest ideas pertaining to business organisation. This knowledge cannot be limited to the market segment in which the customer is active. Instead, it must transcend these limitations. The customer can make a difference by using technologies and innovations that have already proven their effectiveness in other segments, even though they have not yet been widely adopted in their own sector.
How to stay one step ahead of your competition
To summarise: your consultants must be known for their comprehensive and thorough knowledge of new solutions, developments and technologies. You must study your customer, the market and your competition to stay one step ahead of them. However, the key to gaining a truly substantial lead is to find inspiration outside your own field. Only when a consultant can successfully present themselves as a source of inspiration can you realise a long-term strategic collaboration with a customer as their equal.
The traditional role of a salesman no longer exists and inbound marketing has taken over most sales tasks from humans. However, highly trained consultants will still be essential to sell complex and innovative solutions.