Opinions

The sales engagement enigma: Understanding the new, complex consumer

Posted by Jamie Anderson on July 25th, 2014 at 7:00 am

Not so long ago, customers depended on salespeople to help guide them in their purchases. Prospective car buyers, for example, relied on the salesman to learn how many horses were in the engine and how many cup holders were in the backseat. Today, the tables have indefinitely turned, and those customers walk into the same dealership with make, model and color picked out and a stack of papers validating exactly what they should pay for that car. The internet has changed the sales cycle, but it doesn’t mean that the sales team is out of the game, they just need to adapt and respond to this industry shift. A new level of customer engagement is required in order for brands to reach their target consumer – from engaging and shaping customer buying decisions in new social channels, to supporting a unified user experience across multiple channels, to driving continued engagement and support post-sale.

A recent report that SAP issued on July 16th with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, titled “Winning at Sales in a Buyer-Empowered World,” found that 65 percent of sales organizations say rising customer expectations are their number one challenge. The research highlights the importance for organizations to understand their customers by collecting and analyzing data from customer interactions and examining the digital footprints customers leave behind. This is especially important given that prospective buyers in B2B settings have completed more than half (57 percent) of their due-diligence work before they even engage a sales representative.

The report also found that in order to deliver exceptional customer service to this new, empowered consumer, organizations need to implement next-generation strategies and technology to empower sales representatives. New technologies that enable big data analytics, mobile delivery of insights and omni-channel consistency are essential for sales organizations to align with buyer expectations and engage more effectively with customers. Such technology platforms and tools can analyze customer interactions to identify high-quality prospects, suggest next-best actions and provide insights that enable them to deepen customer relationships. The key is being able to collect and analyze data on customer behaviors and respond quickly to the insights that are uncovered.

A first step for many sales organizations is to automate manual processes so they can begin tracking customer activity. In a recent study by CSO Insights, a majority (66 percent) of sales teams said they send follow-up content to customers via email; however, that method makes it impossible to precisely track customer reaction to the information they receive and provide relevant updates to meet changing customer needs. Following that automation, sales professionals should be armed with insights that are relevant to that buyer and respect the fact that the consumers themselves are fully connected to research and knowledge of their own.

It’s clear that sales teams need to boost their ability to provide new and impactful insights that matter to customers at every point in their buying journey, whether they’re industry expertise, customer-business knowledge or solution expertise. Winning in sales today hinges not just on what a business sells but also – increasingly – on how the sales team sells it. That means targeting the right customers at the right time, discovering and even anticipating what really matters to customers and providing valuable guidance and insights along the way.

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