Image by KylaBorg via Flickr
As rapidly as software has evolved over the past several decades, the processes and tools designed to get it in the hands of customers are moving even faster. While some of these changes were calculated strategic advancements, others represent adaptations to reflect the needs of a shifting market.
The advent and subsequent rise in prominence of the Internet created a marked shift in the buying process of virtually every product or service. Armed with the ability to research the options at their disposal, the power dynamic shifted drastically in favor of the buyer. The dissemination of information and user opinions has helped crowdsource feedback, creating a well-informed populace whose decision-making process is no longer reliant on which brand is most top of mind.
Turning casual browsers into active buyers
Instead, would-be customers do their homework in advance, forming an opinion on their likely best fit far before they connect with a sales rep. To help that cause, it's incumbent upon the marketing team to provide value to their prospect audience long before the sales conversation is initiated. This was the focal point of the content or inbound marketing revolution, in which organizations create content and distribute it through the channels their audience cares about, delivering material that improves their day-to-day lives.
In a nutshell, the aim is to turn browsers into believers and believers into buyers. When people encounter a problem they seek to learn more about it, turning to search engines to ask questions and uncover viable solutions.
The brands that can provide those answers are in a better position to begin building credibility in the eyes of buyer, and the more content they can provide the more indispensable they become to their audience. Each subsequent engagement is an opportunity to dive further into their needs and monitor their behavior to reveal more on their interests.
Using storytelling to sell
Of the content provided along the way, blogs are typically the best way to get found as each post is a new opportunity to be ranked for targeted search queries. Blogs should be carefully focused so that their content is highly relevant to a given keyword. Without sacrificing quality, the more website content that can be created the better, as each serves a similar purpose to a fisherman's many lines in the water.
Once the buyer is engaged with the site, downloadable assets like checklists, guides, and e-books create a chance to further explore a problem, drive more value, and continue nurturing leads along the buyer's journey. As a result, the sales process is less reliant on the charm and persuasion of the rep than their credibility, ability to inspire trust, and alignment with a brand that has already made strides toward helping the prospective client through the information provided along the way.
When a prospect has fully acknowledged their problem and is aware of the solutions available on the market, it comes time to open the dialogue with the sales rep. But even the way this conversation unfolds has changed through the technology. Gone are the days of on-site visits for product demonstrations, as SaaS products and screen-sharing services have allowed both parties to meet remotely for a hands-on walkthrough of a product in real-time.
Sales reps selling software and industry expertise
As disparate point solutions continue to evolve for ever-specialized needs, more buyers are engineers themselves or will enlist their IT teams to ensure compatibility between systems. To counter a potential imbalance of technological expertise, sales reps are increasingly responsible for understanding the complexities of integrating different tools, or rely on sales engineers to do some of the heavy lifting for them.
Once functionality and capabilities have been fully fleshed out and deemed a good fit for the buyer, the final step in the process would be the buying decision itself, and this too has experienced changes that have lowered the barrier to entry for new customers. As more products are hosted in the cloud and less dependent on on-site hardware, the initial investment costs decrease as well. No longer faced with the specter of steep implementation fees and costly infrastructure, many SaaS products are able to offer more flexible payment terms. By merely paying to license the software and breaking up the payment terms, the buyer can spread their costs across quarters or months without having to take on nearly as much up front.
The technological improvements and shifting compatibility of products will require more expertise on both sides of the table, but the one likely constant in this rapidly shifting environment is that the sales process will continue to evolve along with it.
Danny Wong is the co-founder of Blank Label, an award-winning luxury menswear company. He also leads marketing for Receiptful, a platform to supercharge all customer interactions for eCommerce stores, and Tenfold, a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. To connect, tweet him @dannywong1190 or message him on LinkedIn. For more of his clips, visit his portfolio.