Software and hardware vendors have learned the hard way that the traditional “sales funnel” for technology no longer involves much selling.
In fact, it’s no longer a selling process at all. It’s a buying process, in which the vast majority of decision makers research products and reach out to technology vendors while screening out most attempts by technology vendors to contact them. As many as 90% of technology purchases are instigated by the buyer – not the seller – according to most estimates.
Empowered customers are repeating this pattern in other industries as well, notably insurance, banking, financial services, and travel. So what now? How do you sell something to someone who is actively trying to screen out your marketing messages?
The same way that companies have been doing it for decades: through trusted advisors. For most companies, the most effective source of new business, up-selling, cross-selling, and customer retention is the local agent, franchisee, or field sales team. Give them the tools and information they need to reach out to customers and respond to customer inquiries quickly, easily, and cost-effectively.
Here are three best practices that can answer the question of what to do as the traditional selling model gives way to a new buyer-centric model.
1. Take it Personally
What’s the best way to develop a relationship with someone, or keep a conversation going? Use the prospect’s name and make the message relevant for them. One-to-one communications have tremendous impact, and can cut through the clutter of unwanted marketing messages where nothing else can.
One-to-one communications need to be both relevant and timely – send them in response to a change in an individual’s information in the database, or because the information is highly relevant to them based on what you know about them. No one knows customers and prospects better than the people in the field, so make sure they have the permissions they need to adapt and reuse brand-appropriate corporate messages for their own audience.
2. Ask for Customer Feedback
Want to know what your prospects want to buy? How and when they want you to contact them? Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. A good distributed marketing or marketing automation platform makes it easy to deploy surveys via email or web landing pages. Most customers and prospects appreciate having their opinion solicited – especially if you offer a small incentive. Discounts, coupons, gift-cards, and drawings for a coveted prize boost survey response rates dramatically.
3. Use Multi-Channel Marketing
The days when any single marketing channel – print, direct mail, email, web, video, etc. – would work are long gone. New prospects may not accept email from you – but current customers are likely to accept email. Buyers who are actively researching a product or service are likely to visit your web site, and may download collateral from a landing page. The key to multi-channel is to create multi-touch and cross-media marketing campaigns that define the touch points where you can influence the buying process.
The take-away message here is that we all have to recognize that traditional sales practices won’t work to establish the ongoing customer and prospect communications channel we want. Automating and streamlining the process with effective distributed marketing is the only way to effectively decrease customer defections and improve the bottom line.