While reading “The Definitive Drucker” by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim. I was once again reminded of how advanced Drucker's thinking was and how relevant it is still today. You might remember his quote “There will always, one can assume, be a need for some selling. But the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.”; actually not a very flattering statement for sales people.
Why is this relevant? Today marketers are pushing for this statement to become a reality. Just the other day , I listen to a Webinar from Eloqua, one of the providers of lead creation, lead scoring and lead nurturing technology, thus a tool for marketers. I wish I could add a link to the replay. Unfortunately they have not published it yet on their web site. They showed a very revealing slide how this technology allows marketing to claw further down into the sales funnel. They seem to want to get their fingers in all the stages except the closing stage.
How can they do this? First, marketing has enabled the customer to become more knowledgeable about our offerings with the information provided on the web sites and thus starting to shift the negotiation power towards the customer. So today the customer does no longer need a sales person to get information. Customers appreciate this freedom of being able to form an independent opinion without having to worry to be talked into something by a sales person. The possibilities to form independent opinions have further increased with Web 2.0 technology Now the web is much more interactive and word of mouth spreads almost instantly through Blogs and Social Networks. Even the classic sales presentation has become an endangered species. Webinars, audio and video Podcasts have at least partially taken over. In particular if they are available also as relays, the customers can look and listen to it at their convenience. There is no more sitting through boring sales presentations; If it is not of interest it just takes a click to stop it and there is even no risk to offend anybody.
The web analytics tools available today - usually again in the hands of marketing - allow to track the prospects activities and allow predictions what he or she is interested in and how close they are about to come to a buying decision. Eloqua calls this traceability the “digital body language”. Only after marketing is convinced having to have detected a hot lead will the prospect be handed over to sales. And this is very close to the closing stage in the funnel
What can sales do? Let's start with two things things not do. First: Trying to stop the trend. It will not work as it was not possible to hinder CRM systems getting into the sales world. Second: Bemoan the situation..Moaners are Losers. To a certain extend, sales people have to blame themselves for having gotten here. It is through manipulative behaviors of their predecessors or maybe themselves that they have alienated customers in the past. Sales are also not too fkind with marketing. How many times have I heard sales people complaining that the leads from marketing were not worth much and thus rather useless. Marketing, faced with this constant complaint and themselves becoming under increased pressure to demonstrate ROMI (return on marketing investment) have taken action and are embracing this new technology for lead – generation, -scoring and -nurturing as a way to increase their credibility within the corporate hierarchy.
In this new world, sales people should ask the very tough question: Are we still needed in the new way the customers want buy now?. Let's face it, in some cases (e.g. for buying certain commodities) the brutal answer might be 'no'. There are two choices on how to react to this uncomfortable answer, either go in denial and later regreting it when the RIFF (reduction in field force) arrives or find the niches where sales people will be needed also in the future to help customers to buy.
But even in those niches, selling will no longer be the same. Also there, sales will be faced with much more knowledgeable customers and therefore will have to upgrade their knowledge and skills to be able to bring value to the interaction with the customer. In the high tech industry this might even end up in a tectonic shift of the distribution of power and influence between sales and pre-sales consulting. Up to now, sales relayed on pre-sales consulting to answer the tough technical questions. For sales the question to ask is: Will the educated customer, who comes to us much later and with more pointed questions, tolerate that sales basically continues to play the role of the conduit to get the experts to talk together? There were some not very kind comments about the value of sales people in last years first Sales 2.0 conference.
Did I get you into panic? That is a good thing. Recently, I heard Steve Coats and Tom Heuer (the authors of “There Is No Box”) saying that panic is a prerequisite to get out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone. So if you want to, there is still time to act and to upgrade your skills and behavior to be a viable contributor for an enterprise to realize top line growth; even in a situation where marketing claws further down into the sales funnel.