As a sales manager, I’m continuously assessing the shifting trends and demands of B2B sales, and one reality is becoming apparent: the need for salespeople to become industry experts and thought leaders who can consult with clients rather than simply sell to them.
With the advent of the Internet and greater access to data, buyers are empowered as never before. They don’t want to be treated as another transaction, and instead seek business partners who will respond to their unique needs with a customized experience and solution offering. While being a product expert was sufficient twenty years ago, today’s enterprise sale demands a different breed of sales professional.
Paramount in this new model is the deep knowledge and credibility of the salesperson. In my industry – technology – it’s often the company founders and technical gurus who are regarded as the intellectual leaders. A salesperson’s value is equated to the amount of revenue they produce. I contend that salespeople can (and need to) become greater assets to the business by becoming acknowledged thought leaders who represent the company’s public face and attract potential buyers.
To reach this state, sales organizations need to rethink how they train and develop their sales athletes. Let me offer several practical suggestions to get started:
#1: Live the User Experience
Walking in the buyer’s shoes will give you more insight into their needs and challenges than any other approach. Ask customers if your salesperson can spend a few days at their location shadowing business users to understand how they utilize and experience your products. Not only will this develop completely fresh perspectives on how to sell new customers, it will solidify existing relationships and help you to get “deep and wide” with your customers.
Ask the salespeople to document this experience and the real-world challenges they observe, as these can be helpful for testing and training. One of my companies developed our own HBR-style case studies that we were added to the training curriculum for all new hires.
#2: Join the Implementation Team
Most salespeople step back once the sale is complete and let the “experts” take over. Instead, sales should take a greater role in joining and learning from these teams. This might entail participating in a hands-on way with a product implementation team, or taking an active role in a consulting engagement. It’s a way for salespeople to stay connected to customers, experience the full lifecycle of their products or services, and gain further insight into real-world applications.
#3: Develop Their Star Power
Professionals wanting to express their ideas have multiple outlets through which to communicate: blogs, social networks, video, self-publishing, and, as we’ll discuss further, content hubs. On the front lines of business, salespeople have a unique perspective on the challenges faced by companies in their industry; the task is getting your people to express these thoughts.
This is what I ask of my salespeople: become a regular contributor to the company blog. Write articles that can be added to the customer-facing library and published on LinkedIn Pulse. Actively seek out speaking opportunities at industry events, and film these performances for posting on social media. If writing’s not your strength, produce a short video on a topic of your choice that can be posted on the company’s YouTube channel.
One of the golden rules of customer outreach is to add value on every correspondence, and sending the customer one of your articles or videos really gets their attention and burnishes your reputation as a thought leader and industry resource.
#4: Coordinate the Outreach Effort
Imagine the potential reach your company could have if every employee shared new content with their professional networks. Most of the time, people rely on Marketing to spread the word, and while this approach works, it’s not necessarily bringing in new blood. I call this “unified sharing”, and most employees should have no problem sharing valuable new content with their contacts.
The hard part is coordinating this effort, and I’d suggest a 3-step effort. First, let people know when new content is coming and ask them what specific steps you’d like them to take. Second, make it easy to share by sending people the document or link and repeating what actions you’d like them to take. Third, track results to verify the effectiveness of the content and that your reach continues to expand.
#5: Create a Content Hub
My current company has created a destination website for anyone interested in industry news and perspectives. Our goal is to become the single source of information for our market, and we offer the latest blogs, news, opinions, and other media to visitors. Our Content Hub is designed to educate rather than sell, and it’s part of a long-term strategy to position us as the premier vendor and thought leader in our space. Salespeople are frequent contributors, and this targeted platform becomes a very big megaphone for our people intent on building their brand.
Every company with an eye to the future should be considering how to transform their salespeople from conventional to extraordinary. Developing a sales team of experts and leaders is a big step in the right direction.
Jonathan Jewett is SVP Sales for i-nexus and the author of “The 40 Best Sales Techniques Ever” on Amazon. Find out more here.