It’s becoming increasingly clear that the nature of the sales profession is changing.
Salespeople are no longer the ones who introduce products to their customers — in most cases, especially in business-to-business settings, customers have done a lot of research on their own and are close to a decision before they talk to a salesperson.
This trend, which has been long in coming, has some people in sales panicked. Forrester earlier this year predicted that 1 million B2B salespeople in the U.S. would lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by 2020. That amounts to one-fifth of the B2B sales force.
That’s a scary number.
There’s some reasonable thinking behind this: Salespeople who are merely “order takers” will become obsolete and easily can be replaced by technology in many cases. The arrival of the Internet of Things will enable devices to buy automatically — think of a copier ordering its own toner replacements, or a company car that can order its own new tires and schedule a service appointment when it senses a certain level of tread wear.
The salesperson is gone from these interactions, right?
Well, not exactly.
Customers won’t volunteer to have vendors they don’t know read and act on their devices’ data, and vendors are unlikely to prosper in the near term without being able to articulate an IoT value proposition. The level of trust required to create and keep happy customers will go up, not down — and that will place new challenges at the feet of salespeople.
It’s doubtful there will be a sales-pocalypse in which B2B salespeople become obsolete, like the 21st Century equivalent of milkmen or blacksmiths.
However, there’s no doubt that salespeople will have to change to remain relevant as the value of long-term customers rises, as trust increases in business value, and as the technological landscape shifts customer expectations and desires.
Through all of this, CRM must evolve as well. In many ways, however, modern CRM has been waiting for the world to evolve to take advantage of its capabilities.
Here are the three ways CRM can help salespeople as they adapt to stay relevant in a next-generation selling environment.
Longer Customer Relationships
The subscription economy has illustrated theeconomic value of customer retention. The IoT era, in which devices communicate data about themselves and their usage, will kick the subscription economy into an entirely new gear.
Yet, even with these trends breathing down salespeople’s necks, the emphasis remains on new customer acquisition.
This must shift — and it will shift in a direction that plays to CRM’s strengths.
While CRM’s value in new customer acquisition is reasonably strong, its capabilities for retention are far stronger. It’s only logical: The more data that’s collected in the customer record, the more responsive your business can be in addressing customers’ needs.
That is, if you use those capabilities for retention. Many companies still use CRM in a silo as a sales force automation tool, and that fails to capitalize fully on its strengths.
The next generation of sales will need to partner with marketing, which can use CRM data to segment the existing customer base, market to customers via marketing automation to encourage loyalty, and continue to re-examine and resegment customers based on CRM data to spot changing needs and behaviors and send those signals to sales for the appropriate actions.
Sales-Driven Customer Contacts
The IoT and the automatic selling it will permit have plenty of benefits: Customers will get what they need on time; businesses will make sales more quickly; and if done correctly, it can reduce customer churn and build loyalty by creating a better customer experience.
However, if you’re a salesperson who relies on calls from customers to reorder on a regular basis or to schedule service visits to work on up-selling and cross-selling opportunities, you’ll find your contact opportunities with customers diminish and threaten your ability to add value to those accounts.
What you need is a way to schedule those contact opportunities proactively, either based on the calendar or triggered to events.
Luckily, CRM can handle this in most cases — scheduling of contacts is one of the most basic CRM capabilities, and smart salespeople will use it in the future to remind themselves to inject some human interaction into sales relationships that have gone on autopilot thanks to IoT technology.
Guideposts to Building the Right Expertise
The most profound evolutionary step for salespeople will be their transformation into subject matter experts.
Customers now are able to gain much of the preliminary information about products, companies, delivery terms and technical specifications online and on their own. The things salespeople once were asked to explain now are explained thoroughly before a buyer ever contacts a salesperson.
Where does that leave salespeople? Increasingly, it puts them in the position of having to answer some very specific questions from customers and potential customers. Those questions require deep and specialized knowledge — and customers expect that knowledge immediately.
Tools and techniques can help salespeople become subject matter experts, and well-developed sales enablement and configure price quote systems can help greatly by serving up content that can expand their knowledge as questions arise.
How do you get salespeople trained on the questions they need ready answers for before they’re asked — the kinds of questions that make or break customer confidence in the company? Use CRM to understand what those questions are.
Examining customer records and tracking what information customers are asking or requesting content about offers a way to understand what salespeople need to know most often. This provides a guidepost to direct the proper training topics for the immediate future and can help salespeople feel more like experts.