• Gert Scholts

Up against the clock: responsive sales skills for the digital age


This sales tip is aimed at sales leaders discussing how sales people continue to play an value-adding role in a digital sales world.

There is an old adage that ‘people buy from people’. But, in the digital age, is that really still the case - especially for businesses who deal with short sales cycles?

According to CEB, 57% of a B2B purchase decision is complete before a customer even contacts a company - and research from SiriusDecisions indicates that around 67% of the B2B buyer’s journey is now done digitally.

These statistics certainly show that the relationships between companies and their customers is becoming more remote – affecting the sales team role significantly. But, the ability for customers to determine so much about a company before engaging with them doesn’t mean that traditional sales processes and skills are dead. And, even if a lot of the decision-making process is already done, it doesn’t automatically mean that the sales job is easy – or a simple case of getting a purchase order from a customer.

It does, however, mean that the customer entry point and buying journey in the digital world are very different - and salespeople need to adapt their approach in response to that change.

Firstly, sales processes and customer data need to be connected so that sales people can quickly access and/or record information about the customer. In the case of an inbound enquiry, the ability to see that customer’s journey so far – through web analytics, marketing campaign response tracking and CRM data – can be invaluable in helping sales teams quickly tailor their style, questions and responses to address the individual customer’s needs.

Secondly, in the fast-moving digital age, where everyone is highly connected and living life on the go, speed, convenience and relevancy are now an expected part of every interaction. This means that, whether the mode of communication is physical or digital, quickly establishing a personal connection with your customer is now vital.

But building a rapport isn’t about rolling out the smooth-talking sales patter. In an inbound sales situation, it’s about understanding what has brought them to you. With outbound sales – whether in person or via telephone - it’s important to discover what the customer’s needs are, before you talk about what your company can offer. In these information and reputation-driven times, the chances are that they already know something about your company and what products or services you provide. Equally, they probably already know, or deal with, your competitors. The key skill that sales people can develop is to learn how to ‘catch up’ with that customer’s journey so far – to understand what they already know, what their expectations are and how your business can meet their needs. Closing the sale is undoubtedly contingent on the ability to do this quickly and efficiently, in a way that leaves the customer satisfied and confident in their decision.

Connecting with the customer in this way not only helps to close the loop on the immediate sale - it’s an equally important part of securing loyalty and future business. Being ‘easy to do business with’ is also key to gaining new business through referrals and recommendations – something which is increasingly important, not only because of the spread of reputation through online channels, but also as a way to tap into the almost boundless digital networks of today’s buyers.

In summary, the digital age has transformed the front end of the typical customer journey, which often now involves a much shorter (and arguably more challenging) period of direct interaction with sales teams. But it’s also still true that ‘people buy from people’ in that forming a relationship with a customer can make the difference between closing the sale and losing it, between completing a single sale and securing ongoing business and between causing customer apathy and driving customer recommendations.

If you want to know more about how to adapt your sales approach for the digital age, get in touch!

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