From the American Express OPEN Forum
It has been said that the difference between sales and marketing is that marketing 'owns' the message, and sales 'owns' the relationship. Some suggest that the onslaught of social media, content publishing and real-time search has rendered the need for a traditional sales department unnecessary. Others still contend that sales still owns the relationship. While content and context are easier to put out there, online connection and community are still best supplied by a person.
So, the fundamental purpose of a professional salesperson has changed little, but the function of an effective salesperson in today's content-driven environment has changed dramatically.
The skills once required, and sadly still taught in most sales training programs, are no longer applicable and organizations and independent salespeople that 'get' this concept are exploring, evolving and adopting an inbound selling mindset. Below are five ways that content marketing has changed selling.
Listen over say: Salespeople have always been taught to probe, listen and offer solutions. Well, in today's world they must listen intently before they ever pick up the phone, send an e-mail or draw up a solution. Salespeople must monitor the social graph of a prospect in order to begin to mine for opportunities, frustrations and buying signals. They must also be adept at constructing ways to put the pieces of information together in a package that opens doors and starts relationship building.
Insight over information: a great deal of the salesperson's role at one time was to deliver information. Most salespeople today face the possibility that a prospect may actually know as much or more about the product, service or solution being offered as the salesperson doing the offering. Today's salesperson must provide context and meaning, must aggregate and filter and must become a resource of insight for today's information-overloaded buyer.
Proof over promise: price is a direct reflection of the buyer's perceived value. This doesn't always mean it's a reflection of the true value or even rational reflection of value, but the question will never go away unless, and until, an organization can show proof of value rather than promised value peppered throughout marketing materials. Today's salesperson must commit to working deeply with clients to help measure and communicate true value received as a completion of the sales process. With that piece in place, today's salesperson can offer proof as part of the trust-building, lead-conversation process.
Publish over prospect: marketing departments around the world are scrambling to feed the market's expectation that they can instantly find content on any subject or need imaginable. Search engine usage has made consistent content production mandatory. Few salespeople see writing content as a good use of their time, but it's a skill that today's successful salesperson has embraced. Not every organization will allow their salespeople to blog, but the ones that do have the opportunity to create a stream of content that is potentially informed with real-life customer stories and experiences. Smart salespeople have also begun to curate content as a way to become a resource for their clients as well.
Farm over hunt: this last change probably runs counter to traditional selling as any of the others outlined above because it sounds so passive. Salespeople have been taught to hit the street, knock on doors and close deals. The problem is the street is closed, the doors are made of bits and no one answers the phone any more. Working the soil, planting seeds and watering the harvest with care are the new metaphors for turning "know", "like" and "trust" into "try", "buy", "repeat" and "refer".