“We Need to Be Where the Customer Is”: Toward a Sales Process That Includes Everyone
Sales of any kind has never been a job for the faint of heart, but like everything else it’s become far more challenging lately. Many customers have been stuck at home for months, unable to just walk into a store or even make connections with their usual sales contacts the way they normally would, from their offices and workplaces. So how and where do businesses and salespeople find them? And given these hurdles, how can they effectively influence, inform, and sell to them?
There are no easy answers, but thinking of the process holistically can help put the pieces together. That’s one of the themes that Larry Walsh, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group, will be exploring in his presentation, “Making Everyone a Part of the Sales Process,” which will be livestreamed on June 25 as part of the first-ever virtual ASAP Global Alliance Summit.
A Network of Relationships
One of the key notions that Walsh is pushing is that the sales process needs to be seen less as a series of linear “handoffs” and more as a network of ongoing relationships involving different actors—in the indirect channel, three of them, to be exact.
“There’s the influencer, which is—no other way of saying it—influencing or driving consideration,” he explained in a recent conversation. “Then you have referrals, which are a step above influencers in that they will help drive consideration, [but] they will even help lead the customer right to the purchasing point. And then you have resellers, or the actual point of sales. And they’re the ones who actively engage with the customer to the sale point. We typically think of these as ‘handoffs’: once the influencer is done doing their job, they hand off and somebody else picks up the sale. Same thing with referrals—they will hand off to a salesperson, and the salesperson will then nurture them through the process. The reality is we really need to make sure that all these different actors remain persistently engaged as the customer goes through the sales funnel. That’s not really a new idea, but what really is a new idea is thinking that everyone is an influencer, and everyone has potential to refer, and everyone can actually participate in the sales process.”
Walsh maintained that we often underestimate just how many influencers are involved with our customers, or the importance of their role. The influencing itself, he said, takes place for two reasons: what he called “warm-glow altruism” and “anti-altruism.”
“Warm-glow altruism is when you do something because it makes you feel good. You want to help someone or you want to make a difference for them. And warm-glow altruism can have a benefit to you, but you’re doing things to help your customer. That’s one form of influencer. The other form is this anti-altruism, which is doing something to influence someone to buy a third-party product because there is something in it for [you]. An example of that would be, you and I have to do this meeting, so you really should be using Zoom, because Zoom is a really good platform—and oh by the way, here’s my tool that plugs into Zoom and that works. So that’s anti-altruism—you’re influencing them because it’s in your interest.”
Influencers, and Channels, Are Omnipresent
As an example of how this works in practice, Walsh pointed to the professional services marketplace on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The companies on that platform, he said, are “recommending AWS, but they don’t get compensated for that. What they do get compensated for is the services they sell around it. That’s a way of influencing the customer because it’s in your interest. You’re going to see this entire idea of making everyone a part of the sales process become more important going forward as you see more digital channels and omni-channels taking root.”
Walsh defined “omni-channels” as “a means for giving the customer the ability to have a seamless interaction with you regardless of where they are interacting with you. For instance, if I need something, and I want to buy it at Target down the street from my house, I look online: Do they have it? I want to be able to know that I can walk into the store and pick up the item—I can pay for it in advance, I can ask somebody, or access a chat bot and ask questions about it. I can scan it when I’m in the store, see if there’s a coupon available for it. I can research and compare across different platforms. That’s how omni-channel works. It’s not that you have just one channel; you have multiple channels, but the customer has a seamless experience across all of them.”
Last Mile to the Future: A Changing Channel and Evolving Ecosystems
I asked Walsh if taking this omni-channel or “get everyone involved” approach is more critical now, given the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. He thought so, but:
“I think it’s more about the future. The pandemic made us more reliant on digital tools for research and acquisition, but I was just reading today that Macy’s reopened 450 stores, and they have higher than expected sales. Which is great, but you’re going to see that because of the pandemic experience, they’re going to make it easier to purchase online versus in-store. Amazon, for example, is looking to acquire JCPenney. Why? Because Amazon is constantly attacking the last mile. I don’t want to wait for two days to get my widget, whatever it might be: I want to get it now. I know if I just drive down to the corner to that former JCPenney store they’ll have it for me—or they’ll have it for me in a day as opposed to shipping it in two days. Certain things are going to happen as a result of this—that’s not just a B2C example, that’s going to happen across B2B channels.”
And as we move more rapidly into that future, the traditional indirect sales channel is undergoing change as well.
“It’s becoming a part of the ecosystem,” Walsh said. “I think digitalization is something that everyone has to not just give serious consideration to, they have to figure out what their digital strategy is going to be, and build out the muscle to be able to communicate effectively with customers regardless of where the customers are interacting with them. Think about this just in terms of customer service: if the customer calls you up, they can talk to somebody who can retrieve their order history, who can retrieve their trouble tickets, etc. Or they can go into a portal and get the same information themselves. They need to have these capabilities to meet the customer’s expectations. The customers want this, it’s not something that we’re trying to invent. We’re not trying to push a concept out into the world—the world’s already adopted it, it’s us trying to catch up to them.
“Here’s the thing,” he continued. “I deal with channel strategy. I help companies recognize what their best routes to market are, and how do we most effectively get to them. The biggest mistake I see companies make is they go, ‘Oh! We need partners to expand our sales and our sales coverage.’ Why is that? Partners have revenue. They have customers, therefore they have revenue, and we should be able to tap into those customers. That’s not the reason for doing this. The reason for doing it is because the partners will do something either you can’t do or you won’t do. Otherwise, you don’t have enough separation between you for justification.
“There’s a reason why we have channels,” Walsh concluded. “The traditional reason for having channels is to have a point of sale where the customer is. And the reason why we need to have omni-channels and we need to engage with everyone who has a piece of the sales process is because we need to be where the customer is.”