It is a common pitfall for marketers to get immersed in all the activity and creativity, and forget that the purpose of our work is ultimately to generate revenue. At my agency we forestall that to a large degree by having KPIs (key performance indicators) for every project, against which we measure performance. This helps us remember that in the end, everything we do, directly or indirectly, has to produce results for our clients; most often in the form of sales.
This chapter is about converting all your efforts into sales of one kind or another. As I outlined in chapter 3, once a company has a thorough plan and a solid brand, the next step is to get awareness with some form of outreach. This initial contact with the consumer is then followed up by the methodical cultivation of each prospect, which prepares the ground for the moment when the prospect is ready to buy.
Everything we do, directly or indirectly, has to produce measurable results.
There are marketers and agency people that I have met over the years who somehow divorce themselves from the idea that they are selling. It’s like selling is beneath them, almost a bad word. Selling, however, is exactly what we do, and I proudly consider it a noble task. It is simply the process of one person persuading another to their point of view, which, hopefully, promotes understanding and affinity in the process. This is even more important to stay aware of now that technology and data have closed the gap between marketing and sales so much, and allows the two to work together closely to achieve their common goal.
The relationship between marketing and sales has always been a testy one. Marketing typically feels like sales doesn’t close enough of the leads they give them, and sales feels like the quality of the leads they get from marketing are inadequate. Retail blames marketing for not enough traffic, and marketing blames retail for not converting. This all stems from the limitations that each discipline has traditionally been subject to, due to the mediums and methods they had to work with. The evolution of the digital age, however, has removed many of those limitations, not only in how consumers interact with brands, but also in how the disciplines work, and work together.
If sales is one-to-one and marketing is one-to-many, then modern marketing has become one-to-one-to-many.
The ability of technology driven marketing to simulate consultative selling, combined with the power of automation and behavioral data to perfect timing and targeting, has resulted in a company being able to deploy an integrated selling system that can merge marketing and sales seamlessly.
Naturally, the nature of what you are selling, and how it is purchased, determines what this selling system looks like. Some products need one-on-one sales interactions early in the sales cycle; some don’t need any. For example, most electronics today are sold online without a sales person ever being involved. Whereas a buyer used to go to Circuit City or Best Buy to explore the options with the guidance of a retail sales person, today they are more likely to consult online ratings and reviews, and then shop for the best deal without ever going near a store. While everyone used to use travel agents to buy airline tickets and hotel stays, now most of us pull up Expedia.com or Hotels.com and do it ourselves. And the march to ecommerce, instead of slowing down, is just getting faster, as digital experiences evolve to be able to simulate much more complex, consultative selling. Now even buying a car, a sales person dependent ritual if ever there was one, is falling to the simplicity and convenience of digital selling. Some industries, like financial services, as I’ve mentioned before, have resisted this shift away from sales people. But as the burgeoning world of Financial Tech shows, there are few human interactions that technology cannot replace, if they are designed well.
Not all automation, however, is considered an improvement by consumers. The rush to outsource call centers overseas delivered cost savings, but also unhappy consumers, which has led to a reverse trend to bring call centers back to the U.S. And who hasn’t felt the frustrations of trying to get a computer voice on the telephone to understand your problem. The ongoing shift to automation, however, is being driven by multiple factors beyond cost-savings, such as new consumer attitudes and behavior, especially among millennials. State Farm used to have a sales rep make every auto insurance sale. They believed, like most insurance companies, that the consumer’s relationship with the agent was core to keeping that business year in and year out. Then they automated the process, eliminated enormous swaths of cost, made everything simpler, faster and more convenient for the consumer, and surprise, didn’t lose the loyalty of their customers.
In every industry this transition from selling through agents, sales people or distributors, to digital selling, direct to consumer, has been challenging.
Protecting an existing revenue stream while growing a new DTC revenue stream is a delicate dance that companies have to master.
But companies seem, step by step. First simple consumer products fell to ecommerce, as Amazon, with books and music, challenged the need for in-store guidance, and showed the world that the buying experience could be faster, easier and more informed. Now almost any product that can be standardized is being sold direct through electronic channels. And even more complex sales that require planning and consultation are moving into the automated lane too. Work my agency has done for our client Pergo flooring, the creator of laminate flooring, allows a consumer to pick a new floor, get samples, figure out how much they need, order, arrange installation and even see what the floor will look like in their home using augmented reality technology, all without ever talking to a sales rep. Sure, consumers could go to the store, wait for a sales person, and go through the same process, but why go to the trouble?
This leads many brands to a focus on completing the sale in digital channels if possible. Since they are already, hopefully, driving new prospects to their website or social sites to present their value proposition, and using email and digital content to cultivate their interest, it only makes sense to close the deal in digital channels too. Of course many products and services, especially in B2B, still require sales people, but as we will see that has become more efficient as well.