Why sales is becoming more and more digital and why do you still need a salesperson?

How companies can better present themselves to customers through digital sales

Where is a salesperson even needed these days? Do we already buy everything online? Or are there still products that require traditional sales? In this article, you will learn what is changing in the world of sales and marketing through digitization, and how you can use this change for yourself.

Where do you still need a salesperson in the age of digital sales?

For most companies, sales means that an employee is present in the process as a salesperson who advises the customer on the purchase decision and explains the products and related details. (Malicious tongues also claim that this employee is selling to the customer).

Typically, this is the case when a product requires a great deal of consultation and the functionality, or the benefit derived from the product, is not intuitively understood by just looking at it, for example. Industrial products such as injection molding machines, automation systems, vehicles, machines, etc. fall into this category.

These products would only be bought by themselves in the very rarest of cases. What is needed here is someone who accompanies us along this buying process, wins our trust and advises us as objectively as possible. It needs a sales representative.

Where do we no longer need a salesperson today?

In direct contrast to industrial products, there are consumer products such as shoes, clothing, food, etc.. These products sell mainly through individual tastes of customers, or because they are used by people in everyday life, such as food.

These products do not require a person to explain the benefits to us in more detail. Instead, it is enough to create convenient access to the offer, such as a web store or a store near our customers.

We buy our vegetables, sunglasses or a new pair of shoes either because we want them or because we have a need for them and need the product at the moment. Sometimes a mixture of both factors. In any case, not much more is necessary for the sale than that we, as customers, have access to these products.

All of these consumer products, when sold digitally, are usually sold via e-commerce these days. Interaction with an employee is only necessary in the rarest of cases and is more likely to be found in the after-sales area, such as in the case of complaints. Online stores are the most common variant, where customers place their products in the shopping cart and then purchase them when they are ready to buy.

In the digital age, these products primarily require targeted marketing rather than direct sales. Brands and positioning of the company are the main focus for these products in order to sell them.

What exactly does digital distribution look like?

A digital sales force therefore means that consulting-intensive products are sold by employees, with the help of digital tools and digital marketing.

The employee still has many tasks from “old-fashioned” sales – contacting the right people, building trust with the customer, presenting expertise, seeking solutions in the form of our products, etc. However, digital sales is much more efficient because much of this can be automated, our employee can assist the customer at exactly the right moment, the customer’s willingness to buy can be analyzed, the target group can be addressed much more precisely, and much more.

The result is an improved version of the old-fashioned sales process.

We work more precisely, use our time more effectively, present ourselves better and spend more time with the right customers. Consequently, traditional sales has not become meaningless due to digitalization; rather, it has been given improved equipment and, as a result, increases its output, in some cases enormously. Customers will still want to look at, feel or test drive certain products before they buy anything. Many products are also rarely purchased on their own, and active activity is required to draw attention to them.

It is precisely in these cases that you use digitized sales to get the maximum performance out of the process.

Exponential growth

One major change affecting sales, but also many other areas of life, is the exponential growth curve of digital technology – and with it a constant change in almost all areas of life. 

After all, almost everything we use in our everyday lives today is supported by technology in some form or another and is therefore also subject to this change. Since Moore`s Law was defined in the 1960s, we have known that the computing power of computer chips doubles approximately every 18 months. This has triggered a wave of exponential growth that has affected everything that has even rudimentary digital technology in it.

At the same time, however, not only has the computing power of our current technological devices increased, but the cost of that power and devices has decreased dramatically. For example, drones are now available everywhere as children’s toys, some starting at prices of €30 and up. The gyroscopes needed to make them would have cost Nasa engineers a fortune back in the 1990s.

The smartphones that our children use today have thousands of times more computing power than the supercomputers used for the moon landing back then – and are now affordable for everyone instead of being exclusive to governments and large corporations.

What does this mean for corporate sales?

As new technology, new digital platforms, and new opportunities keep emerging and thus keep reshaping everyday life, people’s behavior is also changing as a result, and with it the behavior of our customers.

The rules in business were stable for a long time. Anyone who ran a successful business in the 1970s was very likely to still have one in the 1980s and 1990s. By contrast, today the S&P 500 Index increasingly includes companies that didn’t even exist 10 years ago.

The average lifespan of one of these leading top companies has shortened from 67 years to just 15 years in recent decades. Every now and then, a new marketplace, a new app, a new form of communication, a new opportunity emerges.

Disruptive innovations can change entire markets forever in the process. After digital cameras became affordable and powerful, no one wanted to go back to analog photography. And later, digital cameras were again displaced by cameras in smartphones.

Because of this constant change, our world and the rules in our lives are always being changed. Therefore, a modern sales process that wants to be effective must always be able to adapt to new trends and keep up with these changes.

Even more, ideally our sales process should already be able to anticipate the coming trends. New behaviors change the way our customers allocate their attention. As attention changes, so does the way we need to align our marketing and sales.

A modern sales process, therefore, must continually redefine itself because the world we live in is also continually redefining itself.

Forget what you learned in college 20 years ago. What works today may be completely outdated in the next few months. Your sales department has to keep up with this speed if you want to continue to secure your market share. If you don’t move with the times, you move with the times.

How can a sales process be digitized?

This now brings us to the question of how to move from an existing sales process to a digital sales process. As the foundation of any digitization in all areas of a company, it is important to understand that digitization is not a solution to all problems. Digitization is an amplifier of what already exists.

Therefore, the first step is not to install new software or switch to digital customer appointments, but to analyze the existing sales process. If your process has unclear structures and is error-prone, successful digitization would multiply these errors and confusions – potentially causing more damage than the existing, analog process.

The guiding principle here is, “If you digitize crap, you have digitized crap.

1. Structure and standardize the sales process

The first thing to do, therefore, is to structure and standardize the sales process so that it runs virtually by itself, like a perfectly oiled machine. This includes standards, training and clear objectives for the employees, regular review of the objectives and practical support on a day-to-day basis, and corresponding individual responsibility for the results.

We can make use of a number of proven tools such as sales presentations, ready-made objection treatments, qualification of customers in conversation, best practices of the most successful employees and regular training sessions in which our team internalizes all this content.

In many cases, an increase in sales will be noticeable here alone – even without any digitization at all.

2. Digitize the sales process

Only now that our sales process has been optimized do we start with the actual digitization.

By analyzing the process, all related workflows should now be clear. Therefore, we can now start a change process by taking a closer look at some of the following questions:

  • What in our current process creates effort for customers and / or employees and can be automated today?
  • Which steps in our process could be made redundant by modern software solutions, for example, and thus save us time and money in the long term?
  • How can we meet our customers exactly where they are already investing their attention and time, and at exactly the right moment?
  • Which tools are suitable to support our team in their daily tasks?
  • How can we offer our customers better service / make the process easier?
  • How do we integrate digital marketing as a spearhead directly into our sales process and ensure a seamless handover?
  • How do we target our customers more effectively?
  • How do we save our employees’ time by letting them work on more effective tasks?
  • How can these and other measures ultimately lead to increasing our sales?
  • Etc.

Basically, all the hoped-for improvements through successful digitization boil down to a few core areas: Time savings, simplification of daily tasks, automation, and ultimately, as a result, the potential for an emerging increase in revenue.

Merging digital sales and marketing into a single unit

One of the most important insights in the context of this transformation is that sales and marketing can no longer exist as separate entities today.

The technological possibilities intertwine too much, change too quickly, and must be adapted to the new requirements again and again. Only if the entire process along our customer journey meshes coherently and builds on each other can we also get the maximum return from our customer conversations.

Google alone makes over 600 updates to its search algorithm – that’s almost 2 updates per day! Some of them are more serious, most you don’t really notice. But they all have their impact, especially in the long run.

The exponential growth here is especially hard felt on digital platforms. What is still a profitable tactic to generate leads for sales today may already be ineffective in a few months or technically no longer possible at all if, for example, the chosen platform suddenly changes its rules (digital platforms do this frequently).

Marketing and sales strategies must therefore be dynamic enough to keep up with customer behavior that is always changing on the one hand, and on the other hand also with a constantly changing market environment in which the communication channels to the customer and also with the customer are in a constant state of flux.

Rapid changes

A trendy app today can cease to exist in just a few months, viral videos and Internet sensations can lose their effect completely overnight due to an algorithm update.

The only certainty in this environment is that tomorrow will be different than today. At this pace, companies today must adapt and keep pace with eternal change – and so must sales.

But where there are risks, there are also opportunities. And these lie above all in properly applied, digital marketing concepts that support sales. It has never been easier to target a precise group and speak to the right audience at the right time.

Better address customers

  • Do your customers read the Wall Street Journal, listen to Elvis and like to play golf?
  • Or do you want to target classical music lovers within a geographical radius of 50 kilometers?
  • Does your target group consist of motor sports fans who like to vacation in Italy?
  • How about everyone who has a preference for Mexican food and has more than 50,000€ annual income from your city?

In everyday life without the Internet it would be almost impossible to find this target group, with digital marketing you can target them for a small budget, and all within a few minutes. What was for a long time an impossible search for a needle in a haystack, digital marketing today provides you with within a few seconds and, if done right, still for pocket money amounts.

Digital sales can therefore be continuously supplied with new leads that exactly match the target group. Forget cold calling from the phone book. Today, if you’ve defined exactly who your ideal customer is, you have an almost endless choice of highly technical ways to keep popping up with those very people.

The combination of all

If your product really delivers what it promises and potential customers can actually benefit from it, your customers will also be pleased to receive a highly relevant message with a product that is perfectly suited to them – and possibly even at exactly the right moment!

In the end, this means that everyone involved wins:

  • Customers receive helpful product suggestions tailored to their needs.
  • Sales staff can position themselves as experts and work with qualified leads for productive customer conversations on a day-to-day basis.
  • And management has more time to focus on other areas of the business while increasing revenue.
David A. Schneider hat über 10 Jahre an vorderster Front im Vertrieb und im direkten Marketing verbracht. Sein erstes Unternehmen hat er mit 18 Jahren gegründet und war seither von den Möglichkeiten und Auswirkungen des Unternehmertums auf unsere Gesellschaft fasziniert. Seit Jahren hat er es sich zur Aufgabe gemacht, ein Buch pro Woche zu lesen und die Inhalte in der Praxis anzuwenden. In diversen Branchen hat er damit bereits überdurchschnittliche Ergebnisse erzielt, indem er seine Arbeitsweisen stets an die neuesten Technologien anpasst und orientiert. Derzeit hat er eine leitende Funktion in einem Familienunternehmen mit 150 Mitarbeitern und teilt sein Wissen als Autor, Blogger und Unternehmensberater mit seinen Kunden und Lesern.

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