In many industries and before the recession, selling was like shooting fish in a barrel. Now the fish are shooting back. The power has gone back to the customer, and a lot of sales managers feel frustrated. It’s tougher to find, qualify, and see prospects. It takes longer to persuade them, and it’s even tougher to close sales.
One thing is certain: the old ways of selling and marketing no longer work. Just as overused jokes lose their power to make us laugh, old sales or marketing messages no longer stimulate the vigorous interest seasoned salespeople are craving. Here are some key trends that Selling Power has uncovered during interviews with CEOs, VPs of sales, authors, and consultants.
1. CEOs are very cautious. Some are optimistic that the market will continue to improve, but they are not counting on it. Their mantra is “cost control.” CEOs demand a higher level of competitiveness, but they are more attracted to cosmetic changes, rather than structural changes. One CEO said to me recently, “Business is an unforgiving, relentless, competitive struggle. We’re constantly refining our customer message and expanding our marketing and sales effort.”
2. Surprisingly, there is still a gap between sales and marketing, though it’s imperative that these two teams work in alignment. One key conflict lies with customer-message management. Marketing is more focused on product facts, while salespeople are more focused on relationships. Salespeople speak the customer’s language, but the people responsible for creating marketing materials don’t. This often leads to the following problems:
- Marketing messages are not in sync with customer concerns. Experts estimate that 80 percent of a company’s marketing material is never used. Top salespeople often create their own messages and close sales, but the rest just miss sales opportunities.
- Marketing messages don’t offer enough substance. Today’s customers spend time online researching competing solutions, and they dismiss boilerplate information. The last thing they want to do is listen to a long pitch. When prospects ask questions at a deeper level, salespeople are often unable to differentiate their company’s capabilities or substantiate its claims.
- Marketing messages are far too complex. If your salespeople speak about your product or solution in a language that customers can’t understand, customer interest will fade quickly.
It’s imperative that companies cultivate a collaborative relationship between sales and marketing, which will lead to effective customer-message management. But many CEOs are frustrated because there is so little desire to improve in this regard. One CEO told me, “I am always dissatisfied. I preach dissatisfaction. In my mind, everything needs to be improved or we risk extinction.”
Rapid changes challenge companies’ core missions. Progressive CEOs help recalibrate their core marketing messages to hit the quickly vanishing sweet spots in the marketplace. They boldly redesign their ad messages using customer input gleaned from active social media use, refocus their unique selling proposition, and encourage their sales teams to capture customers’ hearts and minds by engaging them on social-media platforms.
Business rewards those who understand their customers’ pain, are capable of offering valuable solutions that deliver results, and above all, speak their customers’ language.