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Digital marketing — changing traditional sales attitudes

The sales game has changed dramatically over the past few decades — driven largely by the increased use of technology and, most recently, the advent of social media and digital marketing.

Looking at the B2B sales process today, 85 per cent of the purchase decision has been made before the customer even approaches the company. The reason? The availability of information on the internet regarding the company, its reputation and its products. This digital footprint includes feedback from other clients, company details, as well as contacts and connections.

Bringing digital marketing into the picture enables an organisation to share the reputation, augment its network and showcase its expertise. Digital marketing is both challenging and enhancing traditional sales techniques. It has long been recognised that word of mouth is a power­ful sales tool, adding digital and creating word of mouse helps the sales professionals to better time their offers, calls and meetings.

In 1973, American Professor Mark Granovetter wrote about the strength of weak ties. He looked at people’s networks and how they were most likely to elicit help. What he was describing was a blueprint for LinkedIn. As a sales tool, LinkedIn takes traditional selling into a new dimension. Imagine knowing what you have in common with your prospect before the first meeting. Imagine knowing which of your contacts knows the prospect. Imagine knowing their full education and employment history before that meeting. This is why LinkedIn has become the number one tool for sales professionals. Yet this is only one element of the digital toolbox.

In the past we would carefully craft and post a letter but we had no real idea if the recipient had read the contents. With email marketing systems we can see who opened the email, when they opened it, how many times they opened it, which links they clicked on and whether they shared the information with a colleague. This enables sales professionals to work with their marketing teams to construct key messages, test what works and monitor the results. A well-timed telephone call after an email has been opened has greater impact, than a hopeful telephone call after a letter is posted.

More sophisticated email marketing systems also offer a series of automated messages based on customer behaviour; so if customer A opens an email within three days, he is sent the next relevant message in the programme. Yet customer B who does not open the email, is sent an alternative message, saving sales teams time and hassle until the client is closer to the sale.

Advertising was historically a key way to support sales efforts and build brands. The challenge was knowing which adverts the customer had seen and digested. Advertising via social media means tracking every move the customer makes, as well as targeting customers with laser precision. You can select a specific audience, say marketing directors working in financial services in London or women aged 28 to 35 who have become engaged within six months and are living within 50 miles of Birmingham. There is also greater transparency. If the target audience is too small, the social networks will not allow the advertising campaign to take place. This is an alien concept to printed publications.

Plus, every sale generated as a result of placing an advert via social media, can be tracked. Whether that day, the following day or six months later. Each and every sale can be attributed to a specific advert on a specific social media platform. Traditional advertising could never do this.

If potential clients are visiting your website, most website visitors can be identified and sales teams can discover who is reading their content. Traditional brochures could never deliver this type of intelligence. Real-time web data allows well-timed calls to be made to warm prospects at the moment they are information gathering or even making the purchase decision.

There is no denying that digital tools like social media, email and social advertising can dramatically change the work of sales teams — for the better. It brings new elements of accuracy to the mix, making sure sales professionals can make calls at the right times and that the right customers can be reached. Of course no one is dismissing the traditional sales tactics, like phone calls and meetings. In fact, a combination of digital and traditional can ensure quicker sales and improve conversion rates. The key to success is understanding the benefits and uses of both options and, indeed, developing an approach that is fit for purpose and targets the right audience.