The Internet has significantly changed the buying behavior of organizations seeking enterprise level solutions. In the first part of this series, The Web-enabled Sales Process we discussed the different stages in the new buy cycle, and the information that buyers consume to complete specific project tasks. Pre-Internet buyers relied on sales people to provide this information which gave sales people control of the process. Today, the information available on the Web has eliminated both the need and the desire to engage directly with sales people until much later in the evaluation process. To effectively sell to this new breed of self-directed buyers, sales departments must learn how to integrate a seamless online-offline sales campaign. The Internet is not just a broadcast medium of public web sites. It is also a very effective two-way communication medium which its most prevalent technology, e-mail, has proven. Part two of this series will provide a few tips on how to web enable the early stages of the sales process.
Part Two of The Web-enabled Sales Process series.
From Inquiry Qualification to Suspect Development
Marketing's demand generation strategies have been significantly realigned over the last few years to encourage the use of the Web for registration and fulfillment activities. Enough information has been published about business to business (B2B) marketing of technology products that I'll simply recommend a Google search or exploring www.technologyevaluation.com for more information on how to generate more web inquires. It's marketing's job to attract first time visitors to your web site; this is the Problem awareness stage in the buy cycle methodology that we summarized in Part One. Unfortunately many sales people criticize their marketing department for generating so many "junk Internet" leads. Why, because the sales lead qualification process has been so unproductive to the point where it's actually counterproductive. We all know there is gold in those Internet registrations. Panning for that gold however, requires a different qualification process with a new set of metrics, so the message to marketing should be turn up the volume of those Internet registrations!
During the Understanding stage, as described in Part One. , as the buyer understands the problem and contemplates taking action to solve it, we begin qualifying buyers by creating a filtering process to identify the serious evaluators from other casual web traffic. Getting visitors to return for second and subsequent visits is a collaborative function between marketing and sales to create next buying stage transition offers that only appeal to the needs of the serious buyer. The objective is to create a series of follow-up offers that engage the self-directed buyer to further explore your solution, to reveal their interests, and to influence their buying process. Offer content is king in the on-line world and sending a free automated e-mail will achieve this much more effectively than the old qualifying phone call that delivers no immediate value to the buyer. For example, a next day follow-up offer to a white paper download would read something like, "Thank you for your recent inquiry. Please call Jane Doe, your sales executive, if you would like further assistance evaluating our solutions. You may also be interested in reviewing our Express RFI Service which outlines our solution capabilities and can easily be used to accelerate your project's needs analysis activity."
Smart web sites know how to identify these return visitors and to learn their interests from prior activity, so that it can deliver a more relevant and engaging visitor experience. Amazon.com is a good example of a site that tracks user history to create a profile that enables the site to personalize its service. The goal at this phase is to identify early stage sales opportunities, such as organizations with unusually high volumes of inquiry activity. By integrating this information with the CRM system, sales people would have access to this list of high probability suspects to further research off-line. Low activity visitors are classified as dormant opportunities and can be added to a quarterly awareness email campaign. The rules of engagement at this stage follow these general guidelines:
- Respond to an inquiry via the same communication channel through which the inquiry was made.
- Make it easy for visitors to transition from an impersonal on-line to a personal dialog with tools such as instant messaging and click-to-chat, or to move to an off-line discussion with a clearly displayed telephone number.
- Delivery speed is paramount with any on-line offer. Immediate is best, the day after tomorrow is unacceptable.
- Only request information that is in the buyer's self-interest to supply.
- Follow-up every accepted on-line offer with related follow-up offer.
Give to Get Communication Strategy
A well designed web site provides an ideal medium to collect buyer data. To transform buyer data into actionable information, it must be integrated into a customer relationship management (CRM) system to provide salespeople with a complete view of their prospect. The design of an effective Web-enabled sales system is akin to a multiplayer computer game where buyers are the players and salespeople are the coaches. As with any game, the content changes as buyers progress though each stage. The "buying game" tracks who downloaded what offers, what information they entered, and which web pages players reviewed. By consolidating all the information by organization in a CRM system, salespeople will be able to identify the companies that are in play.
A few key points will help to understand how the buying game concept applies to creating a winning influence strategy for the sales department. The first guiding principle is give to get. Give players (buyers) what they want to encourage them to continue down your buying path, and in return, get the information needed to maximize the buyers' value. The second principle is to create a learning game that gets smarter as it collects information. Welcome the buyer back and remember what he or she accomplished in the last visit. As with every game, there is a scoring system that coaches (salespeople) can use to easily monitor and help improve the performance of their players.
There are a few design issues to keep in mind for the web site:
- There are no rules.
- Players can joint the game at any point.
- Players can then proceed in any direction, and can skip around as they like.
- Not all players are buyers.
Finally, it's important to remember that your sales web site must fit into the overall buying game that a project team will play as they navigate the on-line world.
Companies that deliver the most influential value at each buyer engagement are in the best position to eventually win the deal. The Research phase, as described in Part One is when about 80 percent of the vision is solidified into project documentation. Since most project teams are chartered to implement new business processes they find themselves learning as they go. They have two choices: they can either hire a consultant to show them the way or they can search the Internet for materials that will guide them down a proven path. Buyers are attracted to six categories of on-line project accelerator materials at this stage:
- How to buy roadmaps.
- Third party product reviews
- Opportunity value calculators
- Selection criteria check-lists
- Needs assessment frameworks
- Product overview materials
Sales and marketing organizations that don't offer these materials are missing the golden opportunity to transfer their value proposition into the project team's working documents. These project enablers can significantly influence the rest of the purchasing process. During the research stage, qualified buyers are transitioned from the public web site to a more in-depth members only site and then to an exclusive evaluation portal once a sales person is actively engaged with the account. Using Web portal technologies, the sales department can create a secure environment that provides buyers with convenient access to privileged information and tools. A portal also enables salespeople to control and monitor the buyer's on-line experience more closely as the sales opportunity develops over time. As the buying organization progresses through each subsequent stage, the salesperson continues to configure the portal with additional value enabling and information gathering materials.
Capitalizing on the Magic Moments
People live hectic lives these days. Cold calls, qualifying calls, and follow-up calls always come at a bad time. Salespeople are just one more interruption in the buyer's frantic schedule, but as explained earlier, salespeople can pre-configure on-line experiences that execute at their buyers convenience. One of the marvels of the Internet is that it is available at any time and from any place. It gives people the convenience to work when they have the time and attention to focus on a specific task.
When is the best time to engage with a buyer? It's the magic moment when the buyer is visiting your web site. That is the time when buyers are giving you access to their needs and their full attention. Sales, your challenge is to seize these golden opportunities to probe for information, deliver value, and to influence the buying process. Granted your salesperson will not physically attend this virtual sales engagement, but a sales meeting did happen, and your buyer was influenced by the experience. Do your salespeople know what sales meetings their buyers have completed on your web site? Do they have access to the information that was collected? Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.
When you begin your next sales negotiation, think about the valuable buyer information you never bothered to collect from your own web site while the buyer was collecting information on you. Both the marketing department and the customer support department have implemented efficient and effective web strategies which have improved service levels and reduced costs. Now is the time for the sales department to fill the void and regain their influence on the customer's decision process at each stage of the new on-demand buy cycle.
Continuing the Dialog
With this article, we would like to continue the dialog with both the buyers and sellers of enterprise level products. We welcome your ideas, suggestions and comments that contribute to the development of more effective and efficient buying-selling processes. E-mail your thoughts to Emmett.Holt@HoltGrp.net. A list of the interesting ideas that this dialog generates and will responded back to those who take the time to contribute.
@ 2006 The Holt Group
About the Author
Emmett Holt founded The Holt Group as an interactive sales consulting collaborative based in Boston. The Holt Group advises enterprise technology clients on how to integrate an on-line and off-line sales strategy to improve business results by delivering superior customer focused experience at every point of contact. He has over twenty-five years of experience in the enterprise software industry as an executive responsible for both the sales and marketing performance. He can be reached at Emmett.Holt@HoltGrp.net.