The world of sales has moved apace over the last twenty years or so. From the advertising men of the 1980’s and early 1990’s the rise of mass media, the opening up of new markets and the proliferation of social media has meant that the game has changed completely.
Selling has gone from an industry where you might have had one or two competitors to now finding out that anyone can start up a rival sales business from their back room over the Internet and connect with customers in an engaging way. Mom and Pop aren’t just for stores, they can appear on the Internet too! So as the world around us changes, the way that we approach sales changes too.
The expensive ways of advertising a product on the television and then waiting for the phone to the ring has disappeared in many ways. What we need as sales professionals is an easier way to do business, a way that is more effective and more efficient. What we need is a way that connects with the customer. Many large companies are able to throw more and more cash at the problem and keep on growing, seemingly exponentially. The likes of Apple and Google are playing a different ball game to the rest of us when it comes to finding out the ideal way to raise customer awareness and make those vital sales that mean the difference between success and failure.
Apple spends around $1 billion per year on advertising. It works for the company but this is not a strategy that the rest of the businesses of the world can apply. Those small and medium-sized businesses that occupy much of the marketplace for many goods and services in the world economy have to look at things through a different set of eyes.
It has been attributed to Henry Ford that half of his advertising doesn’t work but he doesn’t know which half. The same can be said of many businesses that spend their money on advertising, marketing and nurturing sales.
- You may spend money on a television advert that appears in a show which happens to have low ratings.
- You may send out marketing materials and make phone calls to a company that has just signed a three year deal with one of your rivals.
- You may set up a website with a specific target market in mind only to find that they move away from using your product or service completely.
The consumer world is changing in many ways all at the same time so a business that does not adapt their approach and make the most of the precious resources of time and money will fail to gain any ground and will usually lose against their competitors. The business world does not wait for people to catch up. If a company doesn’t get their sales function right from the start then they lose out completely and find that their rivals have taken away all their customers and they have no business left. It is a constant battle to keep ahead of the rest when it comes to selling your products and services.
Just take a look at the way that many industries have changed over the last ten or twenty years-
- Real estate agency has moved from traditional (and expensive) prime locations to cheap and efficient online services
- Amazon and others have blitzed traditional shopping locations and these areas have prompted a rise in cafe culture in the day and bars and restaurants at night
- Sales reps that used to scour the country knocking on doors for the next opportunity have morphed into people that sell solutions to companies rather than products and services
The world of business has changed in many ways and will continue to do so for a long time in the future. As more technology arrives in the laps of the customer then the way a business engages a customer just has to change too. People can fast-forward through television commercials, magazines can be read online and pop up ads have all but disappeared. The times they are a-changing!
Sales and selling is something that has been around for a very long time. From the time when people wanted others to do or buy something, sales techniques were developed and people started to have a job or career in sales. Historians have found coins from around 7,000 years ago. This means that we stopped bartering and started exchanging goods and services for money at around that time. So from that date, there was always some degree of sales happening in the world. The Industrial Revolution that began in the United Kingdom made the way that the world does business change in many ways. As well as production lines and mass production we got the first sales claims and literature starting to come through. The claims got bolder and wilder during this time and companies made all sorts of promises to customers that could never be fulfilled.
In 1936 much of this was formalized by Dale Carnegie in his book ‘How To Win Friends & Influence People’ as the marketing men of New York attempted to sell millions of products to the growing market of the U.S. This developed more and more over time as newspaper advertising then television commercials became the must-use tools to sell products to many people all at the same time. Selling became something else that was mass-produced and all companies wanted were to hit as many people as they could. This shotgun approach produced mixed results but the solution was always thought to be to make bigger, better and more expensive adverts all the time to beat off the competition.
The rise of the sales force happened along similar lines during this period as companies could see huge advantages in having trained and persuasive professionals knocking on as many doors as possible to sell the wares of the company to their relevant audience. Business to Customer sales teams were particularly successful in getting customer buy-in for products such as insurance and they turned up every month to collect the latest installment on a life assurance policy, an endowment or a funeral plan. But it was in Business to Business sales that the sales force came into their own.
The 1990’s, in particular, saw massive sales forces literally cold calling every business that they thought might have a need for a product while out on the road all week before returning to the office on a Friday afternoon to tally up all their sales and get the invoices sent out to their clients. This was big business and the sales team was seen as the people that made the company successful. Without strong sales then the rest of the company appeared to be in trouble. If the sales were not strong then others worried about their jobs. This process changed again with the advent of the Internet. Companies drew back their sales teams as an expense that they could control and replaced them with telemarketers, mass email send-outs and their website. If a company could save millions of dollars on a sales force and replace it with a team of minimum-wage employees to answer the phones when they were more than happy with the fact that they had saved a big chunk of money.
But this approach causes problems. The lack of face to face customer contact means that relationships are not built, sales may be lost and the expertise in the business drains away as you lose sales reps with tens of years of experience and replace them with people that might only be with the company for a few months before moving on to another low-paid job.
The sales industry suffered and people were re-hired or given new titles such as Business Development Manager to try to make up for the fact that all the reps had left and taken their experience away with them. Something had to change to get those relationships working again. Companies loved the cost-saving that losing face to face interaction gave them but found that they were losing business because the loyalty gained by face to face sales had disappeared. Customers liked the way that they could just click on a few buttons to make an order but also lost the trust and reliability they felt when they spoke to someone in their office every month. Price became the biggest factor in choosing a supplier because the customer service element had gone out of the window.
So the clever marketing companies looked at the situation and saw some technologies that helped the way sales could happen for both the company and the customer. Using technological improvements such as Customer Relationship Management or CRM and Automated Marketing Systems these companies were able to analyze the way that a business and its customer interacted to produce something that took the best of both worlds.
A valuable customer wants to feel valued. A company wants to feel as though they are providing a great service to their customers while maximizing sales from them. The technology that was available had driven a wedge between customers and the companies they wanted to use. This reduced customer loyalty made price the biggest factor in decision making and meant that companies went back to not knowing which parts of their advertising or marketing budgets were actually the most efficient. Sales companies had lost touch with the one thing that made them money – their customers.
This is how and why Account Based Sales was born. It is the antidote to the problems generated by systems that create a disconnect between companies and clients. In the next chapter, we will take a look at what Account Based Selling is and how it solves problems for sales.
But consider that not every company is automatically geared up to deal with larger clients. You may be in a situation where you need to move up the scale but don’t have things in place to deliver the quality that you need, both in terms of marketing power and customer management. Carefully assess whether your company has the products or services that translate to larger clients before you make this change.