For the past decade, I’ve been evangelizing the new rules of marketing and public relations and so have many of you.
Prior to the Web, generating attention meant buying expensive advertising or convincing the media to write or broadcast about us. But now we’ve got a better way, generating attention by publishing information on the web so people find it while searching with Google and other search engines and discover it because people share on social networks.
Over the past decade the biggest challenge in getting these ideas accepted has been fear. People are reluctant to change. There has been a huge disconnect in what people actually do as consumers and what they focus on as marketers and entrepreneurs.
Even though nearly everyone turns to search engines when they research products and services and they ask their network of friends, colleagues and family members for advice, many still insist that their target market is "different". These fearful marketers who are resistant to change still invest an inordinate amount of time and money on traditional interruption advertising. They still focus on traditional pitching based media relations. They are using the old rules to try to generate attention.
But many of us have made tremendous progress in marketing and public relations. If you’re reading this, thank you for being a part of the revolution.
First marketing & PR and now Sales & Service
At the same time, the ongoing communications revolution has profoundly affected how sales and service is done. Now, people research products and organizations they might do business with directly rather than relying exclusively on traditional B2B and B2C salespeople and processes.
Just like the way that online content is the primary driver for successful marketing and public relations, online content is quickly becoming a dominant driver for sales and service as well.
However, most organizations are still using traditional selling and service models that were developed decades ago.
From my perspective, sales and service is about five years behind marketing and public relations in adopting the strategies of reaching buyers directly with content.
I am currently researching and writing a forthcoming book titled The New Rules of Sales and Service. This is a fascinating topic!
The traditional B2B sales model is broken
Early in my career, I worked as a sales representative at a Wall Street economic consultancy. Back then the salesperson had the information and therefore the power in the relationship.
If the buyer wanted information about how the product worked, they needed to come to me. If they wanted to negotiate a discount they had to come through me. If they wanted a customer reference to speak to, they had to come through me. If they wanted to talk to the founders of the company, they had to come through me. I was involved from the very beginning of the relationship and most of the leverage was with me, the sales rep.
But now, because of the tons of information on the Web, the salesperson no longer controls the relationship. Now, the buyer can check you out themselves. They can find your customers and read about what you do on their blogs. They can reach the founders directly via Twitter and LinkedIn. Buyers actively go around salespeople until the last possible moment and then come into negotiations armed with tons of information. Now our buyers have the leverage.
But most sales organizations are built and run as if it were still 1989. The traditional B2B sales model is broken.
Brian Halligan, HubSpot CEO, agrees
Over a few beers, on several sun-soaked days this summer, I had opportunities to explore these ideas in detail with Brian Halligan, HubSpot CEO. HubSpot is an all-in-one inbound marketing software company that helps companies get found. Like me, Brian was also a sales rep early in his career and he rose to run large international sales teams. And like me, for close to a decade Brian has evangelized new marketing through his writing and speaking.
“The way people shop has really changed,” Brian says. While marketers have been first to adapt to the new realties of the Web, delivering information that helps them get found, Brian agrees that salespeople and sales management are reluctant to change.
“Sales teams are resisting the inevitable change and they need to get over it and lean into it and embrace it,” Brian says. “A good example of that is how so many companies today still don't publish their pricing on their website, which is just kind of ridiculous. I think you just need to get over yourself and change the way you think about selling and really change the whole process.”
Brian sees the skill sets of successful salespeople as quite different than when we were bag carrying sales guys years ago. “Rather than your cold calling ability, it's much more about how smart you are and how you can solve buyers problems and have a real conversation with them,” he says. “The world of sales is changing in a very positive way. As leverage has shifted to the buyer because of the Web and social media, vendors need to get their act together and embrace it to really delight customers. The friction associated with customers telling the world about how happy or unhappy they are has been dramatically lowered. Delighting customers has a much bigger impact today than it ever has because it's so much easier to for people to spread the word that they are happy.”
Content drives sales and service
Much like the way that content – blogs, information-rich sites, videos, images, social networking, and the like – has quickly become an essential part of marketing and public relations, now content is coming to the forefront of the sales process and the service model too.
As buyers move through the sales cycle, they self-select information that will help them, perhaps a blog post here, a webinar there, maybe an ebook to read on the train ride home. Salespeople can’t hoard this information like they used to because its all available on the Web, so the smart ones have transformed themselves into a sort of information broker, serving up the perfect content to each buyer at the right time.
On the service side, once someone is signed up as a customer, information delivered at the right moment makes for happy customers who renew existing services and buy more over time. And happy customers talk up companies on in social networks.
While marketing is the provision of content to many potential customers, sales and service are now about the provision of content to buyers one at a time based on their needs.
Introducing Signals, a HubSpot Company
Today at the INBOUND13 conference, Brian and HubSpot cofounder Dharmesh Shah introduced a new platform called Signals. This is a new tool for salespeople from a new company being run as a startup within HubSpot.
Signals, HubSpot’s first offering beyond the marketing space, is a Google Chrome based notification tool that tells sales and service representatives when and how to engage leads and customers, showing real-time notifications based on “signals” from emails you’ve sent, your website, your CRM, and social media interactions.
“We started HubSpot to replace annoying, interruptive advertising with inbound marketing: marketing people love,” Brian says. “But the customer experience doesn’t end with marketing. Today's buyers behave differently, and that means you need to transform how your organization not only does marketing, but also how you approach sales and service. We believe that people on the front line of sales and customer service deserve tools that make their interactions with customers, prospects, and leads more relevant and effective.”
Signals is an application that sits on top of your other apps such as your Browser and email client. “When a prospect opens your email, you’ll get a signal that will pop up,” Brian says. “When that potential customer clicks on a link, you’ll know that they clicked on the link. And it pops up and tells you when they're on your site.”
Signals also extends to social networks like LinkedIn so you might get a signal that your potential customer just changed their job title on LinkedIn, valuable information that you can use in the selling process.
“The Signals product is designed for the sales rep, not for the VP of sales,” Brian says, citing the many sales teams that use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms optimized for sales VPs to manage sales reps rather than for sales reps to engage customers. “Signals is designed not to manage salespeople but instead to enable that sales rep who gets involved much later in the process and who is dealing with a potential customer who has a lot more knowledge than he ever had. It enables the salesperson to have good set of conversations and to move them down the funnel in a much more efficient way.”
Time to transform sales and service
Brian and I see tremendous parallels between the world in 2006 when he founded HubSpot and I was writing The New Rules of Marketing and PR and today.
Seven years ago we both started evangelizing the ideas of Inbound Marketing that are used by thousands of organizations today. But back then it was new. And it was scary.
Now it is time to transform sales. It is a new world and it will be scary.
As I write my book The New Rules of Sales and Service, I’m very interested in your thoughts on the transformation of the selling process. Please leave a comment or shoot me an email.
In particular, I am looking for examples of organizations and people who have made this transition for future blog posts and in my upcoming book. Please let me know if you've got a story to share.
Disclosure: I am marketer-in-residence and a member of the advisory board at HubSpot. Brian Halligan is a friend and we wrote a book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, together.
August 22, 2013 update: I revised this post and one of my comments to reflect that I am now writing a book called The New Rules of Sales and Service. That fact had not been in the original version of this post.