Unless you live off the grid, you can’t help but notice that virtual sales is playing a larger role in every facet of our lives. In addition to driving the most obvious purchases (i.e. my 10-plus Amazon orders in the last 30 days), it’s also powering buying and selling motions across bigger ticket, higher-consideration items.
Take the car buying process as an example. Late last year a good friend was in the market for a new car. He selected the make, model and must-have accessory packages of the new vehicle before ever stepping foot into the dealership. Instead, he relied heavily on digital content (safety reports, consumer reviews, and feature lists and options) throughout his month-long evaluation process.
All of this time, he never established contact with a dealer until he was ready to personally negotiate and make the purchase. (Disclaimer: he admits to taking two somewhat incognito test drives at dealerships, but otherwise he didn’t engage with the sales staff.)
Ultimately, working with a leading warehouse club, he was matched online with a local dealer authorized to sell his precise (and in stock) vehicle at the club’s specified pricing. It was the easiest and most satisfying car buying experience he said he’s ever had, and it exemplifies virtual sales at its finest.
The above scenario demonstrates a true collaboration across manufacturer, distributor and partner using digital and human-based interactions to deliver a seamless and exceptional buying experience. This same B2C virtual sales approach is increasingly being used in B2B engagement, so much so that in their report, Evolution of the Virtual Sales Rep: Taking the Buyer Experience to the Next Level, IDC predicts that by 2018, 20 percent of B2B sales teams will have gone “virtual.” And that leads me to my next point, which is that virtual sales is a B2B movement that’s here to stay. Here are three reasons why:
- Digitization has bred savvy, self-empowered buyers who increasingly turn first (if not exclusively) to digital content and channels when evaluating products and services. In response, partners must embrace a content marketing strategy with the sole purpose of supporting the buyer through this process. Consider the value of digital assets that provide an independent prospective (analyst insights, comparison reviews, customer use cases and support forum access), as this type of content can help buyers better navigate their decision making process. In addition, it’s important to digitize pricing and comparative information that was historically held close to the vest, as buyers now expect transparency and will appreciate the convenience of easy access to the information they seek. Remember, the primary goals of your content marketing should not be to sell, but rather to educate, support and provide exceptional service to the buyer.
- Some high-consideration purchases will never convert digitally, which is why your organization should not rely strictly on digital sales and marketing methods. As illustrated by my friend’s car buying experience, some purchases will always require a level of human intervention, at either the evaluation or transactional phase. Virtual sales merges the necessary digital content and online engagement tactics that self-sufficient buyers prefer, with the human expertise and value-oriented support at the most appropriate time in the buyer’s journey.
- Five-star service is a must and, in the age of digitization, it may be the sole distinguishing factor between you and the competition. When done right, virtual sales leverages digital assets (third-party research, social networks, buyer profile data and more), along with predictive/prescriptive analytics and automation, to enable you to demonstrate a deep understanding of your customer’s business challenges. It truly is a hybrid approach that relies as much on the personal execution of a skilled sales expert as it does the underlying systems and tools that personalize the virtual buying process. The aim is to move away from mass marketing/selling, or even segmented marketing/selling, to deliver tailored experiences that are created for a market of “one.” Using the knowledge gained from the digital footprints that make up the customer’s post-sale journey, we can more accurately address the precise needs and interests of the individual (and their company) at a specific point in time. When that occurs, amazing things happen.
Make no mistake, virtual sales is reshaping our industry. All across Cisco, we’re working hard to create the digital platforms and digital assets that enable partners to increase profits, expedite sales, and improve customer retention and success. From Lifecycle Advantage to Cisco Impact, SuccessHub and more, our priority is to empower your virtual sales teams, both today and in the future.