On opposite ends of the office, the Marketing Department and the Sales Department each believe they alone are responsible for bringing in new customers and keeping old ones, and to make it even more polarized, the company’s ad agency on Madison Avenue holds the same belief. And at the same time, everybody takes the IT department for granted, when in reality, they are responsible for driving far more sales than anybody realizes.
An effective sales process no longer starts with a sales agent talking to a client; it begins with understanding and influencing the customer’s journey to the shelf. According to Ric Noreen, Managing Partner at Waypoint Strategic Solutions, “In terms of identifying new customers, there is a lot of work to be done.” This begins with understanding the customer’s path-to-purchase, which Noreen identifies as a deep understanding of the thoughts and behaviors leading up to the moment of truth – standing in front of the shelf and pulling your product from the shelf versus your competitor’s. “If the retailer understands where that thought process started with each particular shopper, they can identify each step along that path-to-purchase the shopper makes. The retailer can influence that act the shopper is taking, in order to redirect them to their shelf.”
When the sales agent is a robot
Retailers and sales organizations are beginning to successfully incorporate digital tools like chatbots and artificial intelligence, shifting the sales function downstream to marketing and the data analytics that drive it. While some observers decry this trend and suggest that it depersonalizes the sales process, in fact, the opposite is true. Human sales agents will always play a role, but that role is changing – and being enhanced with these technological marketing tools. “Shoppers need those engagement devices like interactive signage and smart shelves, which know I’m in the aisle, and know that I’m interested in an item and will cause a coupon to appear on my smartphone,” said Noreen.
Gerry Brewer, CEO of TeamUniformOrders, a leading online e-commerce provider to sports dealers and the brands they sell, believes the success of his company and of the clients they serve comes down to successfully and cohesively blending advanced digital marketing solutions with personal, direct selling and working together in tandem towards the same goal. He notes that doing so has been the key ingredient to his company’s rapid growth, and essential to achieving scalable growth for the clients they serve.
His strategy includes making valuable information and content readily available digitally, so interested prospects can react and interact with content which is of interest to them. Prospects can get the majority of information they need on their terms, and then move along the sales continuum to self-select their interest in your solution. “Of course, making the close is still the most vital step in the process,” said Brewer. “That is when the personalized sales effort is best applied.”
Brewer notes that there is a commonality between the old-fashioned method of direct, person-to-person sales, and technology-enhanced, marketing-driven strategies. “At the core, both are trying to serve,” he says. “It’s a matter of efficiency and scalability, using now commonly-available digital marketing tools to inform and respond, while putting the best skills and sales talent of your team to focus on the most qualified prospects.”
The shift towards marketing-driven ecommerce, as opposed to the in-person sales model, is gaining presence even in areas which have traditionally been highly personalized. David Gauze, Advertising Manager of AutoBodyToolMart, which has been supplying equipment, paint booths and other items to auto shops for 30 years, has seen this shift in the auto repair shop supply business. “Auto shop supplies was traditionally dominated by person-to-person sales agents, but we’ve seen this model become replaced by more efficient ecommerce models,” said Gauze. Like companies across all industries, he has seen a major shift, from a time when demand was managed and cultivated by a sales agent, to that same demand being analyzed in greater detail and delivered through digital and ecommerce marketing platforms.
The glue that holds it together
Discussions of marketing and sales function are no longer relevant without bringing in a third party, and that is the technology and IT department which creates the digital platforms and tools which enable a closer alliance between the two. Noreen notes that effective sales and marketing is increasingly driven by big data and analytics. “If you have loyalty data, supplemental data and transactional data, every retailer has the ability to understand their shopper base. Once they have characterized that shopper base, they can use third-party data to go out and find other shoppers that look like their existing shoppers.”
Sustainable and scalable growth will never come from any one given area of the corporation believing sales comes from them, and them alone. In the age of ecommerce and automation, it comes from a closer alliance, cemented with the technological and ecommerce tools and data that brings the two functional areas closer together, and ultimately drives more sales, more loyalty, and a better understanding of the customer.
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