By Valerie Schlitt
My Uncle Jack was a salesman. When our family got together, he would talk about the fancy restaurants he’d go to, the traveling he’d do to meet his clients, and the golf courses where he’d play.
I also remember how he’d describe his approach to door knocking and cold calling. He had dozens of phone books stacked in his office, along with other hard-copy directories and piles of business cards.
These were the sources of his next sales opportunity. Uncle Jack had devised an elaborate follow-up system to keep the wheels rolling. He would make an index card for each prospect, order the cards by date, and keep them in a box so he’d remember to call on the right day. I was mesmerized by this.
My uncle’s success depended on his ability to find the next opportunity, gain his clients’ trust, and close sales. He loved every minute of it, and seemed to do well at his job.
But if Uncle Jack were to come out of retirement today, he’d notice dramatic changes in how the most successful B2B companies handle sales. Digital-age technology has completely upended the sales world from both the seller and buyer perspective.
On the buyer side, a wealth of easily accessible information allows decision makers to be more selective about the products they want. Before even speaking with a sales representative, 68% of B2B buyers prefer to research online, according to Forrester Research.
Moreover, they’re involving more people in the buying process. Harvard Business Review reveals the average number of decision makers at a company is 6.8; in Uncle Jack’s day, it was 1 or 2.
Vendors have responded by using technology to identify companies that best match their offerings—sometimes before those companies even know they have a need. Next, they implement multistep, integrated online campaigns to keep their brand front and center as companies move through the “buyer journey.” They even use sophisticated methods to track companies’ online behavior throughout that journey to review every click, email open, or visit to a website or landing page.
Finally, many of the savviest companies rely on “inside sales” teams to either close sales or set qualified appointments. This is one of the biggest changes my Uncle Jack would notice; inside sales teams are cheaper and can focus on a single task, unlike higher-paid field sales representatives like Uncle Jack who have broader responsibilities.
Clearly, a new way is taking over. The sun is setting on the age of the generalist.
As the owner of a company that offers lead generation and appointment setting services, I’ve been following the changes in the sales process for close to 20 years. Each step has become vastly more complex, with the largest companies utilizing a slew of cutting-edge technology tools at each phase.
And as the founder of a once-small (and still not very large) business, I’ve watched in awe as the process has become increasingly sophisticated, automated, and specialized. It can seem impossible to keep up with what the biggest players are doing.