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The new rules of successful selling: How web content influences the buying process

27th Oct 2015
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Successful selling no longer follows the playbook that worked even just a few years ago. The rules have changed here, too, yet most organisations and the salespeople they employ haven’t made the transition.

Because of the wealth of information on the web, the salesperson no longer controls the relationship between buyer and seller. Now, buyers are in charge. They can see what your CEO is saying on Twitter and LinkedIn. They can check out independent blogs to learn what it’s really like to be a customer. Buyers actively go around salespeople, gathering information themselves and engaging a company representative only at the last possible moment. By then, they are armed with tons of information. In the old days, salespeople controlled the information. Now it’s the buyers who have the leverage.

It gets worse. As you probably know, salespeople have a bad reputation in the marketplace. Except for salespeople themselves, almost everyone I talk to associates sales with being hustled and taken advantage of. They think of dealing with a salesperson as a purely adversarial relationship. The very word sales summons sleazy connotations, so people get defensive immediately to protect themselves.

Its time for a sales transformation

During the past several years, hundreds of people have asked me to extend the ideas in this book to the area of sales. Almost every day, I hear from people who have transformed their organisations’ marketing and public relations functions and are now ready to do the same with their sales departments. Like anyone following the new rules, I listened.

In 2012, I began research on how the ideas in this book apply to sales. I found incredible examples of how content also influences sales, so I wrote a follow-on book titled The New Rules of Sales and Service: How to Use Agile Selling, Real-Time, Customer Engagement, Big Data, Content, and Storytelling to Grow Your Business. This chapter explains the basics of how to apply the ideas from the Sales and Service book. If you work in a larger organisation, you’ll learn how to work with your sales colleagues. If you’re an entrepreneur, business owner, or employee of a smaller organisation, you’ll see how to integrate marketing and sales to grow your business.

Before we dig in, let’s take a moment to look at how these two disciplines differ. By making certain we understand the difference, we can then close the gap between marketing and sales and grow business faster.

Marketing generates attention from the many people who make up a buyer persona. Sales content (and salespeople), on the other hand, communicates with one potential customer at a time, putting the buying process into context.

Reaching many people: The job of marketers is to understand buyer personas and communicate with these groups in a one-to-many approach. Web content as a marketing asset captures the attention of a group of buyers and drives those people into and through the sales process. The content marketers create - blogs, YouTube videos, infographics, ebooks, webinars, and the like - can influence large numbers of people. Done well, with a research-based understanding of buyer personas, this content generates sales leads.

Influencing one person at a time: The role of sales is completely different. The goal of a salesperson is to influence one buyer at a time, typically when the buyer is already close to making a purchase decision. While marketers need to be experts in persuading an audience of many, salespeople excel in persuading the individual buyer. They add context to the company’s expertise, products, and services. Through them, the marketers’ content fulfills its potential by connecting buyer to salesperson when the buyer is interested.

If, like me, you run a small business, you’re probably playing both roles - communicating to your wider marketplace and engaging with one interested buyer at a time.

How web content influences the buying process

When people want to buy something, the web is almost always the first stop on their shopping trip. In any market category, potential customers head online to conduct research. The moment of truth is when they reach your site: Will you draw them into your sales process, or allow them click away?

While many marketers now understand that content drives action, and quite a few have embraced the ideas in this book, the vast majority focus their content effort only at the very top of the sales consideration process. In other words, they create content to attract buyers but none to support the salespeople. That’s a big mistake! People don’t go to the web looking for advertising; they are on a quest for content.

When buyers arrive at your site, you have an opportunity to deliver targeted information at the precise moment when they are looking for what you have to offer. By providing information when they need it, you can begin a long and profitable relationship with them. Editors and publishers obsess over maintaining readership. So should you.

To best leverage the power of content, you first need to help your site’s visitors find what they need. When someone arrives for the first time, he or she receives a series of messages - whether you realise it or not. These messages are answering the questions that matter to the visitor.

  • Does this organisation care about me?
  • Does it focus on the problems I face?
  • Does it share my perspective or push its own on me?

You need to start with site navigation that is designed and organised with your buyers in mind. Don’t simply mimic the way your company or group is organised (e.g., by product, geography, or governmental structure), because the way your audience uses websites rarely coincides with your company’s internal priorities. Organising based on your needs leaves site visitors confused about how to find what they really need.

You should learn as much as possible about your buyers’ process, focusing on issues such as how they find your site or how long they consider a purchase. Consider what happens offline in parallel with online interactions. The two should complement each other. For example, if you have an ecommerce site and a printed catalogue, coordinate the content so that both efforts support and reinforce the buying process: include URLs for your online buying guide in the catalogue, and use the same product descriptions online, so people don’t get confused. In the B2B world, trade shows should work together with Internet initiatives. For instance, you might collect email addresses at the booth and then send a follow-up email pointing to a show-specific landing page.

For most B2B products and services, as well as higher-priced consumer goods, your buyers will at some point need to reach out to engage with a representative of your company. In that moment, you’ve gone from marketing to your buyers as a group to selling to your buyer as an individual person.

While this process may happen via email, the phone, social networking, or an in-person visit, content still plays a vital role in getting the buyer ready to buy. But you have to understand the process to help shape it.

This is an edited extract from The New Rules of Marketing & PR, 5th Edition, by David Meerman Scott, Published November 2015 by Wiley, £16.99, Paperback, E-book, ISBN: 9781119070481

David Meerman Scott  is a marketing strategist, bestselling author of ten books—including three international bestsellers—advisor to emerging companies such as HubSpot, and a professional speaker on marketing, leadership, and social media. Prior to starting his own business, he was marketing VP for two publicly traded US companies and was Asia marketing director for Knight-Ridder, at the time one of the world's largest information companies.

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