I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and began working in my family's grocery store at the age of 12. I learned a lot during that time and still retain the title as the world's best grocery bagger! It drives me bonkers to watch other people bag my groceries with no regard to forming a proper base and making sure the fragile items are not crushed!!
Sorry, I got a little sidetracked. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, lessons from the old days.
At that time, access to information on product sales, the competitive environment, etc. was limited to the trade magazines and the direct sales people. Sales people were a strategic source of information for my father and his employees. They brought with them a plethora of product brochures, planograms and selling or promotional tips.
Upon graduating college, my father urged me to look outside the grocery industry for a job. To this day, I'm not sure whether he was more concerned with me expanding my horizons, or simply trying to protect the food industry. I found myself in an entry-level sales position calling on banks and credit unions. Frankly, not much had changed over the years and one learned how to cold call, build relationships, close the sale and so on. The sales person was the primary representative of the company and the marketing department's role was to generate interest and create selling tools for the sales force. In many companies, it was common for the marketing and sales departments to be at odds and continually complaining about the other.
Obviously, it all began to change in the mid-90s with the Internet and in the past 10 years, social media and mobile have greatly accelerated that change. A customer's relative isolation to information has been eliminated and the buying process has changed dramatically. Customers are smarter about trends, competition and pricing. The need to talk to a sales person about these topics or 'features and benefits' no longer exists.
They are educating themselves long before you, the supplier, are even aware they may have a need. They're reviewing sites, searching Twitter and listening to webinars. They're gathering the information and identifying those companies who demonstrate an understanding of the issues long before they speak with a sales person. Marketing is playing a much bigger role in providing that information than ever before.
Subsequently, the role of the sales person is also changing. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson have addressed in their book, The Challenger Sale, the aspects of what makes a good sales person in the new world. They note that sales people have to move from order-taking closers to becoming a trusted consultant who can provide insight and direction. The best sales people are those who've educated themselves on multiple topics to provide added value to the customer. Sometimes, as the book title indicates, the salesperson must challenge a customer's strategy and suggest alternatives.
As you observe kiosk, digital signage and mobile companies, one would assume a technology company would be attuned to these changes and adjusting their sales/marketing approach accordingly. But one would assume incorrectly. Too many companies in our industry are still entrenched in the old beliefs that marketing generates leads and simply hands them off to a sales person. The sales person then takes them through a 'process' to close the sale. They still believe that marketing's only role is to support sales. In fact, many companies have yet to combine sales and marketing under one leader.
The smarter companies are more closely aligning the two departments. They're working together to monitor the marketplace and looking beyond their own product focus to identify new opportunities and threats. Smart companies understand that Marketing's role has expanded and they need to play a larger role in the sales process. They need to help educate both the customer and the sales person.
But what do you do if your company hasn't made the shift in strategy?
First and foremost, you don't wait for them. You take the initiative to begin educating yourself so that you can become a better resource for your co-workers and your customers. You take the time each day to improve your knowledge of the markets by reviewing websites, attending webinars and reading whitepapers.
Make the time and effort to network throughout the omnichannel industry. You need to educate yourself on the adjacent industries to truly understand the challenges and opportunities. An expert in kiosks isn't of much value if they don't understand the impact of digital signage and mobile. By talking and not just sending a LinkedIn requests, with others in our industry, you'll gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight.
Engage and help your industry! Attending tradeshows and getting involved with your relevant associations is critical. (Disclaimer: I'm active member of the Digital Screenmedia Association and believe all of you reading this article also should be members. Really.) I'm a strong believer that engagement is a smart investment and the professional and personal rewards are tremendous.
Broaden your education. Read more. The book I mentioned previously is a great place to start. But don't forget to revisit the classics from Paco Underhill, Tom Peters and Dale Carnegie. Read more fiction! You can learn a lot from Jason Bourne and Dr. Seuss. Attend online classes. Many of them are free and taught by world-renowned professors
Just as the lines separating mobile, kiosks and digital signage have blurred and overlapped, our organizations must modify to meet the demands of the new customer. Changing belief systems as to how sales and marketing will work in the future is not easy. It takes patience, education and persistence to form a cohesive team. If you wish to stay relevant and profitable, you'll start that change today.