5 Sales Roles in the Digital Age
Recent advances in technology provide sales personnel with the ability to reach out to customers early on and influence purchasing decisions without engaging in direct contact. Digitalization is changing the businesses of IT solution providers radically and creating new opportunities for the sale of subscription based cloud solutions. The traditional sales process, with its protracted negotiations with clients, is being replaced with digital sales over the web using paid advertisements, online customer reviews and virtual demos. But it’s not just about having the right strategy or the right tools—it’s also about having the right sales people.
The following five sales roles are based on an analysis of over 100 IT solution providers and are critical for achieving success in the cloud solutions business.
Leadership is critical to the success of the digital transformation of any sales organization. Today managers need to be able to combine technical and entrepreneurial skills to ensure a smooth transition.
We refer to leaders with this skillset as Innovative Minds. In contrast to traditional managers who avoid making changes to the business model, Innovative Minds regularly question the current approach. They are interested in new technologies and realize their vision of the digital business of the future. Innovative Minds communicate innovations in a confident, direct and sympathetic way to their employees. In this way not only do Innovative Minds inspire employees to use new technologies, but they also lead and support their teams in overcoming the challenges of the digital transformation. In addition they delegate specific tasks to employees in order to develop their abilities and help them to fulfill their potential.
Characteristics of Innovative Minds:
- Visionary leaders
- Technology-enthusiastic sellers of innovation
- Drivers of digital transformation
Customers today do their own online research to identify and select potential solution providers rather than allowing themselves to be convinced through conversations with sales personnel. They interact with people with similar needs on social media forums in order to find out more about solutions and providers and have access to an endless amount of educational materials. As a result, sales personnel are no longer the dominant source of information for customers. In order to react appropriately to changing customer behavior, sales personnel need to generate new leads by means of direct and indirect online sales activities.
We refer to this kind of sales person as the Digital Buzzer. The Digital Buzzer is a person who, as a digital native, has a natural understanding of digital technology. This person has grown up with technology and is enthusiastic about communicating online through new media, platforms and applications.
Digital Buzzers generate interest for the cloud solutions they sell through their numerous activities on social media. They develop themselves as thought leaders by publishing articles about innovative solutions and services and position these on various platforms to gather followers. The more followers a Digital Buzzer has, the stronger his or her reputation as a subject matter expert becomes. Using search engines on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, successful Digital Buzzers leverage their reputations to find and contact new prospects. Such prospects are much more likely to listen to arguments presented by a Digital Buzzer than from a traditional sales person—the reputation of the former establishes a basis as a trusted advisor prior to any direct contact.
Characteristics of Digital Buzzers:
- Digital Natives
- Advocates of online communication
- Thought Leaders
Given the prevalence of online information, customers have already made about 60% of their decision before they have any direct contact with a provider. As a result sales personnel need to act as quickly as possible to win clients before competitors do.
The sales person best suited for this kind of work is the Speedy Persuader. The sale of on-premise solutions entails lengthy requirements analyses and on-site demos. By contrast, the goal of the Speedy Persuader is to shorten the sales process as much as possible through automation. Customers also profit from the shortened sales cycle as they don’t want to waste any more time than necessary but still want a solution that will deliver benefits to make them more competitive. These customers need cloud solutions that are easy to use and don’t require a two year implementation.
Speedy Persuaders answer questions from customers within a matter of hours and present compelling demos within a matter of days. They primarily address lines of business. In their virtual demos they present not only the functionality of the cloud solution but also the value provided to the line of business. Storytelling and business cases feature prominently in the presentations of the Speedy Persuader and ensure that the industry and business model pain points are addressed. Whiteboarding is also used to visually demonstrate how the solution will bring benefits to the organization. During the test period in which prospects can use the solution free of charge, the Speedy Persuader uses low-touch consulting techniques in order to help the customer realize the practical benefits of the solution.
Characteristics of Speedy Persuaders:
- Virtual demo specialists
- Standardized business case experts
- Self-confident sellers
Customers who have investigated a solution in detail as a result of virtual demos and test versions often need convincing on individual points before they are ready to sign on the dotted line. At this phase it is crucial that the sales process not drag on longer than is necessary.
This is the point where the Determined Completer comes into play. If a potential customer has not yet decided to purchase a solution following virtual demos and access to a free test version, he or she may need more personalized attention. Depending upon the customer, a customized demo and business case can be presented on-site to further demonstrate the value of the solution. Assertiveness is a key trait of Determined Completers, as they will have to negotiate prices that are affected by the number of modules ordered, the duration of the contract and the number of users. Dividing the offer according to such criteria allows for more room to argue the value of the solution during negotiations and, when combined in a clear and logical fashion, can shorten the sales process.
The goal of Determined Completers is to get potential customers to sign a contract as quickly as possible, even if the value of the initial contract is relatively small. The maximization of the Customer Lifetime Value by means of up-selling (increase in the number of users) and cross-selling (purchase of additional solutions) begins only once the potential customer becomes a paying customer.
Characteristics of Determined Completers:
- Individualized business case experts
- Assertive negotiators
- Excellent deal closers and finishers
Customers need to be supported and consulted during the implementation phase. The task of the sales person during this phase is to not only ensure customer satisfaction but also avoid losing customers to competitors due to relatively low switching costs.
We refer to the sales people best suited for these kind of activities as the Supportive Collaborators. As soon as customers sign a contract, Supportive Collaborators are responsible for ensuring that high-quality service is delivered. To this end these sales personnel develop and maintain personal relationships with existing customers and provide them with support when user problems arise, thereby strengthening the bond between the customer and the IT provider. A further task of the Supportive Collaborator is to ensure that customers are exhausting the potential of the solution to ensure they are deriving maximum benefit. In doing so the Supportive Collaborator identifies new up-selling and cross-selling opportunities that can raise the Customer Lifetime Value. The tasks of presenting demos and arguing the value of these additional users or new solutions are handed off to the Speedy Persuaders and Determined Completers, allowing the Supportive Collaborators to continue focusing on maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction.
Characteristics of Supportive Collaborators:
- Relationship builders
- Reliable problem solvers
- Up- and cross-selling specialists
The different sales roles of the digital era cannot always be allocated to personnel on an individual basis. Depending upon the size, structure and product portfolio of the IT provider, a single sales person may need to take on multiple roles and accompany customer from the beginning to the end of the purchasing process.
We look forward to your responses and feedback to the “5 Sales Roles in the Digital Age”.
This article was written by Magdalena Pfurtscheller, MBA, MA and Prof. Dr. Dietmar Kilian
Magdalena Pfurtscheller, MBA, MA is a business analyst at PDAgroup GmbH. Since completing her MBA in the United States her consulting focus has been on the digital transformation of businesses and in particular the transition of IT providers from selling on-premise solutions to cloud solutions. Her goal is to help companies establish recurring revenue streams and raise customer lifetime values.
Prof. Dr. Dietmar Kilian is a professor of Business Process Management and Networks at the Management Center Innsbruck. He is also the managing partner of PDAgroup GmbH and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Academy Cube GmbH.