With the rapid technological advancements that have accompanied the Information Age, the "selling process" has been shifting toward more of a "buying process" for years, as most buyers engage in significant online research prior to ever engaging a sales rep. Today's buyers are further along in the sales process, with a much clearer understanding of what they need before your sales reps ever get their shot.
The good news is that new prospects are coming to the table more highly qualified than ever before, resulting in greater sales team efficiency. Alternatively, buyers have little patience for sales reps with anything less than a complete understanding of the complexities of their products and services and those of their competitors.
For these reasons, make 2014 the year of skill development for your sales team. Begin with intensive product training including life-like prospect drills where your sales team can practice handling tough customer questions and objections. Next, layer in more advanced sales skill development, helping your sales team understand their changing role in the sales process. Gone are the days of features and benefits selling. Today's buyer is more sophisticated; necessitating a more advanced sales exchange, typically referred to as consultative sales.
Today's educated buyer seeks best practices, industry trends and creative applications of your product or service in order to find value in their engagement with your sales force. Unsure if your sales team is currently adding value in this way? Ask your customers. If they would be willing to pay for that time with your team, rest assured they are offering intellectual value.
Supplement product and sales skill training with competitive knowledge. Ask your sales team to shop competitors directly, reporting their findings to the team. Ensure your sales force understands how competitors are positioning their differentiators against yours -- whether through their marketing efforts or their sales force.
The ability for buyers to find anything online in mere seconds has heightened their appetite for immediate gratification, and this applies to response time by your customer service and sales teams. Establish an aggressive response time target which your sales and service teams will be measured against to ensure that you outperform your competitors.
Shift from a geographical focus to vertical market focus, as consumers will place greater value on subject matter expertise than your physical proximity in 2014.
The rapidly changing marketplace offers brands the opportunity to create an increasingly difficult-to-obtain competitive advantage. While your marketing effort can be fairly easily replicated by a motivated competitor, it's much more difficult to do so on the sales front. Continue to invest in creating a solid sales culture with streamlined, efficient sales processes - making that your differentiator.
Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover, a sales training and marketing firm based in Memphis, Tennessee, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).