In recent columns I've written that the increase in technology will lead to a decrease in the number of salespeople. Although this is a bad omen for low producers, technology (specifically the Internet) isn't the enemy of high producers. In fact, savvy salespeople can use the Internet to become even more successful and secure.
There are scores of ways salespeople can effectively use the Internet and following are five I hear regularly. Use them to turn what many consider a technological burden into a sales bonanza.
An obvious use of the Internet is to provide 24-hour sales support, making available information prospects and customers typically want to know. Prospects and customers don't know everything there is to know about a salesperson's company. They may have questions after speaking with the salesperson, want additional information about something that was said, want to read client comments or simply want to know more about the company.
Therefore, it's in the salesperson's best interest to promote his/her company's Web site as an ally, making sure his/her prospects and customers know the Web address and the types of information available. Hopefully, the salesperson's company has thorough sections on products and services, applications, features and benefits, pricing, guarantees, company history, client lists and testimonials, news and profiles.
One of the biggest benefits the Internet allows is immediate access to information. People buy emotionally and justify the purchase logically. A salesperson should reinforce the positive emotions. At our company we do this by referring prospects to our Web site when they call to request information.
It typically takes one to four days for a prospect to receive our printed information and we want to reinforce the positive interest(s) that prompted them to call until receipt of our package. Our Web site allows this and our experience has shown that the prospect is much more interested and focussed on the printed material when it arrives.
Only a few years ago, the best a salesperson could hope for in identifying and gathering prospect data was an annual report, marketing brochure or to search publications for information about the company. This is no longer the case. Today vast stores of information can be accessed on the Internet. Company Web sites typically include historical background, press releases, financial reports, executive profiles and much more. Internet search engines allow a salesperson to read articles, commentaries and gather vital data on prospects before calling. Salespeople can learn as much as possible about prospects and watch their sales soar.
Prospecting isn't limited to gathering information on prospective customers. Although a salesperson should never badmouth his/her competition, it's imperative to know the fundamental differences in products, services and support.
It's generally a good policy not to bring up the competition. However, there are times when prospects or customers will ask direct questions about how a salesperson's product or service differs from the competition or why they should use this product or service rather than the competitors. In these situations I repeat, NEVER badmouth the competition. But the questions can't just be ignored. If they are, at best the salesperson will appear incompetent.
At worst, he/she will appear evasive or untrustworthy. In answering the questions, the salesperson should address the positive aspects of his/her product or service that differ from the positives of the competition. Remember that there can be two equally beneficial products of services that fill different needs.
This is a very exciting aspect of the Internet for sales professionals and offers hundreds of possibilities. Some of the most popular are:
Researching employment opportunities.
At any given time, there are hundreds of thousands of sales and marketing positions posted on career search sites. Well-known sites include Career Mosaic, Monster Board and Online Career Center. Additionally, many companies post job openings on their Web sites.
Sales and marketing development articles and tools.
Literally millions of articles exist on the Internet offering immediate "how to" advice. One of the largest is http://www.sell.org (Sales & Marketing Executives Web site) which offers 200,000+ searchable articles, streaming audio and video of the world's top marketing leaders discuss their latest strategies and ideas and a searchable knowledge base. Salespeople can also subscribe to magazines online, having instant access to current and archived issues without the advertisement and delay in receiving the printed version.
News and discussion groups.
Learning from others' experiences is a highly effective way of developing professionally. Many discussion groups focus on general sales and marketing, closing, prospecting, complex selling, telemarketing, etc. Prospect and customer communication preferences It's no longer a given that most people want to communicate via the phone or mail. Particularly among high-tech companies, there is a strong shift toward e-mail as the communication medium of choice.
Embrace and utilize the Internet's power and technology to maximize your sales potential and professionalism. In doing so you will better serve your prospects and customers while securing a more profitable future for yourself.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.