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Feet-on-the-Street Sales Team: Essential or Obsolete?

Research from Google and CEB says that 57% of a prospect’s buying decision is based on what they’ve found online. Google calls this the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)—the point in the buying cycle when a consumer researches a product before the seller even knows they exist.

Armed with this data, inbound marketing advocates say you can sell more, better, faster with inbound sales:

The days of door-to-door salesmen and business pitches over fancy dinners are a thing of the past. Now that it’s so easy to communicate remotely, salespeople rarely, if ever, meet prospects and customers in person.

Death of the Salesman?

My neighbor would find that amusing. “Business pitches over fancy dinners” is exactly how he sells. Even more ironic is that he sells technology—enterprise-level telcom. What better client base to “communicate remotely” with to close deals? Except it’s not how they buy.

There’s no question that consumers and B2B buyers turn to the Internet to research products and services prior to a purchase. But can that 57% benchmark be applied to every buyer across every industry? Does a buyer at a Fortune 1000 company in Los Angeles have the same buying habits as the owner of a print shop in Fresno, CA? Or will the percentage change depending on who the buyer is and what they are buying?

Not every buyer is self-directed. That’s someone who “buys” a product by seeking it out before a sales person calls. The self-directed buyer:

1. Knows he or she has a need;
2. Can describe that need in terms of a solution;
3. Knows where to find someone who can solve it;
4. Is motivated to find that someone.

If you’re selling advertising to small businesses with less than 10 employees, ask yourself if they fit the “self-directed buyer” demographic or not. We’ve observed that the more involved the business owner is with the day-to-day operations, the less he knows about online marketing—and the less likely he is to research the topic online.

Go Where Your Customers Are

Selling for AT&T Yellow Pages and my own web business taught me that “advertising is sold, not bought.” That’s because most business owners don’t come to work, notice that sales are down and say to themselves, “I better go online and find out what marketing services I need to improve business.” Instead, they worry and fret, hope things get better—then do nothing.

These prospects aren’t self-directed buyers. They need to be “sold.”

But what’s to be done when your prospects aren’t looking for you online and avoiding your solicitation attempts? A recent Borrell Associates study revealed that SMBs get contacted at least once a day by advertising reps—but less than 4% get through.

Twenty years ago you had two options—call or drop in. Today, Internet and email allow sales people to solicit with even greater intensity. Cutting through that clutter requires getting more creative with your approach, not throwing away your sales team.

Conventional wisdom says “go where your customers are.” As an independent Yellow Page publisher who’s successfully transitioned to selling digital, we tell our customers that “no single channel now works” and emphasize that businesses have to be found across multiple platforms.

But we also take our own advice. Selling advertising today requires a hybrid approach. The challenge lies in knowing which channels to focus your efforts.

One Response to “Feet-on-the-Street Sales Team: Essential or Obsolete?”

  1. Well said. I don’t foresee this debate going anywhere soon. Of course, it depends on what you are selling… and to who. Commodity type offerings, can be sold without a face to face meeting… as the price is ultimately going to decide (relationship selling, I do agree, is becoming insignificant today). For us, selling advertising to SMB’s, we have found both work… face to face and phone / webinar sales.

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