Step 2 Assess how buyer behaviors have changed
Mobile and Web technologies have created new tools and platforms for more effective selling, but that's not all they've done: They've changed the very nature of the sales relationship with customers across all industries.
Pew Internet Research finds that online activity has grown steadily across all age brackets and activities; more than 85% of adults are now online regularly. We know this, but we haven't re-evaluated our legacy sales processes to reflect the fact that people have integrated the Web into their daily lives.
For companies that sell to consumers, the Web is no longer a discrete sales channel: 75% of consumers now do product research online, while 65% actually purchase online, Forrester Research says. So consumer companies must completely integrate their online and offline programs.
Steve Schlecht, CEO of online and catalog retailer Duluth Trading Company, calls this "omni-channel" retailing. This retail megatrend is every bit as important as the emergence of discounters like Wal-Mart in the 1960s and big-box category killers like Circuit City and Staples in the 1970s and '80s. "This is total disruption in the way purchases are made," Schlecht said at the recent Fusion CEO-CIO conference in Madison, Wis.
Business-to-business and service companies need a similar level of online-offline sales integration. B2B companies often assume that the complexity of their products means buyers still require an in-person sales force. But that's not always true.
My research and product design firm, Yeoman Technology, worked with a medical device manufacturer that custom-built every one of its systems based on the design of the hospital or testing facility it was selling to. The company was convinced it didn't need to provide extensive details about its products online. "That's just not how it works," the president said. "We're a complex product, and people don't just Google it."
But the company's IT team showed the president stats on search terms that proved prospects were Googling for insight. The tech team also discovered that competitors were providing ample details, specs, and pricing online. Even worse, there was information online from other sources about the company's products and pricing--wrong information. That's the reality today: Put the information online, or you'll be disqualified before you even realize it.
Discovering what people are doing online and how it relates back to the sales process requires crossing a lot of traditional lines between sales, support, marketing, operations, and product management. The old way of doing things won't work.
Brady, a midsize maker of precision electrical components, labels, and other specialized products, recently gave its CIO, Bentley Curran, an additional role: VP of digital business. Curran's job is now to identify every customer touch point and make sure Brady has the right platforms--online, offline, and mobile--for sales and customer support. And yes, this job comes with a quota to increase Brady's already sizable online sales.
This type of role is perfect for IT, since it requires linking people, data, and processes across a company's organizational units.