As the world adapts to COVID-19, businesses are confronting an unavoidable reality: The way products and services are sold and marketed has changed forever.
And while COVID-19 and social unrest have forced companies to make radical changes on multiple fronts, this shift in sales and marketing had already begun, thanks to a growing Millennial population that insists on more digital interaction. World events have simply sped up the process, albeit dramatically.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented disruption, and we won’t be able to resolve it for the foreseeable future,” Janet Schijns, CEO of sales and marketing consultancy JS Group, said during a recent Oracle NetSuite Fast Forward presentation. “We need different strategies and different tactics to stimulate demand.”
Schijns shared survey numbers her firm had collected in April with several thousand respondents in the technology sector early on in the U.S. pandemic curve, which showed that 80% of respondents had seen marked decreases in demand generation, while another 70% said their marketing ROI had decreased. To make matters worse, 80% said they were either making no change in their prospecting efforts or were decreasing those efforts because they were too busy keeping the business afloat.
There’s a lot in those numbers to chew on, but the unsettled nature of doing business at this particular moment in time is striking.
“There are a whole lot of things going on out there that are making our people and our customers uncomfortable,” said Schijns. “It’s important that we keep people working, and that people feel safe with our companies.”
The Millennial Impact
Putting the huge societal issues aside, one thing becomes very clear: In this increasingly online world, established sales and marketing strategies are simply not working well anymore. And the growing buying power of the Millennial generation means those approaches aren’t coming back.
Certain realities have come from that, Schijns said:
- The feel-good messages of growth and how to get the most of a company’s product need to be replaced by “negative-to-positive” spins that emphasize things such as protecting a company’s business, or keeping a family safe.
- Marketers must get much gore granular about the markets they’re going after. For example, Schijns said, “farming is not a target market, but peanut farming is.”
- Competing solely on price has become folly. Companies must instead focus on being in the top quadrant in terms of pricing while competing on value.
- Tried-and-true tools such as social media, search engine optimization and pay-per-click are becoming watered down. Instead, Schijns implored businesses to focus on “social selling,” which involves engaging with customers through online channels and building relationships to generate future sales.
In fact, in a world where in-person business meetings have gone the way of the horse-and-buggy seemingly overnight, she went so far as to call organization-wide social selling “the only way to get in front of customers today.”
Marketing Tools and Requirements Shifting
Schijns also said that whereas traditional SEO has lost its competitive advantage, few companies are focusing on the much-more-effective local SEO. She recommends that sales and marketing executives ask if their companies’ websites have embedded local SEO, and if not, start pushing for that.
Similarly, short-form blog posts have also lost their effectiveness, largely because Google changed its rules to prevent rampant linking and now forces companies to include all of the content in their original posts. Schijns said most companies are unaware of this, and that most business blog content needs to be rethought to conform to the new rules.
Schijns also stressed the importance of assembling sales and marketing teams that are equipped to navigate this new reality. For instance, 70% of her talk’s attendees said they had no familiarity with the so-called social selling index (or SSI), which scores individuals based on how engaged they are in the digital world.
Put all of this together, and a profile of the modern salesperson/marketer starts to emerge. To wit, Schijns said she wouldn’t hire a salesperson or marketer today who doesn’t have a minimum SSI score of 70, at least 5,000 social media followers, an understanding of how to generate content and recent experience producing videos.
Such are the building blocks of someone who can excel at “social selling,” and Schijns said every piece of evidence she’s seen indicates it works.
“People that practice social selling are seeing an improved sales funnel,” she said. “There’s an improvement in velocity.”
Embrace the New—Or Else
Meanwhile, just as the qualities needed to sell and market are evolving, so are the ways to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing. For example, Schijns said it’s no longer sufficient to achieve a high Net Promoter Score, which has traditionally been used to gauge the customer experience.
A high NPS score is of interest, Schijns said, but “it’s really not going to help your ROI at all in this new digital normal world.”
Instead, she recommends that companies look to harder statistical indicators such as average resolution time, first contact resolution, funnel close and churn rates, and referrals.
It’s admittedly a scary thing to find yourself in a world that’s changed under your feet. A lot of salespeople and marketers are going to have to embrace the unknown in the coming years, or look for new careers, because, as Schijns stressed, this new reality isn’t going anywhere.
Face-to-face meetings aren’t coming back any time soon. Social selling is here, and she believes it is the future. Businesses that want to thrive will have little choice but to take a deep breath and a big step forward.
“We can’t fear this new digital new normal; it’s here to stay,” Schijns said. “You’re going to have to be good at this.”
Watch the full Fast Forward event.