Have Digital Marketing and Social Media Killed the Industrial Sales Job?

Remember the very first music video ever played on MTV? It was called “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the British band The Buggles and was aired at 0001 hours on August 1, 1981, the day the cable station was launched in the U.S. Every disruptive technology is known to cause major upheavals in any industry. And digital marketing and social media are as disruptive as they come.

Even though the widespread adoption of social media in industrial marketing has been slower than general B2B and B2C marketing, it has had a serious impact on industrial sales, especially on the traditional role of the outside sales rep.

Digital marketing has also changed how industrial and technical buyers behave, search and consume information that they need at different stages of the buy cycle. They are time-challenged and want to interact with salespeople based only on their needs and schedules.

The impact of digital marketing on complex sales

I am deliberately making a distinction here between simple transactional sales and complex industrial or technical sales. The first type uses a self-serve model and is typically completed in the very first sales interaction, be it in person or online.

Complex industrial sales require many face-to-face meetings with several stakeholders within the customer’s organization. Often closing the deal requires participation by many members of your sales team.

Digital marketing, social media and the constant pressure to cut costs have radically changed this traditional industrial sales model.

Steve Woods said it best when he wrote in his blog post, “As the emphasis on face-to-face interaction as a way to build trust decreases in lieu of other ways of building trust, the need to be “in the field” also decreases.”

I read a blog post by Robert Lesser of Acquiring Minds where he talks about the ways that digital marketing has changed complex B2B sales. The key in my opinion is that these are all changes that are driven by buyer behavior and not the other way around.

Here’s how I see the impact of the changes:

  1. Industrial buyers are using more and more online resources for initiating and going deeper into the industrial buy cycle. They prefer to consume information at their convenience and in their preferred format. Buyers have neither the time nor the patience to wait for call backs and meet with sales people at a later date.
    Solution: You have two primary responsibilities; a) make sure your website is easily found so your company can get on the shortlist early if you hope to be considered in the decision making stage and b) serve up content in different formats and be relevant to various stakeholders. To get on the radar screen in the early stages, shoot for a variety of content instead of generic one-size-fits-all marketing content.
  2. Engineers, technical buyers and C-level executives are time-starved and on the go. These people are looking for specific content to solve their problems whenever and wherever it is convenient for them. They don’t have the time to sift through volumes of general search results.
    Solution: Curate content and make it easily searchable. Provide online access to your in-house subject matter experts via a blog or live chat. Conduct a content audit and make sure you have mapped your content to the buy cycle.
  3. Globalization has made the buyer’s world flat. Decision makers and stakeholders are spread over different states and even countries. In today’s globalized world, geography and time zones are meaningless. Swimming against this tide by trying to set up face-to-face meetings is an exercise in futility.
    Solution: Make more efficient use of tools like webinars and online meetings to bring together stakeholders who may be spread out all over the world. Incorporate mobile solutions since many decision makers are not tied to their PCs during the workday. Pay close attention to your website, does it truly address the needs of a global audience? Don’t make it mere word-for-word translation in different languages.

Death of an industrial salesperson

Does this mean the industrial salesperson’s job function is dead? Not so fast! The famous Mark Twain quote, “The report of my death was an exaggeration” is very applicable here.

Social media and online marketing have forced the traditional salesperson to change his/her tactics like the rest of us but have not made them expendable.

Dave Brock in his post makes the most compelling case for the evolving role of today’s salesperson. He makes the following key points:

  • Just because something is on the web doesn’t make it accurate or even right. The salesperson may have to spend a lot of time re-educating the customer and correcting misunderstandings
  • Customers are prisoners of their own experiences (we all are). Today’s B2B salesperson must bridge the gap from the experience of others to the specific and unique needs and priorities of the customer. That starts with helping the customer ask the right questions
  • Great sales people help their customers consider new opportunities to grow their businesses; they help them understand new opportunities to improve performance. They help bridge the gap that marketing content and social media can never do

According to Dave, social media is not disintermediating the great sales people, it provides them the vehicle to be a more important contributor to their customers’ success. It changes the role of the salesperson and great sales people recognize this and are embracing it.

In other words, new and disruptive technologies can never make good sales people extinct. However, to remain relevant, they do need to embrace and master today’s social media and digital marketing tactics.

How has the role of the inside and outside sales team changed within your organization? Leave your comments below.

6 replies
  1. RogerW
    RogerW says:

    Your Post is right on the money. The Internet is never going to replace great sales people. I agree with you that sales must adopt social media in order to be more effective these days.

    Reply
  2. Kerry O'Malley
    Kerry O'Malley says:

    Excellent post, Achinta. I look forward to the responses (since I don’t have an internal sales team.) I service industrial companies, as you do.

    I know for me, as the SOLE sales person for my company, digital marketing and social media is not “killing” the need for face to face meetings with clients; but I do think it is perhaps minimizing the number of meetings, and speeding up the sales cycle.

    Connecting with people through social can cut down on the number of face to face meetings that technical sales people would traditionally have to have with a customer to aquire a sale. Instead of “BS’ing” face to face, you can “BS” with people online so that when you do meet face to face, you’re ready to get down to business. Much of the time spent in those traditional face to face sales calls is about getting to know the other person and deciding whether or not you like him or her enough to do business with them. Social media allows us to cover some of that territory from our desktop.

    From a sales perspective, I think digital marketing and social media can benefit sales people – if they use it correctly.

    Reply
    • Achinta Mitra
      Achinta Mitra says:

      @Kerry,

      Thank you for reading my post and taking the time to write your thoughtful comment. You’ve made a very good point about using social media for doing some of the initial groundwork in building business relationships. It can be a great timesaver or a huge timesink, depending how someone uses it.

      Reply
  3. Bernard Martin
    Bernard Martin says:

    Achinta, Kerry,

    I think that you both have hit the nail on the head. Once their is an acceptance of using social media, and then recognition of HOW to use social media the flood gates start to really open up.

    I’ve completed several projects with both manufacturers, who sell into the channel, as well as mfg agents and industrial distributors are are IN the channel.

    I had a conference call this morning explaining how the new functions ‘could’ be used by our newest mfg agency client. His comment to me was “This is fantastic! This is the kind of thing you lay in bed at night and wonder “how can i do that?”

    If nothing else, it makes the mobile sales force much much more productive. It allows someone who is on the road to supply the right information to the customer, demonstrate the exact solution via a video, refer them to a blog or tech article with the detailed solutions for their problem and take an order while traveling.

    In my opinion it provides faster service, faster response, and those who embrace it become the “first call”

    That is not to say that the relationship is not solidified in necessary face-to-face meetings, and, as Kerry very correctly points out, the positive re-enforcement of the relationship via SM connections… It all becomes part of a larger marketing and service effort. I suspect that as more understanding is gained of “how to” use the tools the flood gates will open in the industrial sector.

    The problem that I have seen first hand on several occasions is the people who already “know how to do it” and then proceed to make some pretty big faux pas:
    – blasting out sales messages
    – canned responses
    – lack of personal dialogue
    – just “doing the job” and posting

    …and I haven’t even touched upon TOS violations eg (setting up company pages on personal FB sites and asking for “friends” instead of “likes”, etc)

    It’s going to be interesting to watch this evolve… and I think it’s going to evolve really really fast!

    Reply

Comments:

Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *