Armed with information from my friends at Forrester Research, I’ve spent much of this year researching marketing and sales processes and, as a result, revising our own processes at Emerald Software.  Much of what I learned and applied came from the book, “Groundswell” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.  The subtitle summarizes the book well: “Winning in a world transformed by social technologies.”  This highly recommended book explains how today’s business environment has been impacted by social technologies–from social networks to mass collaboration–and in particular how these technologies affect relationships between people and the companies those people do business with.

“Groundswell” has become such a pervasive concept in our office that it’s surpassed a simple initiative.  It’s become a philosophy.  Understanding how people are using these technologies has turned our marketing processes upside down and proven to us that the Internet is truly a great equalizer.  Mixing valuable content, a thorough understanding of our customers, and smart use of these new technologies with even a modest marketing budget (certainly in comparison to some of our competitors) has resulted in prospective customers finding us much more easily.

But we’ve taken Groundswell beyond the marketing process.  If the Internet and social technologies have transformed the marketing process, wouldn’t it be safe to assume they’ve also affected the sales process?  Drawing a distinction between the marketing and sales processes is beyond the scope of “Groundswell”, but in our own research it’s obvious that social technologies have transformed not only how people find businesses, but also how they engage those businesses.  Armed with the universe of information at their fingertips, Groundswell Buyers are the most savvy, well-informed buyers that have ever existed.  If a prospect bothers to fill out a web form or spends the time to call a business, it’s only after a significant investment of time in researching that business.  In a nutshell, in today’s sales process there’s practically no such thing as qualifying a prospect (if there is, the content you’re publishing is incorrect, incomplete, or misleading): when a customer reaches out and touches the business, they have qualified themselves.  Forrester Research has used the term “self provisioning” to describe these technology consumers.

If qualification has been eliminated, to me this implies that the marketing cycle has been elongated (customers self-provisioning, i.e. qualifying themselves) and the sales cycle is reduced to addressing objections to doing business.  There should be no “closing”, and I’ve decided that this term is a bad word.  We don’t want to “close” new customers (it just sounds so negative to me now); instead, we want to identify and remove all the objections to doing business with us, and when all the objections have been addressed the customer will engage us.

Companies regularly try to figure out a competitive edge when it comes to marketing and sales, some quite famously (GM’s Saturn line was based in large part on eliminating the pain of negotiating from the car buying process).  In our business, we want to eliminate the “push” of information from us to our prospective customers.  We’re working hard on a number of ideas, so stay tuned, but in the meantime if you’re a prospective customer I hope that you find all the information regarding our products and company on our website, and I hope that you find useful information regarding our expertise in your at-large Internet research.

And once you decide it’s time to fill out a web form or to pick up the phone to call us, it’s my promise to you that we will work with you–at your pace–to provide you all the information you need to address your concerns and ultimately engage us as your preferred vendor/partner.  It’s our new philosophy on doing business.

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