Prior to getting involved with the Search Engine industry in 1999, I spent ten years consulting with companies about more traditional direct marketing activities like call centers, inside sales departments and direct mail. I remember becoming increasingly frustrated by the inefficiencies of those tactics.
For instance, I participated in a multi-year project with a large New York City financial services organization. The gist of the program was calling “C” level executives to cultivate interest in the company’s B-B lending services. By all accounts the effort was a success, but it was never easy. A tremendous number of telephone calls were required in order to connect with an individual who was willing (and able) to engage in a meaningful dialogue; the qualifying process began from there and only a handful of leads would ever become new clients.
What I’ve learned about internet marketing over the past nine years is that a great deal of the heavy lifting of the sales process can be transferred from a human to an automated effort which is able to be continuously refined. In some situations humans are removed from the process altogether, e.g., pure ecommerce environments, and in many others, a lead is generated through a website and is then handed off to an individual to pursue, thereby improving the effectiveness of the people who are involved.
So has the internet lessened our reliance on sales people? It has in terms of headcount requirements, but it has similarly increased the significance of having valuable conversations with those individuals who take the time to identify themselves through the funnel / conversion process on a website. In other words, companies who are utilizing the internet as a prequalification mechanism still need talented individuals on the phones, but likely fewer of them. Spend the time to teach your sales team how to effectively speak with web based leads and how to use online tools to enhance the conversation. Next month I will discuss tactics that we have found to be effective.