A careful blend of art and science, sales and the selling process continues to be a tough nut to crack whether you’re in the B2B world or B2C world, as essentially you’re still selling to people. However, according to a McKinsey article, with advances in technology, salespeople now have the opportunity to proactively shape the buying journey, instead of reacting to the needs and wants of consumers.

The balance of power is shifting away from the customer, providing an excellent opportunity to differentiate your company in this area.

“What companies need to do is start with their buyers’ perspective and their journey,” explains  Mark Roberge, HubSpot’s chief revenue officer. “View your product and company through the lens of the buyer. What opportunities are you trying to pursue. How are you prioritizing? What categories are you looking at to solve it? And, for your category how are you uniquely positioned to solve it? When you understand those pieces and work them into the sales process you’re showing buyers that you appreciate their obstacles and concerns.”

There are some crucial aspects to achieving this: understanding your customers, having a coherent sales strategy and process in place, and having the tools that will allow you to shape the way your customers purchase your products.

To get a better view of where this is headed, GetApp surveyed 200 consumers and 250 sales professionals to find out whether they feel they have the selling process and tools in place to serve consumers, and get their take on sales management software benefits.

Key Findings

  • 95% of consumers have abandoned a purchase in store, while 85% have abandoned a purchase online
  • Almost two thirds (64%) of consumers rank low price as the most important factor when purchasing goods in store or online, while only 1% rank customer service as key
  • Nearly 90% of salespeople have seen an increase in revenue as a result of using sales software
  • Only 15% of sales people are using social media to contact potential customers
  • Less than a tenth (9.5%) of sales people think that consumers are looking for personalized customer service

Purchase abandonment high

Before looking at what customers want, it’s important to find out what they don’t want, and to analyze areas for improvement. What’s obvious from our survey is that businesses are still not getting their sales techniques right and meeting customer needs, both when it comes to in-store shopping, as well as online.

An astounding 95% of respondents in our survey have walked out of a store without making the purchase they intended. The eCommerce figures are similarly high, with 85% of respondents having abandoned a purchase online.

The most common reasons for walking out of the store without buying the product was high price (61%). According to our research, other factors include:

  • Prices different from online store (22%)
  • Uninformed store associated (3%)
  • Poor customer service (5%).

Bar chart showing common reasons decided not to buy a product in store

The reasons for abandoning a purchase online include poor or no reviews, price (not just of the product but also of shipping), and not being able to physically see or examine the product. According to a study by Internet Retailer, 46.1% of cart abandonments occur at the payment stage, while 35.7% happen when the shopper sees the shipping costs.

“It all comes down to the value the customer will receive and the time it takes to begin receiving the value,” explains Mark Hunter, a sales consultant that has worked with companies such as Coca Cola, Samsung, and Heineken. “An item might have the level of value the customer is looking for but if the time required to purchase it is too high the customer will abandon the process, whether it be online or in a store.”

Price vs service

Following this theme of price trumping all other aspects for customers, we found:

  • Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) ranked low prices as the most important aspect when shopping in store or online
  • Only 1% rate customer service as most important
  • A mere 3% see knowledgeable sales staff as key.

Bar graph showing answers to the question: what is the most important thing you look for when purchasing goods?

However, before you throw your sales strategy out of the window and rush to slash prices in the hope of pleasing your customers and upping your sales, these figures don’t tell the whole story.

“Better price isn’t always the number one reason customers choose a brand or the number reason why they left a brand,” says Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce. “Price may be what sales uses as a reason for the loss, but unless the price difference was greater than 15-20% customers still look at other things.”

While 39% of our respondents see customer service as the least important factor, this could be down to a failure to provide that extra value that would make a customer decide to purchase your goods instead of those of a competitor, even when your prices are higher.

“I really believe that the reason customers feel that they want to buy on low price is because the company or salesperson has failed to differentiate the value,” says HubSpot’s Roberge. “By providing customers with solutions to the issues they care about, you’re helping them overcome and solve the problems that matter most to them and therefore, increasing the value of your what you have to offer.”

Hunter agrees, saying: “Price is a non-starter and I say that because the customer will always default to price if the sales process is not built around allowing the customer to see value.”

In addition, competing on price is not always an option for businesses. With the increasing popularity and ever-expanding product offerings of marketplaces such as Amazon and retail giants such as Walmart, trying to undercut these companies on price is a losing battle.

“Low price is not a sustainable competitive advantage, as there will always be someone who comes along and offers a lower price,” says Hunter. “Customers who are attracted on low price will never see the value and will always expect more, making it nearly impossible for a low-price customer to be satisfied.”

Become a product expert

Gopal Sripada, senior product marketing manager at Zoho CRM, agrees that while consumers may cite price as a factor, it’s service and better informed sales people that will ultimately make the difference in the long term.

“Price plays an important role in the buying process,” says Sripada. “However, the quality of  service and better user education will help customers use products effectively and gain productivity and results. Once customers are happy with the service, they will be happy to spread the word of mouth, which in turn reduces the cost of customer acquisition for companies. Hence, companies should relentlessly focus on both better pricing and customer service.”

The many different aspects of shopping

Better customer service is key to competing for business

Providing excellent customer service after the sale is a key differentiator that can help you beat out your competitors. This is enabled partly through being better informed about your product, acting more as a product expert than a salesperson.

“Service after the sale, if it is good, puts a premium price on the product, which is tough for another provider to sell against, even with a discounted price,” says Bova. “The more information you can provide at the fingertips of customer service and sales, the better experience customers will have with a brand. And those encounters weigh into decisions, especially if the price is higher for your solution than the competition.

Salespeople out of step

While your customers may want a mixture of low prices, (personalized) customer service, and sales staff that know their stuff, salespeople are not necessarily on the same page

Here are the stats from our research:

  • Almost half (46%) of sales professionals surveyed see price as the number one priority for customers
  • Less than 10% think that consumers are looking for personalized customer service
  • Only 5% believe that potential customers prioritize knowledgeable sales staff

This is backed up by figures from Salesforce, which show that 55% of salespeople have found that customers are seeking the lowest price possible. However, almost half (47%) feel that customers’ needs have grown more sophisticated.

While the opportunity has arisen to shape the customer buying journey, is your company ready? It would appear not, with Gartner research revealing that only 9% of its respondents were going to invest significantly more year on year in customer service and order fulfillment.

Sales strategy improvements needed

To align better with your customers, and compete against prices that are lower than yours, it’s crucial to create a sales strategy and selling process that is optimized to provide most value to the customer.

“The solution is in taking price off the table and having the entire sales process be built around the value and outcome the customer will receive,” Hunter says.

Our research backs this up, with two thirds of salespeople (67%) believing that their selling process needs improvement to help their company generate leads. A factor to consider here is also how leads are treated, and whether your company has the tools in place to sort the hot leads from the cold, or whether all are considered equal.

Bova explains: “Does the business need more leads or better quality leads? Is this a lead problem or is this the fact that all leads are treated equal and sales does not change their behavior based on the context of the lead? Marketing qualified leads will only be as good as how sales responds – and this is the biggest opportunity for companies to improve performance of ‘leads’. Companies need to incorporate personalization and intelligence into their sales process in order to generate more and better leads.”

Personalization is a crucial focus area for companies, as Gartner believes that by 2018, organizations that have fully vested in all types of online personalization will outsell companies that have not by more than 30%.

“With proper insight into customer context, the sales interaction can be better customized to the individual,” says Roberge. “That customization sends a message to customers that you understand what they’re trying to do and customer satisfaction will raise. The is a direct correlation between customers who are pitched on attributes of a product or service that are not meaningful to them and dissatisfaction.”

Missing out on social media opportunities

Another important area for salespeople, but which is currently not being exploited in the sales strategy, is using new and emerging channels such as social media to contact potential clients. According to our research, salespeople are still overwhelmingly using the following methods to contact clients:

  • Phone (27%)
  • Email (27%)
  • In-person visits (27%)

Only 15% are using social media. Some are still even using direct mail, printed adverts, and signs on stores.

“The only thing holding back salespeople is their own reluctance to do what it takes to make it happen,” says Hunter. “For most this means an over reliance on emails because it’s quick and easy versus the telephone. Social media opens up numerous new ways to engage with customers and prospects. The key with social media is to treat it as nothing more than another communications tool where the first rule is “social” this means taking the time to engage rather than trying to “sell” from the outset.”

As Hunter points out, the “always be closing” mantra doesn’t apply to social media, with research and then subtle engagement being key actions before even thinking about closing. Sales professionals need to take the time to research contacts and the companies they work for, look for connections in common, and explore stories they have commented on or issues they are interesting in. This creates a genuine connection rather than jumping in cold.

Salespeople who fail to use social media to generate leads are missing out on a huge opportunity to improve their selling process. Oracle research found that it costs 75% less to generate leads via social media than any other channel, while a HubSpot report suggests that only 7% of reps and executives are prioritizing social selling.

Value of training

One reason for the reluctance of some salespeople to embrace social media as a way of connecting with clients and generating leads, is a lack of understanding of the best way to use it. Put simply: salespeople need more training to better serve their customers, whether that be in social media or other areas.

Looking at our survey, it’s clear that salespeople see the value of training, with 92% of our respondents stating that the training they have received has increased their selling abilities.

With budget and time restraints, this is easier said than done because it often requires a shift in attitude and sales strategy.

“The training needed is listening to the customer and having the ability to align what they’re hearing to a value package the customer will see as relevant to them,” says Hunter. “However, there has always been a hesitation by companies to invest in people because people can quit anytime.”

However, training is not a catch-all solution that will fix your selling process and immediately allow your salespeople to become more knowledgeable and provide better service. Rather, the way that training is delivered is important – the advice is invest in your people through one-on-one coaching.

“Organizations put too much emphasis on the potential impact of training; it can often feel like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole,” says Roberge. “The default to the idea that sales training will solve all our problems is often the result of poor sales hiring. Instead, I think that one-to-one recurring, ongoing coaching is 100% more effective than traditional sales training. Companies should be focused on helping managers invest an increased amount of time on investing their time in coaching salespeople one-on-one.”

Sripada believes that training in combination with sales management software is key.

“Periodic training is very important in addition to providing best of breed sales management tools,” says Zoho’s Sripada. “Trained sales reps, with the help of these tools, can understand prospects’ pain points well and recommend the best solution for them. The art of selling is not just delivering an elevator pitch to the prospects, but helping them take the right buying decision through coaching.”

Adoption of sales management software

This brings us on to the issue of providing salespeople with the tools they need to do the job and addressing sales management software benefits. While two thirds of our respondents are currently using sales software to manage their process, an interesting (and worrying) figure is that 10% of our respondents aren’t even sure if they are using a sales management system.

This highlights an issue that plagues many companies regarding software implementation: lack of user adoption. If the software is too complex or too slow to get up and running on, chances are your sales staff will go back to using manual methods, such as Excel spreadsheets. This is why it’s key to figure out what you’re looking for in sales management software and what kind of solution is right for your business.

“The number one priority for any sales organization using sales management software should be helping their salespeople understand the unique needs of customers and the buyers,” says Roberge. “The fact of the matter is, buyers and sellers have more data and information at their fingertips than ever before and salespeople must use that information to their advantage.”

Sales management software benefits

What’s clear from our survey is that, of the 66 percent that use sales software, the vast majority are reaping the benefits in terms of revenue, productivity and customer service.

“The right software can help illustrate where the buyer is in their journey,” says Roberge. “The number one objective should always be to reveal that context to the salesperson. Revealing that context helps eliminate price wars and discounting wars and instead highlights discussions around unique fit.”

Increase in revenue

Almost 90% of respondents have seen an increase in revenue since they began using sales software.

“Sales management software would streamline sales and marketing processes of a business and help them identify bottlenecks,” says Sripada. “Armed with all the data and analytics, these businesses can take smart decisions to increase their revenue. For increasing revenue, businesses should expand their R&D, which in turn would help them provide their customers with better products and services.”

However, according to Salesforce, an increase in revenue may not come immediately, but rather in the long term by better serving and increasing the value of customers, especially existing ones.

“It could be over the long term, short term it might be less revenue, but getting a customer is only the first (and most expensive) step,” says Bova. “Continuing to nurture and increase the value with a customer can or will result in a larger share of wallet. Many companies focus on acquiring new customers at the expense of selling more to the customers they already have.”

Productivity gains

The stats for productivity are even more impressive: nearly 95% of those using sales software have seen an increase in productivity. One key way that sales management software helps here is by automating time-consuming manual processes.

“The right software automates a lot of sales processes, including data management,” says Sripada. “This leaves sales reps with more time to focus on prospecting, and they can close more deals in less time.”

Respondents also shared ways in which they have used sales software to improve productivity. One said: “I am able to keep track of everything and a much higher level. This leads to me helping and solving problems quicker, which leads to happier customers.”

Customer service improvements

Sales software can also help with the crucial issues we’ve already mentioned of improving customer service and creating a selling process that delivers real value. More than three quarters (78%) of our survey participants have seen an increase in customer satisfaction through using sales software.

Sripada explains more about sales management software benefits in these areas. “Increased customer satisfaction means less churn rate and better customer life-time value,” he says. “A good sales management software would have all the customer information in one place, which would help the sales reps build a better relationship with them.”

Our survey participants say that sales software has allowed them to improve customer satisfaction. One respondent says: “I have customer information available in a cloud-based platform that allows me to access avenues of contact even when I am away from my office. This makes me more likely to respond to customer issues in real time, and that’s a priority for customers.”

Sales software can not just help improve customer service, but also aid in delivering it in a personalized way – with personalization being an important differentiator in the sales market.

One of our respondents explains: “Different representatives are able to pull up customer information quickly thanks to the software. This way customers get the help they need faster but still in a personalized fashion.”

Features to look for in sales management software

While our survey respondents may be almost unanimous in their appreciation of sales management software benefits, if you don’t choose a solution that comes with important key features that you’re unlikely to see this implementation translated into net gains.

Here are some key features to look for in sales management software:

  • Contact management
  • Tracking and reporting dashboards
  • Sales forecasting and analytics (including predictive analytics)
  • Lead management
  • File sharing and syncing
  • Email integration
  • Collaboration
  • Mobile capabilities.

According to Sripada, sales management software providers should offer these tools and functionalities to keep up to speed with customers expectations:

  • Contextual integration of CRM system with email, call management, social media and other customer interaction services
  • Sales productivity tools such as calendar integration, mail merge, Microsoft Outlook integration, Apple Calendar, and others
  • Automated sales processes using workflow automation, macros, and integration with  third-party applications
  • Data cleansing tools to maintain accurate customer information and eliminate duplicate records in the CRM system
  • Flexibility to segment customers through territory management.
Sales management software benefits

The right sales management software can increase revenue and improve customer satisfaction

Bova believes that sales management software should integrate all data and interactions about the customer, no matter which channel they are shopping on, whether it be in-store, online, on social media, or any other method.

“It isn’t so much about stopping ‘in store/shopping cart abandonment’ as much as it is – making sure if and when the customer buys, they buy it from you regardless of the channel,” says Bova. “However, if you look at each channel in a silo – then it is natural to feel one is losing while the other one is winning (if you even know that).

“Wouldn’t it be better if a sales rep knew when a prospect was standing in front of them that they had left an item in their shopping cart online, or that an app knew they were in the store and had left something in the cart – and then pushed a deal to them to remind them it was in the cart so they would walk out right then with the item? If we want sales management software to keep up to speed with what a customer wants, we need to remind ourselves that this is about what the customer wants.”

Conclusion

Our overall findings from the two surveys we carried out point to salespeople being out of step with what their customers want, which contributes to a high rate of purchase abandonment, both in store and online.

Customers say that price is still the number one factor for them, but this comes down in part to the fact that sales staff often fail to put the customer at the center of the process and create real value through being knowledgeable about their product and providing a high level of service.

It’s easy to point the finger at salespeople, when in reality they are often being let down by poor processes, lack of training, and inadequate tools to do the job. Once these have been implemented, the improvements will almost certainly come.

“Studies say that “bottom of the funnel” is directly proportional to “top of the funnel”,” says Sripada. “When the top of the funnel, i.e, lead generation process, is healthy, sales reps can close more deals and accelerate their business. For this, they need better processes and training. More importantly, they need flexible sales management tools to automate the processes so that they spend more time on prospecting than managing data in CRM.”

One key aspect that almost all of our respondents that use sales management software agree on is the benefit it brings to revenue, productivity, and customer service. By harnessing the benefits that sales management software brings, and combining this with better training and process, salespeople can understand their customer and start to proactively shape the customer journey, guiding them through the process until the sale is achieved.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch regarding use of the charts above, please contact karen.mccandless@getapp.com.

This research is based on surveys carried out with 200 consumers and 250 small businesses in North America in April 2016.

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