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How to Adapt to the Modern Buyer [An Interview with Jill Rowley]

jill_rowley“The successful modern sales professional is an information concierge, a content connoisseur — someone who has deep subject-matter expertise on the buyer and the world in which the buyer exists.” – Jill Rowley

Editor’s note: I had the privilege of sitting down with Social Selling Evangelist and Startup Advisor Jill Rowley before she hits the stage at next week’s (largest-ever) Dreamforce event — and our discussion ranged from Jill’s frustration with unsolicited email blasts from sales reps to the emerging role of sales enablement on the marketing team. Check out the highlights below, and be sure to check out Jill’s session next Wednesday at the B2B Marketers Cafe.

Let’s dive in.

Jill, thanks so much for joining us today — and were really excited to have you with us and to have you joining us next week at Dreamforce 2015!

So, Ive heard you give talks before on the modern buyer, the new approach to successful selling, and social selling in particular, and I wanted to start off by talking briefly about your stance here. What is this evolved approach to selling; how do sales reps need to shift their mindsets and their skill sets to adapt to the modern buyer?

Sure. I usually start by talking about the change in the buyer, because all of the change that we see happening in marketing, in product, in user-experience design — all of the change that we see happening in the business and software world is a result of the change we see in the buyer. And if we look at who our modern buyer is, she’s digitally driven.

For example, I went to Apple yesterday to buy a new Mac, and the sales associate went to the website. She pulled up the Apple website, compared the Pro to the Air, and we did the feature comparison on the web. Ultimately, I didn’t even need to go into the store to have her walk me through their website; I could’ve done it from the parking lot, I could’ve done it while I was riding an elevator. And that’s who the modern buyer is: they’re digitally driven and they’re socially connected, and that’s why social selling is one of the topics I speak about the most.

Sales has always been about relationship building. It’s always been about networking. And a lot of that was done at events like Dreamforce, on the golf course, etc. I’m not saying that those events don’t and shouldn’t still happen (I absolutely believe they should), but today, those relationships are enhanced by social networks.

So, as a buyer, if I think about who I trust, I don’t trust the pushy sales rep; I don’t trust positioned marketing messages from the brand. I trust people like me — my peers and colleagues. And with social networks, those peers and colleagues are more accessible than ever before. So what you have is a modern buyer who has more access to information and people than ever before, and what this means for salespeople is that they absolutely have to shift their mindset and their approach from selling a product to helping the buyer.

Well-put. So what does all this mean for marketing; how does the modern marketer need to shift their approach? And how can marketers encourage their sales reps to help instead of going for the hard sell?

Right. Well first of all, I’d say that marketing tends to be ahead of sales in this respect. Most marketers have understood this shift for a while — have been creating content to educate the buyer, and have learned to be everywhere the buyer is. So, unfortunately, sales is a little behind in this sense, and needs to catch up.

As far as explaining to sales that this is what needs to happen: you have to remember, before I got this nifty title of ‘thought leader,’ I was a quota-carrying sales professional for 52 quarters. I’m not just saying ‘this is how it should be’ hypothetically; this is how I was extremely successful in my career. And marketing supported me in being this kind of sales professional before social networks were even a channel.

My role was educating the buyer — getting them to the point where they felt comfortable investing in the product. So I would walk over to the wall in marketing that had article reprints — from the Wall Street Journal, CIO Magazine, etc. — and I would take those articles, make a package, shove it in an envelope with a hat or a t-shirt, and send it to the buyer. Because that was how you educated the buyer at the time; and marketing’s role was to create and curate that content and decide what publications we needed to be present in.

So in the sense of social selling, marketing’s role has been and continues to be content. On a larger scale, their role is to more holistically enable Sales.

I really like your story of going to marketing and physically grabbing content to send to your prospects; I think that scenario of sales reps turning to marketing as a resource and using marketing content to educate buyers is far rarer than it should be.

I guess my question for you is, where do you see that disconnect happening do sales reps not see marketers as a resource, or is marketing creating the wrong type of content, or are they just not doing an effective job of getting their content in front of reps?

That’s a great question, and it can be any of those things, but I think the biggest challenge is that sales doesn’t understand the shift that has occurred, and how the modern buyer buys. I think marketing had to adapt faster and sooner, so they’re better equipped to educate sales on this massive shift. They understand that buyers are engaging with sales further along in the sales cycle because they don’t want to be pressured and sold to, and that it’s marketing’s job to create more content to educate buyers through these early stages and gain a better understanding of their buyer’s interests before passing them over to sales.

But, at the same time, if sales is just waiting for marketing to send over these perfectly qualified, ready-to-buy opportunities, it’s too late. Sales needs to get in earlier — and it’s not through cold calling. It’s not through generic, unsolicited blast emails. You’ve got to be teaching, you have to be building trust through that educating process.

So, tactically, what does this look like? Sales obviously has a lot to offer marketing, too, being on the front lines dealing with the customer. How can you start the feedback loop between marketing and sales; how can you make sure your teams start working together to create that educational and seamless buyer experience?

Well, first and foremost, I think marketing should be on those sales calls. If sales is trying to give feedback to marketing, a lot gets lost in translation. So I’ve been saying it forever: marketing needs to do ride-alongs with sales. They need to hear what the customer is saying — the kinds of questions, the concerns, the objections, the needs and requirements that their audience has.

It really just goes back to this: marketing needs to know more about sales, sales needs to know more about marketing, and we all need to know more about our customers.

Well, that feels like a perfect place to wrap this up! And sitting in on sales calls sounds like a great prescriptive first step for marketers looking to effectively enable their sales team. Jill, thank you so much for your time, and we look forward to seeing you the week of September 15th!

Don’t miss Jill Rowley at #DF15

Mark your calendar for Wednesday, September 16, 11:30 AM in the B2B Marketers Cafe at The Grove.

Sneak peak from Jill: The buyer has changed more in the past 10 years than the past 100. To be visible and relevant to the modern buyer, marketing and sales must continue to adapt and align, not just with each other, but to, with, and for the customer. The lines between marketing and sales are blurring and the characteristics of the modern marketer and modern sales professional have changed. If you’re ready to adapt, come hear my session; if not, prepare to be replaced.

Bio: Jill Rowley is a sales professional trapped in a marketer’s body. She eats failure for breakfast so she can dine on success for dinner. In her 20+ year career, Jill spent six years in consulting, 13 years in software sales at Salesforce and Eloqua, and is currently a Social Selling Evangelist & Startup Advisor.