NEW YORK -- There's no doubt social media plays an increasingly important role in customer engagement strategies, but many sales and marketing teams struggle with how to use social platforms.
Figuring out how customers come to you, what knowledge they have of your products and consistent engagement with them on multiple platforms were the topics discussed during a panel discussion of the future of sales at Sales Machine, a two-day sales best practices and technology convention hosted by Salesforce and Sales Hacker here this week.
"In sales, you need to understand customers and how they engage with us," said Teron Douglas, head of associate experience and financial center sales for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, based in Charlotte, N.C. "It's a relationship business now -- we're not selling products anymore; we're selling relationships."
Understanding customers and the data provided during the sales cycle will be increasingly beneficial as sales teams look to work through leads more efficiently, and in doing so, bring sales and marketing closer together.
"Our customers want information when it's available," said Brett Shirk, senior vice president of America sales for Veritas Technologies LLC, an information management company based in Mountain View, Calif. "The way we market is funneling into how we sell. It's a hand-in-glove approach with marketing and sales."
Teron Douglashead of associate experience and financial center sales for Bank of America Merrill Lynch
The discussion touched on the importance of customer engagement strategies that stretch across the entire sales process, utilizing information about how a customer begins to build a solid relationship from the beginning of the interaction.
Social media interactions are expected to play a larger role in the sales funnel, according to the panelists, with industries still working to make those interactions efficient and useful. The pace of change is so significant the profile of sales will have to change as well, according to Shirk.
"There will be much more activity around social media for connections," he said. "The seller of the future will have to be interactive socially."
Some companies are still figuring out how to benefit from social media interactions, while others are still working through complications of interacting with customers through social platforms.
"We'd love to do more in social -- it's where customers want to engage with us," Douglas said. "But we're hamstrung with how we can due to privacy laws and regulations -- it's a challenge for us."
Taking all the data and information a customer provides and being able to contextualize that to help with the sale is where the field is headed, according to Tiffani Bova, growth and innovation evangelist for Salesforce.
"Having context in the way to approach a customer has huge implications on how they feel and is aligned with their success," Bova said. "It's a shift from big data to intelligence to predictive selling. It's about using the data in context."
Listening to the customer is a simplistic idea; doing it correctly and efficiently can lead not only to increased sales, but also increased advocacy from the customer.
"It's about understanding the engagement with the clients," said Glenn Davis, senior vice president for growth execution and enablement for Optum Inc., a health system company based in Eden Prairie, Minn. "One challenge corporations have is thinking through all the initiatives and efforts we try to drive and just listen to how our client feels about the interaction."
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