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What Does It Mean To Be A Digital Salesperson In 2017?

Written by Fes Askari

Feb 16 2017


What does being a salesperson in today's sales landscape entail? How can Sales stay relevant in 2017's digital environment?

What Does It Mean To Be A Digital Salesperson In 2017?

When I get into work, the first three things I check  are:

  1. Our agency Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) conversion rates in HubSpot,
  2. Our MQL: ‘High Interest, Good Fit’ engagement list,
  3. and lastly, my LinkedIn Social Selling Index.

I’ll also double check my diary and meetings, SQLs and pipeline management - though I'll have already updated this information the night before to know where we are as a business.

So why these three things every morning?

As a digital salesperson, these items are important data points to keep me on track and in-tune with our ‘good-fit’ contacts; who are demonstrating real-time engagement and often, intent.

The Value of Strong Marketing and Sales Alignment

As an agency, we work with a number of sales and marketing teams in the UK and internationally. We’ve found that while conversion of MQL to SQL is a key priority in driving a healthy pipeline, it is also a challenge. Why? Because often, marketing and sales are misaligned; Marketing departments are heavily focused on the awareness stage, whilst Sales are independently prospecting or working on Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU) opps. Yet it’s the Middle of the Funnel (MOFU) where volumes of high value interaction between the buyer, marketing and sales, can deliver greatest value - so long as both departments are aligned.

In this situation, the ‘value’ can be seen when:

  • All parties (sales, marketing and the buyer) can gain intimate knowledge of each other's business (relevant to the challenges being addressed)
  • It’s possible to build relationships based on knowledge sharing
  • If all parties are well aligned (a good-fit), then the opportunity to help identify solutions to the buyer’s challenges opens up (both challenges that have already been recognised, plus those they are yet to name).

If we consider ‘potential buyers’ through a lens of good fit, engagement and intent, an aligned process will deliver most value when:

  • Marketing can deliver a solid volume of MQLs (in our case, via our inbound marketing programmes). This means Sales can prioritise management of ‘warm’ and engaged MQLs, as opposed to inefficient cold prospecting.
  • You have clear and agreed definitions across Marketing and Sales of MQL, SQL and related lifecycle stages.
  • The database is correctly segmented against your buyer persona profiles (good-fit customers) and their buyer stage, and you have notifications and triggers set for brand and site engagement, backed with comprehensive CRM management.
  • You have the ability track, monitor and report on pipeline conversions, so that your teams can optimise programmes across both sales and marketing (e.g. MOFU lead nurture, content strategy and sales enablement).
  • There are clear data points and benchmarks to monitor your team’s channel performance, in the channels relevant to your buyers.
  • You have a strong early-stage lead management programme driven by Sales, or even an external partner (like ourselves) - i.e. Sales doesn’t just cherry pick the obvious BOFU leads.

That last point; early-stage lead management, brings me to the importance of monitoring your team’s Social Selling Index (SSI) Score on LinkedIn. One part of our process involves leveraging LinkedIn as an additional contact nurture and lead gen channel to add further value.

89% of executives use social media and that LinkedIn is the most used social platform among executives. - Quartz Global Executives Report

The LinkedIn SSI score is a data point that (though the algorithm has some quirks and limitations) ensures digital salespeople are delivering adequate engagement in that channel with their network - established partly through MQL ‘connection’ rates and Decision Making Unit (DMU) research via Sales Navigator.

The LinkedIn SSI score is a data point that ensures digital salespeople are delivering adequate engagement in that channel with their network

An individual score of 70+ is a good benchmark for most teams who want to ensure a relatively strong channel engagement metric. However, value here is dependent on whether your buyer personas spend time in LinkedIn or elsewhere (WhatsApp, Slack or other industry relevant platforms) Of course, if there isn't an obvious prime platform for your customer profile, why not start that engagement by building it?  

Nowadays, salespeople need to be more than just a voice on the end of the phone. Platforms such as LinkedIn help extend reach when pushing up engagement metrics with quality leads.

The above is particularly important for those involved in complex B2B sales seeking to engage the DMUs earlier into their buyer journey.

72% of B2B Buyers used social media to research their purchase decision.”  - Sales for Life

Rise of the Digital Salesperson

Bottom line here is, when your sales teams have access to real-time data that delivers clear insights on who to engage, why and how - phone, email or leveraging another contextually relevant channel - it empowers them to deliver an efficient sales process that aligns with the needs of the buyer… dependant on their buyer stage.

This digitally enabled and content driven sales team is of value to the buyer, who, in 2017, is more empowered in their role when identifying relevant solutions and suppliers, particularly in the environment of complex and enterprise sales. They are of value because they help the buyer do their job better, more efficiently and within a buyer centric framework.

When your sales teams have access to real-time data that delivers clear insights on who to engage, why and how - it empowers them to deliver an efficient sales process that aligns with the needs of the buyer

Does a digital sales team mean less salespeople working more efficiently? Yes, that is likely.

Digital salespeople will be there with the buyer, earlier into their journey with a better quality of insight into the challenges the buyer is seeking to address; and will be in a position to capitalise on buyer readiness through monitoring and analysis of buyer behaviour and actions. (Note that some are already being supported with AI tools to make this process more intelligent).

Digital salespeople will be there with the buyer, earlier into their journey with a better quality of insight into the challenges the buyer is seeking to address.

In this scenario, marketing (e.g. paid and organic lead generation and content driven nurture campaigns) delivers the market and account prospecting, outside of referrals (driven by a solid NPS), and so helps streamline sales teams; allowing them to focus on good-fit and engaged lead follow-up.

Marketing driven lead generation can also protect your brand against an intrusive cold calls driven strategy. Calls are still important though, as they are another key to an effective lead follow-up programme.

For more information on an inbound sales approach, have a look at our recent blog posts on this subject.

Focussing on Human to Human B2B Sales and Marketing

The digital salesperson does not live simply in digital channels - Human to Human B2B Sales and Marketing is more prevalent and effective than ever. They do however, work to leverage the data, channels and tools that will deliver your teams the competitive edge.

Timing is everything and context is king, but is a valuable human connection the ultimate ROI? In the modern marketing and sales age, the answer is yes; as building a true human connection with the buyer is the answer to trusted customer relationships, understanding and long term value. As HubSpot have explored, true human connections are:

  • Conversational
  • Empathetic
  • Inspirational
  • Authentic
  • Understanding
  • Trusted

Tying this all together for your digital sales team should be your goal for 2017, if you aren’t already there!

Understanding Modern Sales Strategies: Our Digital Sales Survey

How is your digital sales team progressing?

Recently we requested feedback from senior salespeople and sales team leaders from around the world.

(Note: the sample size is small due to the time we had to acquire responses)

We found that

  • Although individual salespeople who are ‘digitally active’ do track their own activities from platform such as LinkedIn, there typically is no formal process for reporting this back to the business.
  • 55% of respondents track their activities in LinkedIn or chat, only 22% are reporting them back
  • Many salespeople are still missing the opportunity to repurpose content to their LinkedIn profile as a ‘Pulse’ posts, or to create their own (marketing approved) thought leadership content - which would help to position them as a resource for their network of customers, prospects and contacts.

linkedin1.pngScreen Shot 2017-02-16 at 11.21.37.png

Watch this video to see what Koka Sexton, ex-LinkedIn Head of Social Media now at Hootsuite, has to say about the value of these metrics and reporting.

Responses on strategy and approach:

Q. What are the core tenants of your approach to LinkedIn (or describe any methodology)?

  • “I use it (LinkedIn) as part of my sales outreach strategy, researching and connecting with leads. Then I share content or invites to events, that way they tend to respond to my direct emails.”
  • I am only one on my team that utilizes LI (LinkedIn) as another tool and resource to engage with my target must put as much at top of sales funnel as you can, and a phone call just will not do it anymore.”
  • Be authentic and unscripted. No templates. Message clients with a real focus on a win-win for both instead of going straight into the product/service you offer. Qualify and listen.”
  • “I see it as a social benchmarking tool to open doors, and consolidate professional relationships.”


Q. How valuable do you see your activity in LinkedIn in terms of contributing to your pipeline

  • “Very valuable. My SDR team uses LinkedIn as the main source of leads as we target senior executives of global brands, all our prospects use Linkedin regularly”

Of course LinkedIn is not the only B2B social network or community. There are many challengers in this space that sales and marketing teams should consider, especially when working at a local country level; BeBee, Viadeo, Google+ and XING, for a start. To find the right platforms, speaking to your customers and finding out their priority networks is a key strategy.

There are many niche industry networks for you to look into and get involved with...and with the right strategy, sales & marketing alignment, and reporting in place, digital salespeople are poised to see growth and success.

Looking for some more thoughts on digital sales strategy? Our inbound sales enablement page may help.

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