Digital sales is not new. Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sales process allowed potential customers to signal their interest and consideration to brands by engaging with blogs, responding to surveys, watching demos, and filling in contact forms. Then, sales reps could join the conversation through prospect calls, face-to-face meetings, or conversations at trade show booths.

Now, digital channels are the primary lane of communication. They no longer lead up to or augment face-to-face communication. Instead, they frequently replace in-person discussions altogether. Customers are in control of their experiences and they exercise that control by engaging digitally with brands on their own terms.

Predictions from Gartner expect these digital sales trends to continue. In fact, the organization has estimated that by 2025, 80% of the sales interactions between businesses and their prospective customers will occur through digital channels. To meet customers’ expectations online, salespeople must be present and aware of how customers are interacting with the business. Understanding how customers make decisions is critical in the world of digital sales, and modern customers won’t accept any less.

Roadblocks to selling in the digital world

From social media to online forums, email, chat boxes, and video calls, there’s no shortage of channels to connect with potential customers. But how much reach is too much?

According to McKinsey & Company, there’s a fine line between too much and not enough of a personalized digital experience. Too much contact, according to their research, annoys customers the most.

Creating the right balance is made even more difficult with these common challenges facing today’s sales teams.

Challenge #1: Fighting for market space in an attention economy

Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, salespeople were often going on-site to meet with potential customers. Through sharing demos and answering critical questions, they had significant time to build the trust and rapport necessary for closing deals and establishing customer relationships. 

That’s become increasingly challenging in the age of remote work. “The new on-site is being on your prospect’s feed, wherever your customers hang out,” says Andrew Mewborn, Enterprise Growth at Outreach.

According to Gartner, sales reps only have about 5% of a customer’s time during their B2B customer journey. With such limited attention, sales teams have to be agile, accommodating, and engaging to make a sale. “There’s more competition for people’s attention,” Andrew says. “We’re in an attention economy. You can have the best product in the world, but if you can’t get attention to it, then it doesn’t matter.”

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Challenge #2: Establishing a connection with each prospect

Consider a potential customer visiting your website. They ask a few questions through a chatbot. After that, they go to the company blog and read a post. Then, they watch a few videos linked to that blog post. 

In the future, if they decide to speak with a salesperson, they will expect the salesperson to know about their journey. The potential customer has already begun establishing a connection with the company, and they see the salesperson as another link in that digital sales chain.

“In the world of digital, you’re leaving a digital footprint,” says David Krauss, Senior Director of CRM Product Marketing at Freshworks. “If I take the time to understand where you’ve been and how you got there, I’ve got a much better chance of having a contextual and more meaningful conversation with you.”

However, gaining this contextual understanding is easier said than done. In Demand Gen Report’s 2021 Content Preferences Survey, 44% of B2B executives shared that they typically consume three to five pieces of content before they engage with a vendor. Adding to this, on average, it takes eight touches to get a sales meeting with a prospect. 

Put all of these factors together and you have a large digital sales footprint for each prospective customer. Sales reps have to analyze these footprints to understand the customer's interest and preferences and provide them with a tailored digital sales experience.

Challenge #3: Finding the right digital sales tools to solve problems

A tool is only as helpful as its ability to aid you in solving a problem. For example, a sales team struggling with email conversions may consider implementing a tool to automate emailing and increase their reach. 

But what if the problem isn’t email volume, but the quality of email content? In that case, a tool that sends more emails only exacerbates the problem and will fail to deliver the expected ROI. This is also the case for any AI-powered digital sales tools. While companies may rush to adopt AI, they’ll struggle to see any real value if they’re not choosing the right tools or if their tools are trained with inaccurate data. 

Deciding if an AI-powered digital sales tool is worth your team’s time can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult exercise. Start by asking how soon you’ll be able to see results from it.

“When I sign in, can I use it today or the next couple of days — not six months down the road?” David asked. “If you’re not getting value from it, that can be a red flag.”

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A 5-step process for successful digital sales

There are countless areas you can focus on to prepare your team for successful digital sales, and it can be difficult to know how to prioritize your efforts to get the most out of them.  

Focusing on these five areas will allow your team to make sure they’re showing up in the spaces that potential customers spend time and interacting with them in the way customers want.

Step #1: Develop solid copywriting skills

Much of the communication that a salesperson has with potential customers is written. Every written communication you send, from emails to social posts and DMs, is an example of copywriting. 

When done right, copywriting points the audience toward a high-value offer that they can’t help but consider. When copywriting is done poorly, it leads to a missed opportunity and possibly even a bad impression.

Believe it or not, more sales happen “when you’re not in the room — or on the Zoom — than when you are,” Andrew says. “Your job is to figure out how to capture people’s attention and give them the information they need to make a consensus.”

“Copywriting,” Andrew says, “is the skill that accomplishes this.” Copywriting captures attention and puts potential stakeholders from a company on the same page. 

Cheetsheet: Solid copywriting skills

For reps on your team who aren’t confident in their writing skills, here are a few tips you can share with them:

Following these steps will have your team well on their way to producing well-written emails and messages that encourage your prospects to respond to your digital sales efforts.

Step #2: Embrace omnichannel selling

In today’s sales environment, potential B2B customers can connect with a salesperson online or by phone, or they can ask for an in-person connection. Depending on the type of service or product being offered, they can even bypass that connection altogether and purchase through self-service.

Multi-channel selling treats each of these types of interactions separately. Each one follows siloed workflows and may even involve different internal parties. Omnichannel selling, however, embraces all of these possibilities and connects multiple interactions to tell one story of the customer’s journey. 

McKinsey’s research on B2B decision-makers confirms that omnichannel is not simply a trend, nor a pandemic workaround. It’s the new standard. It puts the power in the hands of potential customers as they check company channels, research their options online, and ultimately make decisions on their timeline.

Sales reps can implement two critical strategies to offer better digital sales experiences through omnichannel selling:

The first is to put the company’s CRM technology to good use. CRM is the single source of truth regarding customer interactions, and sales reps should check it before interacting with potential customers.

“If I’m trying to sell you something, I need to understand which whitepaper did you download?” David says. “When did you do it? Did you engage with a partner of ours and why? What became of that?”

The second strategy is to stay aware of the potential customer’s progression. With so many paths that a potential customer can take to an offer, it’s important to keep up with their journey and follow up periodically.

Step #3: Provide the right content through the right medium

Consider the last time you tried a new software tool. What did you do when you had questions about the functionality? Did you look up a tutorial on YouTube? Check the company’s help pages? Use a chat feature on their website?

Just like you needed a specific type of content at that moment, potential customers also need unique content to meet them where they are in the customer journey. For sales reps looking to share helpful content through their social channels — whether it is text posts, blogs, audio, or video — they need to be able to convey their message quickly.

“Err on the side of brevity,” David says. “Keep it short. In today’s world of white noise, it’s got to be simple. If you can’t communicate it in under 30 seconds, you should rethink it.”

Sales reps producing their own digital sales content, such as videos for social media, should also prioritize mobile optimization. Over half of web traffic as of early 2021 is from mobile devices.

Lastly, make sure to examine the past behavior of your audience and see what content was successful. Pay attention to the feedback, or signal, that your audience provides based on their engagement (comments, likes, shares, responses, etc.).

“Once you can determine that signal and act on that signal, you’re going to get the flywheel turning that allows you to make better decisions,”  Andrew says.

Step #4: Leverage employees’ personal brands

Think of the biggest sale your team has made this year. How often did your sales team meet with the customer? Did the customer ask a lot of questions? How much effort did it take your sales team to build the necessary trust with the customer?

LinkedIn’s State of Sales Report 2020 brought eye-opening discoveries about the importance of trust in sales. In the report, only 32% of potential customers described the sales profession in general as trustworthy. Compare that to the fact that 88% of potential customers consider the salespeople they decided to buy from to be trusted advisors.

Salespeople can leverage personal brands as a way to build trust with prospects, since “people buy from people,” as Andrew says.

Here are three key principles for your team to follow when building their personal brands:

Consistently showing up in the locations where your prospects spend time is key. This can be a specific social media platform, an online forum, or other locations. “As simple as it sounds, it’s the hardest thing to do,” Andrew says. “Show up every day. If you have people’s attention, you can sell your product.”

Show personality. Building a personal brand also means building a brand unique to yourself instead of just sharing your company’s social posts. “The rule of thumb I try to follow is 50/50, '' David says. “I want to be a good corporate citizen and amplify my company’s brand. But I think you need to spend at least 50%, probably more, on developing and amplifying your own personal engagement with your network—growing your network, joining different groups.”

Sales reps also need to understand who their audience is. For example, if you’re looking to build your personal brand to increase digital sales, then you don’t need to promote sales thought leadership. Instead, your content should fit the industry trends and challenges affecting potential customers, Andrew suggests.

Step #5: Take advantage of AI-powered insights

Prospecting. Sending messages to new customers. Predicting the outcome of a potential sale. These are just some of the AI-driven digital sales capabilities available to sales teams. 

AI digital sales tools can range from simply providing insights to automating tasks that hold up the team’s time. When implementing these digital sales tools, there are two components: the model, which performs the job to be done, and the training data, which teaches the model how to operate. For sales teams looking to implement AI, David says the training data is an integral part.

“The value is in, how do I capture the tacit knowledge of the sales teams?” he says. “How do I take a seller that’s got 15 years experience in the field — in the top 20% of the sales organization  that’s driving 80% of revenue — and how do I scale that tacit knowledge in an efficient way?” 

Responses from experienced sales reps about their touchpoints with customers (via the website, owned media, LinkedIn) should be used to train any AI models being brought onboard to benefit greener reps, David says.

To do this, you don’t have to build a model from scratch. Instead, look for no-code or out-of-the-box tools that map back to your team’s digital sales struggles.

An example of this would be an AI tool such as Freddy AI that can use past wins and losses to determine which prospects are most likely to become customers. A tool like this can help sales teams to better prioritize their prospects and leads.

Using a tool that can capture the signals that are driving the digital sales pipeline will provide insights you can’t typically gain from looking at a spreadsheet.

Digital selling is here to stay

More and more of the business we conduct happens online. Customers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to when and how they interact with businesses. Being vigilant to the signals they share about their interests and experiences is key to providing them with a personalized digital sales experience.

Sharing helpful content online is also important for businesses looking to stand out from the competition. With solid copywriting, strong personal branding, and the right content shared at the right time, sales reps have the tools they need to cement their place in the attention economy.

(The write-up is inspired by a Sales Hacker session titled "How to help your team master digital selling" in September 2021.  It was conducted in collaboration with Freshworks and Outreach.)