Most buyers are 57% through their decision before engaging a sales rep. To gain the edge, salespeople need to insert themselves into that conversation before that point.

I sat down with Tim Clarke of Salesforce to discuss how the average salesperson can accomplish this. His answer was simple:

tim-clarke.jpgBuild your personal online brand to position yourself as a consultant, not a salesperson.

Here is a 4 step process to get started:

  1. Share content related to your space on social. Set a high bar for what you share- developing a reputation for sharing “fluff” will train buyers to tune you out.
  2. Become active on forums, groups, etc. in your space. Contribute to questions and conversations; this is not the time to pitch your product.
  3. Share content involving your product on social. Now that you’ve built a reputation for high-quality sharing, it’s time to pull out your best blog posts and case studies. Balance is key, of course. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming a company bullhorn.
  4. Create your own content. Whether guest posting on your company blog, writing on LinkedIn Pulse, or guest blogging on a site like Quotable, creating original (and useful) content is the key to positioning yourself as a valuable consultant. Not confident in your abilities as a content creator? This might be a time to tap marketing for assistance. But ideally you should be researching and creating content yourself - practice makes perfect.

But in order to fully leverage your personal brand to boost sales, you need to understand what makes buyers buy.

What Makes Buyers Buy?

In the new world of social selling, buyers are more skeptical than ever. Advocacy among customers is emerging as one of the most critical aspects of the decision-making process. VPs influence VPs, C-suites listen to C-suites. Decision makers impact decision makers.

If I’m a VP of Sales, I will listen what another VP of Sales has done in a similar sized organization and industry,” Clarke explained. “So at Salesforce we’re helping our customers connect with each other.”

People listen to their peers: and the world of buyers is no different. So what can the salesperson do to influence those conversations at the very top?

Influencing Conversations

Buyers do their own research. As mentioned before, CEB estimates that most buyers are 57% of the way through their decision before engaging a sales rep. To stay a step ahead, salespeople need to be contributing to that 57%, positioning themselves as valued consultants.

This is accomplished through social networks: sharing on LinkedIn, Twitter, Groups, and forums. By sharing top-of-the-funnel, thought leadership content, salespeople can set themselves up as subject matter experts.

To illustrate this point, Clarke shared a story from his personal experience as a sales rep. When sitting down with prospects, he would often be accompanied by a Solutions Engineer. The prospect would always pay a great deal of attention to what the Solutions Engineer said, carefully digesting every word. Not so when Tim spoke. Prospects would assume that since he had “sales” in his title, he could offer no new information worth considering.

This stigma is regrettably common, and is a hurdle almost every successful salesperson will need to overcome. And with buyers doing their own in-depth research, no one likes being sold to anymore.

“If you’re a prospect and you keep reading the content I put out, at some point you will recognize that you have a challenge - and you will know that I can help you,” - Tim Clarke, Salesforce

In order to gain the edge, salespeople need to be contributing to the buyer’s research. People who visit your blog posts should not be leaving with product, they should be leaving with insight.

Always Be Closing is Dead

Since no one likes being sold to anymore, the “always be closing” mantra is next to worthless. In its place is the new “ABC” - Always Be Connecting. Building connections creates a platform for easy sharing of relevant and useful content. But offline selling isn’t dead just yet - in fact, it is more useful than ever.

While deals are no longer being made on the golf course, offline activities like organization-related events are a great way to network and build rapport with prospects and customers. Find a killer event and invite a prospect to it - learn together, and don’t talk about yourself.

Leverage Technology to Focus Effort

Amid email quotas, target talk times, and other activities of daily sales life, creating and sharing your own content sounds like a Herculean task. This is where technology comes into play.

“Sales reps need to use sales predictive technologies to become their own data scientist,” Clarke explains. “Manual, basic processes like order taking should be automated.”

The real value of sales tech comes in the form of predictive lead scoring. By “scoring” each lead sales analytics platforms can identify the best leads for reps to focus on. This allows them to take a more social, in-depth approach to each lead with a high propensity to buy.

But at the end of the day, sell like a human. Using tech incorrectly (like automating cold emails) is a surefire way to crash and burn. Humans buy from humans- and they don’t want to buy from robots.

If you missed hearing Tim Clarke and other thought leaders speak on remaining competitive in the age of digital selling at SalesSummit.io, don't worry! You can still watch the entire summit on demand.

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