With the explosion of online retail giants like Amazon.com, the new digital economy has turned traditional consumer buying behavior upside down, making your everyday salesperson seemingly obsolete.
In fact, according to Invesp, more than 62 percent of U.S. consumers with Internet access shop online at least once a month, and 78 percent of those shoppers don’t check out a product in-store before buying online.
Increasing from $231 billion in 2012, online retail sales are projected to grow steadily to $370 billion by 2017, leaving little doubt that traditional sales teams must do something to adapt. But just what can today’s salesperson do to survive in a thriving digital economy?
Survival Tip #1: Learn to Sell to the Informed Consumer
Consider this: According to CMO.com, 72 percent of millennials research and shop their options online before going to a store or the mall. When approached by a salesperson, the majority of in-store shoppers already have a general idea of what they want to purchase, their anticipated spending, and where else they can purchase the same item.
This behavior, known as webrooming, influences the entire sales process. Salespeople can no longer get by with empty promises, or hypothetical examples of how a product worked for someone else. Today’s informed customer values proof.
But on-the-spot proof can come tough. So, today’s salespeople need to be equipped with data that tells a story. (Numbers never lie.) A frantic sales pitch will cause more harm than good, but supporting numbers and facts build credibility and trust between the salesperson and the customer.
Survival Tip #2: Never Pitch Again
When it comes to dealing with informed customers, an overeager sales pitch can turn them off. Instead, salespeople should consider eliminating the traditional pitch to focus entirely on educating the customer.
Instead of approaching customers at the door, salespeople should give them a little space and let them linger, engaging only after a few minutes have passed. Considering the informed customer already has a purchase objective in mind, some time to look around and locate the item keeps things comfortable. Once engaged, salespeople should avoid overbearing statements about random products or great features and, rather, aim to serve as a resource to assist the buying decision.
Remember, buyers are seeking proof in the purchasing process, making salespeople who are only focused on closing a sale irrelevant. Spouting off a boatload of information up front doesn’t educate buyers, it overwhelms them.
Survival Tip #3: Embrace Digital Communication
Today’s buyers crave instant gratification. They expect questions, problems and desires to be addressed immediately. Even those who prefer not to be addressed with sales pitches at the door still likely want in-store resources readily available and at their fingertips. Since one salesperson (or an entire team) can’t be available 24/7/365, it’s important to provide multiple communication channels for customers.
In addition to on-site sales support, retailers should provide multiple means of contact through their website, social channels or via mobile. With a range of communication options, customers are empowered to start conversations whenever and however they want.
Aside from sales support, these various communication channels can also be used as a way to reach target consumers. Eighty-four percent of online shoppers refer to at least one social media platform for recommendations before shopping online, giving salespeople a chance to capitalize on digital. (If ya can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?)
By putting control in the hands of the customer, the digital economy has spurred a renewed demand for transparency. But that doesn’t necessarily displace the knowledge and expertise a salesperson can provide. By implementing a few fresh tactics, today’s salespeople can survive the changing world of retail, positioning themselves as a trusted resource for the modern consumer.
Scott McLaren is CMO of Fortegra, a subsidiary of Tiptree Financial, which is a single-source insurance services company that, through a network of preferred partners, offers a range of consumer protection options including credit insurance, warranty products, automotive solutions, and specialty underwriting programs.