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How You Can Stay Human in a World of Digital Selling

By living the day-to-day life of your clients, you can glean insights that are impossible to see from your side of the aisle.

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Anyone who's ever sold a home looks forward to the closing date. Few, however, enjoy handing over thousands of dollars in commission to real estate agents. A recent startup called Houzeo models its company around eliminating that inconvenience. For a $399 fee (and an additional $599 "success fee"), Houzeo offers sellers everything from marketing assistance, to evaluation of offers, to escrow and closing documents -- all contained in a digital platform.

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Related: The 10 Essential Tips for B2B Marketing Success in a Digital Economy

This trend toward digital selling, coupled with recent research from Forrester that notes how B2B buyers are now engaging with content in much the same way as B2C customers, indicates that salespeople must improve their game to stay competitive.

Startups are especially relevant here: Theirs, after all, is a marketplace where the need for name recognition coexists with the need to stay viable; that's why entrepreneurs should strive to understand digital-selling strategies and what they offer in order to distinguish their organizations and position them optimally in the marketplace.

As a new study from EY confirms, startups that can deliver a strong digital sales experience and offer a consistent client experience across every channel -- from press releases to customer service -- stand to gain more attention and develop deeper client relationships than their competitors.

Related: Learn the Human Approach to B2B Selling

The ups and downs of digital selling

Despite the challenges of initiating digital selling or transitioning to it, its long-term benefits justify the potential difficulties. According to EY's study, for example, digital-selling companies are 5.7 times more likely to secure prospect meetings and hit 150 percent of their quotas on average.

Even though some companies follow the center of excellence model, creating that model's hub of intelligence and leadership alone doesn't guarantee actionable output. Startups that follow this path often get stuck with more theoretical content than they can handle, ultimately failing to make the full implementation and refocus their selling culture. Others, especially those that ascribe ownership of results to sales teams, build silos that lock results behind department walls.

Putting product lines above individual team members, then, is what's key to developing the no-ego mentality at the heart of a successful selling strategy. Sellers today might have grown up prospecting for leads and winning business through relationships, but digital selling requires them to develop new skills and engage with clients on a different level.

Developing a "human"-style digital strategy

The same people who buy cars, clothes and plumbing services from home are the ones making B2B purchasing decisions at the office. As Daisy Wallace of Learning People has written, while digital selling is key to high-success sales, companies must also maintain personal communications across digital channels to show audiences the human face behind the message.

For startups jumping into the digital space, here are three ways to do that:

1. Get personal with your customer's day. To implement digital selling while maintaining a personal connection with prospects, startups need to have their salespeople undergo each step of the customer experience to see where the gaps lie and how their organization can close them.

How often do customers hear from you? What types of communications do they receive? Do company emails read like a lesson in industry jargon, or do they speak directly to the needs of the client? A study by Corporate Executive Board on the top 20 percent of quota-attaining salespeople revealed that this kind of nontraditional approach to the selling process is the key to success.

During my time at American Express, we engaged in an intense 30-day experiment to live the life of a client. We experienced every email, every phone call and every presentation that clients sent, made and did. That meant sitting through hold music, trying to understand contracts and learning about new products. At the end of 30 days, a team of executives selected 10 companywide initiatives to implement that were based on our acquired knowledge. One year after those initiatives went into effect, we saw an increase of 46 percent in new client acquisitions, while revenue from existing clients grew 67 percent. In addition, one of our most important clients actually doubled its retention KPIs.

Obviously, a startup won't have the same structural layers as American Express, but the fluidity of startup culture can actually give salespeople the flexibility that bigger companies just can't offer. By living the day-to-day life of your clients, you can glean insights that are impossible to see from the other side.

2. Collaborate with marketing to maximize customer outreach. Too often, sales and marketing teams are forced to manage their responsibilities separately, even in smaller or newer companies. But the reality is that these two teams can form an important union. Through shared data, marketers and salespeople working together can enhance the customer journey and reduce obstacles in the funnel or eliminate customer frustrations.

The benefit to this collaboration, though, isn't just for the customers. According to a recent survey by LeanData, 53 percent of salespeople and 51 percent of marketers expressed dissatisfaction with their companies' other team's performances. Luckily, making a transition to a collaborative model won't be as much of a headache for a startup as it would for a bigger company. Reason: Smaller companies recruiting talent can focus on finding individuals who understand both sides of the aisle, and structure their organizations accordingly.

Other options for a company undergoing unification include implementing an interdepartmental liaison or incorporating technology to facilitate its teams' conversations and ensuring an efficient and effective collaboration.

Caesars Palace provides a good example of using technology for such a union. The hotel and casino can track customers who use their loyalty card and alert the host responsible for dealing with those customers. That alert may include buying behaviors, historical data and geolocation services that enhance the host's ability to engage with the customer.

3. Eliminate department barriers in the customer process. Another thing that tartups embarking on digital sales should focus on is eliminating departmental barriers, to provide a more seamless customer experience. The people on the end of the line don't care whether their issue belongs to marketing, sales or service; they just want it resolved.

Even though the silos in a startup may be more tenuous or ill-defined, breaking them down and sharing departmental knowledge allows sales teams to present a unified front to consumers and handle their needs more quickly.

Though technology today makes constant contact possible, even without physical proximity, using the Jack Welch method of getting everyone together in the same room is still a great way to approach eliminating these silos.

Not only can this proximity influence quick decision-making and foster relationships, but it also ensures that salespeople have the support of other departments when they reach out to customers. The often-small size of startups bodes well for this sort of connectivity and fosters a culture of growth.

Related: Keep Your Customers as Close as Family

In sum, digital selling doesn't have to mean impersonal selling. By following these three steps, new companies can provide a more seamless customer experience through insights that drive internal transformation and maximize outreach.

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