At the risk of sounding like some sort of jaded baby boomer, the sales game isn’t what it used to be. As with everything else in this world, sales is going digital.
But while the rise of e-commerce and digital marketing have obviously been major disruptors to the traditional ways of selling, one of the most overlooked changes in sales relates to communication. In recent years – over the last 5 in particular – there has been a noticeable shift away from calling prospects, with salespeople now transitioning to more digital methods of communication. This comes predominantly in the form of a message in your social inbox, or email.
As leaders in the tech sphere who have a dependence on sales success, we spoke to Tunc Bolluk, Regional Director (APAC) of Return Path, Angus McDonald, Sales Manager (Sydney) of Hubspot and Jason Nelson, Sales Manager of Qualtrics about this sales paradigm shift, and what it might mean for those young salespeople who are looking to get a foothold in the industry.
The trend toward inbox communication
Bolluk sees the rise of email as a sales communication tool as an obvious consequence of our constant connectedness. “Over the past 5 years it has become the ‘norm’ to have our smart phones with us 24/7, meaning that we have constant access to email, social media, and messaging services, as well as the traditional phone call”, he explains. “It makes sense to use these multiple channels to reach out to sales prospects, as each touch point helps to develop the relationship.”
McDonald notes that there may be an element of prospects getting wise to the cold call game that has left a void for email to fill. “More and more our prospects are finding information online and screening our calls”, he notes, “whereas a written message provides a channel that is less intrusive and allows our prospects to respond in their own time.”
What email offers that calling can’t
But the rise of written communication in sales can’t simply be explained by our modern day connectedness or the vetting of calls – the reasons run far deeper than that.
A theme that Bolluk, McDonald and Nelson all brought up was convenience. “Sending an email is not as disruptive as a phone call, and can be reviewed by your prospect at a time that works for them”, says Bolluk. McDonald agrees – “a cold call is an interruptive approach, and to be honest it has a much higher chance of having a negative impact on how our prospects view us as salespeople.”
Nelson points to the fact that “the tailored, pointed and professional messages of email make an impact, and quickly validate why you stand out or are worth listening to.” Email allows for careful crafting of your message while calling requires a salesperson to ad lib effectively – a notoriously difficult skill to master.
Finally, the resultant efficiency and effect on sales team morale that a switch to email facilitates can’t be underestimated says McDonald – “Emails can be sent out at a much higher volume, without the negative emotional/motivational impact on the rep that can come with being rejected verbally time and time again.”
The importance of developing your written communication skills
So where does this trend toward written rather than verbal communication leave someone who is looking to get into a tech sales position? All three leaders see written communication not as a separate skill, but instead as being inextricably linked with a potential salesperson’s greater ability to communicate.
“For me, this is tested simply by the way they articulate themselves in a face-to-face conversation. If someone can verbally communicate in a clear and concise manner you can be guaranteed that this will translate into sharply written messages”, surmises McDonald. Nelson agrees.
While Bolluk and Return Path put similar weight on how someone carries themselves, they also search for hard evidence from a new hire. “We include an audition for final stage candidates where we assess how they communicate via cold calls, leaving messages and email communications in a role-play situation”, he advises.
In order to get in the door at Hubspot, Qualtrics or Return Path, you need to be able to present yourself as a complete communication package. Bolluk advises a simple method to develop your skills – “Practice, practice, practice”. Nelson is slightly more expansive – “Practice, pay attention to those who do it well, then practice some more.”
But discount verbal skills at your peril
This trend towards email is by no means the death knell for verbal communication, warn all three of our leaders. While email can serve to open the door of opportunity, verbal communication is still the key to closing any substantial sale.
Nelson is a big advocate for retaining and developing verbal skills. “Cold calls, if landed appropriately, can showcase so much more than written communications. Intonation allows you to position yourself appropriately based on how the prospect is acting. This enables you to use a more consultative pitch and makes the search for mutual alignment far easier.
“There is no substitute for picking up the phone. It’s gradually becoming a lost art but offers so much gratification and value, and it trains you up for life. It’s easy to procrastinate and justify not picking up the phone, but being reliant on emails can make you lose your personal touch and digress in development. Calls keep you sharp, develop your skills and get you uncomfortable, which is as good a sign as any that you are progressing.”
Presenting yourself as a complete package
So where does this all leave a tech sales hopeful? The upshot is that while written communication is becoming more and more of a tool for the modern day salesperson, and is a skill that all salespeople should be working hard to develop, you’ll still need to offer potential employers a complete communication package in order to first get hired, and then to succeed in the profession.
Hubspot, Qualtrics and Return Path all know that while the methods and strategies of getting prospects through the sales funnel may morph and evolve over time, the fundamentals will always stay the same.
The effective exchange of information is one of those fundamentals. So whether written or verbal, your success as a salesperson depends on your ability to focus, show passion, motivate others and communicate.
If you’re looking to make your next move in Sales, don’t forget to check out all the tech companies hiring now.