Leveraging online data for effective customer engagement

By Andy Sadler | 18 August 2015

Sales people in the financial services sector may be shocked to find that the buyers they are diligently chasing are already almost 60% through their buying process before they even engage with a sales rep. According to research carried out by Google and CEB, this big chunk of the sales process has disappeared, replaced by a change in buyer behaviour. Buyers are researching online and identifying the solutions and vendors they want to work with and they are reading and listening to insight freely available from the plethora of data on the Internet.

Sellers may feel that they are performing well and reaching their targets the majority of the time, so they may also feel that there is no need to change the way sellers are working.  But if buyers are changing their habits, it stands to reason that, no matter how successful they are right now, this may be transitory and as buyers continue to evolve, sellers can be sure that the competition will be keen to keep pace with them. There is now more information parity between the buyer and the sales person, which means that sellers need to contribute additional effort and relevant insight and build partnerships with buyers.

The best sales people will have picked up on this evolution already. They will know that they have to keep up, and if their approach to buyers is to be as effective as possible, they will want to use tools that furnish them with the right information when they need it. They will also recognise that this will be more powerful than relying on their charm or the strength of their personality. Sales is a science, not an art, and the aim should always be to  resolve the challenges that a client faces in their business and not just try to secure a new connection on Twitter or LinkedIn.  

1. Adjust to meet new buying expectations

Buyers are no longer interested in being ‘sold to’. What they are looking for is a mutually beneficial partnership with a provider that they can trust, like and who actually works to meet their needs. To be seen as credible from the start, prepared sellers will have used online data to research the company and the market that it operates in before even initiating contact. First impressions still count.

2. Do your research

Sellers need to know about recent awards their customer have won or a prospect’s expansion plans. It’s crucial to be informed in real-time with relevant, contextual insight. Insurance company, Towergate, for example, wanted to improve the way its client executives interacted with customers and prospects in order to meet strategic goals. Client facing teams too often had little reason to communicate aside from conversations close to renewal. So the company started to use web-based market intelligence and sales surveillance software which gave their executives information drawn from social media, customer profiles, corporate information, media articles and market data, to deliver invaluable insights which enabled relevant and timely engagement. They could watch for vital changes across the customer base to ensure they could put real developments in the client - or the clients industry - at the heart of their conversations.

If a buyer can see that their interests are being put first, they are likely to engage more easily in conversation with a seller. In turn, the seller’s credibility with the buyer will undoubtedly increase and they are more likely to view the seller as a trusted partner instead of a vendor.  

3. Mitigating risk  

Sales people who want to decrease the level of risk for their buyer, will demonstrate an understanding of the commitment they are making and demonstrate an ability to meet their requirements, so they can be confident they are making the right decision. This reduces risk for the buyer. As a buyer’s trust and confidence grows, so the seller’s credibility increases, enhancing the relationship and ultimately leading to more investment.

4. Delivering more value

What buyers want is an engagement with a seller further into the buying process, outside a transactional conversation. They want to know that the seller can demonstrate expertise, a solid understanding of their business and an ability to help the client meet his or her challenges. Sellers should always assume the buyer is informed, so the seller has to come to the party with expertise and value up his or her sleeve drawn from the mass of data available online.

5. Be proud

Sellers should be proud of their ability to sell a product or a service to a client that makes a quantifiable difference to them and establishes a relationship, beyond buyer and seller. By using the right tools that deliver relevant customer insights about a customer, and by being equipped a seller will be accountable, responsible and credible, and transform not only their own reputation but that of the entire financial services industry.

No matter what part of the financial services industry a seller works in, it is important to recognise that the rules are now different. Instead of preparing a persuasive argument to take to a customer, a seller can curate online intelligence and data. This will make them better equipped, relevant and more successful and most importantly help the buyer to meet their objectives.

By Andy Sadler, SVP of Commercial Operations, Artesian Solutions

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