Cross-Domain Semantics and the End of ‘Solution Sales’

Do your customers think of you as one of them? Do they think you truly understand their business challenges, their opportunities and what keeps them up at night?

These are questions you should seriously consider, because in the extraordinarily demanding B2B sales climate of our post-recession world, it’s the vendor who can answer “yes” who will win the business.

For companies to get to that magical place of being seen by their customer as a true insider in their industry, they need to know so much more than how to conduct “solution sales” — they need to fundamentally rethink the tools, training and support they provide to their sales reps.

For today’s sales reps to truly walk in the shoes of their top customers, it means becoming knowledgeable on all the things related to that customer’s business and end-markets. Sales pros need to understand what exactly is keeping their customers up at night. They need to think about what is going to move their customer’s business forward, and treat their contacts as trusted partners during key decision-making times.

There are a few excellent resources available to help, but wading through the huge clouds of digital exhaust in today’s overwhelming information environment can be challenging.

So how can companies take the vast amounts of data from so many different sources and organize it into usable information that can ultimately benefit their sales teams?

Empowering Sales and Marketing

Fortunately, there are now emerging techniques and cutting-edge technologies available that can take teams beyond the basic Google searches that costs so many professionals so much time.

With new technology for culling usable customer intelligence from the Web and social media, sales reps can now discover not only news articles, but facts, patterns, topics, leading-edge issues, timelines, structures, relationships and constituent parts related to companies, their industry, supply chains and the marketplace around them.

The most powerful of these techniques is semantic analytics technology, which extracts the meaning behind online text and then makes dynamic connections and relationships among words, concepts, companies and other entities.

Solutions that can do this effectively — and few do — can provide a strong yet previously unknown tool to empower sales and marketing teams, helping them project key events, predict competitor behavior and even understand the specific business lines into which their customers sell.

These cross-domain semantics technologies can help sales and marketing teams form a clearer picture of a company in a very concise way — from what’s happening on a daily basis and details about a company’s major moving parts, to relevant industry news articles that may otherwise be difficult to find.

For example, when speaking to the technology or business trade press, a technology company may carefully protect its forecasts. Its facilities manager, however, may divulge those same forecasts to an architectural magazine when describing the design for a new factory. When sales reps or marketing strategists have tools that connect these kinds of dots, they can piece together a powerfully insightful picture of what’s going on within a company.

B2B on the Brink

Another challenge in today’s B2B market is that as sales pros move between changing territories or enter new companies, they are often selling into unfamiliar, vertical markets. For instance, an experienced technology sector sales rep may struggle when trying to sell for the first time into the oil or gas sector; a financial products company might be faced with challenges when trying to expand their footprint in the manufacturing or transportation industry.

The challenge is that these sales people are not trained as experts in these particular industries and they need some way to quickly gain the knowledge they need to get customer traction.

Companies that use semantic technology today can make money, save money and solve business problems in ways they simply could not before. The resources available provide a picture to sales teams that allows them to discern opportunities, risks and shifts in the markets that are going to eventually affect their customers’ businesses.

With the introduction of semantic analytics technologies, the B2B sales world is at the edge of being able to get more value from colossal amounts of information than ever before. The availability of Big Data at their fingertips can now allow sales reps to candidly talk to their customers about the issues that are uppermost on their minds.

It’s these technologies that enable sales reps to be seen as not just experts in their customers’ industry and end-markets, but to make that difficult shift from “vendor” to “trusted advisor” — and they are the ones who ultimately win.

Penny Herscher is president and CEO of FirstRain.

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