Providing a virtual sales support service
As the senior marketing consultant at Abacus Marketing, it is my job to review and respond to all enquiries from prospective clients, regardless of scale and scope. This is no small task, as we tend to receive at least one or two requests for proposal every day, due primarily to our SEO strategy which we have consistently invested in over the last eight years – in fact, we are at least three times more visible than any other marketing agency in London on the first pages of Google and Bing.
One of the things I have noticed, with a growing emphasis over the last 12 months or so, is the number of clients who are looking for a marketing agency that can provide either an integrated sales and marketing strategy or a standalone virtual sales support service. To the best of my knowledge, there is no other marketing agency in the UK that delivers this combined solution. Until now.
It is our belief that if we wish to be able to say that Abacus provides a fully integrated marketing service, that we need to offer a few additional services to our clients – and one of these is sales support. We will also make it more visible on our new website when it is launched later this year that we also now offer a comprehensive service that includes market research, app development and PR (online and offline) alongside all of our other skillsets.
Some of this change is due to a misunderstanding about what marketing means. To some people, marketing infers sales. In fact, for some of our Middle Eastern clients in particular, marketing is actually used to mean sales. But it is not just that. It is also because start-up enterprises and SMEs (to whom these blogs are primarily aimed) see the benefit in outsourcing both sales and marketing to external experts, rather than having to deal with the inconvenience, cost and risk of setting things up internally.
So, without further ado, what do you need to have in place to be able to deliver a bolt-on virtual sales support solution, either as an integrated part of an overall marketing package or as a standalone offering? The purpose of this article is to explain the approach we are taking at Abacus to deliver this service offering to the highest possible level, although the deliverables will of course always be moulded to the bespoke needs of individual clients.
CRM systems and processes
The first thing you need to do is to get your CRM systems and processes in place. This is relatively simple and cheap to achieve these days. Sales pipeline management software is abundant, and there are many different technical solutions for you to consider, depending on factors such as; the industry sector you work in, whether you have a B2B or B2C customer base, the types of services you offer, the scope of your organisation, the scale of your corporate ambitions, what other systems you already have in place, and so on. We would obviously be more than happy to recommend the best solution for your business – however, you can see many of the options via the following link: https://www.capterra.com/lead-management-software/. Please remember that high cost does not necessarily mean high quality or fit for purpose. There are some very good value for money options available on the market today. Most come with a free trial too.
The value of brand, data and sales pipeline
There are three factors to bear in mind which are likely to have a huge influence on the value of your business – so if you are looking for an exit strategy in a few years, it is important to bear these factors in mind: brand, data and sales pipeline. If you can demonstrate to a potential buyer that your sales pipeline runs fluently without significant human input, you are on to a winner. And if you have a strong brand strategy and a visually attractive brand identity, you will see the goodwill value of your business soar (we saw one of our clients see the value of their business rocket by millions after we had implemented a new brand design for their website). And, finally, if you have high quality data, your business will be a financially viable one for a competitor or market entrant to purchase.
Customer segments and profiles
The next thing to do is to define your customer segments and profiles. How you do this depends upon your business, but there are essentially a range of demographic and psychographic considerations for you to bear in mind. You then need to think about the pain points they encounter relevant to what you do, and the solutions your products and services provide to overcome these pain points. Too many organisations focus on what they sell, rather than putting themselves in the shoe of a potential customer. Of course, that being said, one must not underestimate the need to define the primary features and benefits of your products and services. It is essential to share this information with clients. Not every customer needs to know what their pain point is. Many of them already know it – that is why they are talking to companies like yours to overcome them.
Sales support collateral
The reason for all of this is customer analysis is to make sure that your sales support collateral and marketing communication materials are fit for purpose before you start your sales activities. There seems little point investing in a sales team if they don’t have high quality assets in place to enable them to convert as many prospects as possible. That means some or all of the following: website, presentation, videos, brochure, leaflets, stationery, business cards, uniforms, exhibition stands, etc. Whatever your business needs to have in place to engage with prospective customers. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a favourable first impression. That doesn’t mean you cannot turn things around down the line, but why make your job harder than it needs to be…? Messages that resonate with potential customers should also be used for lead generation campaign that your marketing strategy deploys as a pre-sales tactical activity.
Call to action
And it’s important not to forget about a “call to action” either – some sort of offer, especially one that implies a sense of urgency – is an obvious way to convert a waverer into a customer. Of course, traditional offers don’t work for all customers. It doesn’t all have to be about price anyway. You can offer people premium service, additional products or some sort of sign-on bonus. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it is effective for your organisation.
Testing different hypotheses
This is a good time to remember the benefits of testing different hypotheses. There is no credible marketing consultant who can say that the strategy they are proposing is the best it can possibly be, especially when they are working with a client for the first time, even more so when the client has not run an integrated sales and marketing strategy previously. At best, one can say that one’s proposed strategic approach is likely to be 75%+ perfect. Within 1-12 months of deployment, depending on the complexity of the situation, one would expect this to be closer to 90%. And from then on, it is a process of continual tweaking for marginal gains as one moves steadily through the 90s towards (but never achieving) a utopian outcome score of 100%.
Sales targets and marketing budgets
You’ve just about got everything in place now – the final thing to work out is what your sales ambitions are going to be, as this will help set the target for the sales and marketing assets you need to have in place to deliver them, and the market budget you will need to ‘risk’ to achieve them. I hesitate to use the word risk here, as any form of investment is by definition a risk. However, if your plans are in place, then this risk will be minimised. That is why we always recommend that clients complete our research-led approach to a strategic marketing planning process, which provides a solid framework that always enables us to evolve robust conclusions and credible recommendations.
Virtual sales support service
Finally, we are now able to talk more about our virtual sales support service – this potentially needs to include one or more of the following three key areas – presales, telesales and field sales.
For presales, this is all about identifying suspects through various medium on the internet, such as social media channels. LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator solution is a great way to achieve this goal for organisations with a B2B bias. Or you might need to buy data if your customers come from the B2C space. The next stage in the process is to reach out to them – by email or InMail, or whatever digital medium is most appropriate – via your presales team.
Telesales – or telemarketing – means outbound and inbound customer representation by a team of people who represent your company in the best possible light. They need to know enough about your organisation to convey a credible impression to suspects and prospects who they engage with on your behalf.
- Field sales
The final part of the equation is field sales, which means that you commission a third party to physically visit prospective customers on your behalf to introduce your organisation to them, and to pick up any buying signals. They need to be the right fit for your organisation, in whatever way you define that need through the values and views stated within your strategic brand proposition.
There is no question at all that it can be an unattractive proposition to invest in a sales force, and there is an obvious attraction to choosing a third party to provide a virtual sales support function, even if this is only for the short- to medium- term, so that you can review how things are evolving and make an informed management decision about whether to bring some or all of the services in-house at some point in the future.
In my experience, an external sales team can be hugely successful, especially if the right framework is in place, the right people are onboard, and the right commission structure is in place. But it can go wrong if the training isn’t in place, or if the systems are weak, the sales support materials don’t stack up, or the lead generation activities are not firing on all cylinders
In conclusion, to provide an agency-managed virtual sales support solution is not difficult, but to do it well requires a strong infrastructure to be in place first of all. As long as you complete the planning process properly, ask the right questions and invest the right amount of money, and don’t rush to get things live before everything is in place, then I am convinced this could be the right approach for many our start-ups and SMEs.
Virtual sales support team in London
If you’re interested in finding out more about how an integrated marketing agency like Abacus Marketing can deliver a high quality virtual support team in London, please contact Stephen Taylor-Brown, our senior marketing consultant on 020 3858 7836 or email him at [email protected]. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your goals and ambitions in more detail – by phone, email, conference call or in person. We offer a free two-hour marketing consultation to prospective clients at a venue of their choice, to talk about their challenges, and to give preliminary advice on how to overcome them. You can find out more information about us at www.abacusmarketing.co.uk.