Are you building a new product and growing a sales team at your startup business? If you’re using the traditional sales model, you may be losing a ton of customers. Yup, you’re not growing nearly as fast as possible.
It’s because your sales team isn’t making the impact it could be making. Over the years, its role has become confined to a narrow band in the customer lifecycle. And it’s not just the sales team. Marketers, customer support, and project management have been separated to handle different points of the customer experience. This may help people build deeper skill sets, but it sacrifices one key element that’s critical to growing your business.
It prevents you from educating your customers. Education is the key to getting sale after sale. It helps build trust and relationships with your target market so that customers feel more comfortable buying from you. You educate them about the market and the available options; and you genuinely try to solve their problems, even if it means they might buy a different product.
Right now, your sales reps can’t provide this value.
Right now, fences separate your team and prevent them from providing more value to your customers.
To solve this problem, you need ambassadors instead of sales reps.
Ambassadors don’t just fill orders — they’re responsible for the entire customer lifecycle. They handle marketing, sales, and support. They are the face of your company.
That may sound great, but how do you actually implement something like that?
Well, I sat down with Josh Little, who has overcome this challenge as a founder of two companies: Maestro eLearning and Bloomfire. We dived into these concepts, and I’ve distilled them into this report. Josh gets full credit for all insights and awesomeness. Any and all errors are mine.
Markets Have Shifted (and So Should You)
With the rise of the glorious interwebs, customer behavior has changed radically. Historically, gathering information about anything required an enormous amount of time and resources. Talking to sales reps was the ideal way to learn about product features and benefits, learn about the market, and see how everything worked.
As we all know, that’s no longer the case. With Google, Twitter, Facebook, and every other platform we use to connect, we have an unlimited access to just about any topic.
This means we’re more informed as consumers than we’ve ever been.
And this shift has hit the sales team hard.
These days, consumers usually know more about the products they’re buying than the sales person they’re talking to. We’ve become self-serve buyers. By the time we talk to a sales person, we’ve usually already made a decision.
So the role of the sales rep has become super constrained. Customers show up, pick the product they want, and away they go. Often, the sales rep does nothing more than take orders.
Traditionally, sales reps played a very different role. They educated consumers and helped them find the right product. The best sales reps were great educators. And education is still the best way to sell. But sales reps have been pigeon-holed into a role that only closes sales.
Educate first, close second.
It’s time to expand the role of the sales reps once again so that they can truly educate their market.
But before we make that leap, I need to warn you.
In established companies and industries, it might be very difficult to expand the role of sales reps. Large companies with a long track record of success don’t have much incentive to change. After all, they’re already successful. Even if changing will help get them to the next level, they’ve become risk averse since they have so much to lose. A large shift like this one might not be in the cards.
If you’re in a small company or a startup, go forth! Nothing’s stopping you from making a huge impact, my friend.
How to Redefine Sales to Provide More Value to the Customer
At every company, there’s a customer lifecycle. The lifecycle starts when a customer becomes aware of your business for the first time, and it extends to the point where the customer decides to leave. Every purchase, phone call, action, and site visit is a point along this lifecycle. Now, depending on who you talk to, there are all sorts of different names for different stages along the way. They all follow a format similar to this:
- First-time customers
- Regular customers
- Passionate customers
Most sales reps interact with customers only between the interested and first-time purchase stages.
But ambassadors take the lead for the ENTIRE lifecycle. Do they build marketing campaigns? Yup. What about closing deals? Absolutely. And do they handle support requests to keep customers coming back? Of course.
From beginning to end, ambassadors help the customer.
Now your team can get back to the best method of selling: education.
Why not just have marketers educate, sales close, and support provide… support?
When we break the functions into different silos, we impair our ability to build a real relationship with customers. They get introduced to John on a webinar, talk to Susan to make a purchase, and get support help from Amy when problems arise.
It also makes education (the key to selling effectively) weaker. When John, the marketer, jumps on a webinar and tries to educate his audience, he doesn’t know what’s working and what’s not. All the questions and objections are handled by the sales rep, Susan. And neither of them gets to see what happens when the customer starts using the product and grows into a loyal fan (or decides to leave). That gets thrown to Amy.
Becoming a great educator depends on feedback. You need to know when your methods click with your audience, when they don’t, and whether or not you’re setting expectations correctly. You also need to deeply understand your customers, so you can give them the right material at the right time.
Without a complete picture of that customer lifecycle, your education will never be as good as it could be. And your sales will suffer because of it.
Ambassadors don’t have this problem. They may not know as many closing techniques or marketing strategies, but their ability to understand the customer more than makes up for that.
Bringing Ambassadors to Your Own Company
Great. Fantastic. Ambassadors sound awesome. So how do you go about implementing all this?
There are two main approaches, depending on the size of your company.
1. Brand New Startups
It’s just you and your co-founder cranking away in the basement. Sure, it feels like you have to move mountains with a toy shovel for every inch of progress. But you’re in luck because building out the ambassador role is as easy as it gets in this stage.
As soon as you start itching to build out marketing, sales, or support teams, stop. There’s no need to try to decide which function is more important right now; you’re going to hire all three at once with one person: your ambassador.
Once you find someone who can perform all 3 functions, you’ll hand the whole thing over. That person will be completely responsible for acquiring customers and keeping them happy.
Have your ambassador attend conferences, write blog posts, run your email marketing, close deals, and respond to support requests. If it involves the customer, that person is in charge of it.
This is pretty similar to how many startups grow initially, especially in tech. There’s the technical co-founder that grows the engineering team and the business co-founder that handles marketing, sales, and support. But instead of growing separate teams on the business side, you’ll grow the ambassador team. Find someone who can take the lead, and then add more hands as your customer base grows.
What about scale? How can we keep growing the ambassador team beyond the scope of a single manager? Break up the team in whatever way makes the most sense for your business model. Customer type might work for you. So if you’re targeting startups, agencies, and freelancers, build an ambassador team for each. Geography or company size are other great options.
But don’t break up the team by skill. That’ll put you right back into the conventional marketing-sales-support model.
2. Small Teams
You’ve got traction and you’ve already started building out your marketing, sales, and support teams. How do you backtrack and build out an ambassador team?
First, map the customer lifecycle for your business. Here’s an example:
- Find blog post
- Sign up for newsletter
- Attend webinar
- Request a personal consultation
- Project proposal from sales
- Delivery of project or product setup
Then figure out who owns each step. In this case:
- Find blog post – Marketing
- Sign up for newsletter – Marketing
- Attend webinar – Marketing
- Request a personal consultation – Sales
- Project proposal from sales – Sales
- Delivery of project or product setup – Project management
- Support – Customer support
Now it’s your goal to slowly expand the role of sales. The key is to expand slowly. Moving too fast will overwhelm your team and demoralize everyone. Before you know it, you’ll reverse the changes because everyone’s so frustrated with the whole process.
Merging marketing and sales is a great first step. Start having marketing be responsible for some of the leads all the way through to the close. And have your sales team do webinars and blog posts. Over time, you’ll be able to merge both teams together. Once that’s complete, merge other roles one at a time. Feel free to break it up into even smaller steps as needed.
The key to sales and the growth of your company is education. It enables you to build relationships and truly understand the needs of your customers.
And the only way to educate effectively is to take responsibility for the entire customer lifecycle. You’ll need to merge the roles of marketing, sales, and support into an ambassador role.
If you’re just getting started and are looking to make your first hire, definitely find someone who can be your ambassador. And if you’ve already got a team split into different functions, start with sales and slowly expand that role until you have a full team of ambassadors.
Before long, you’ll be closing more deals and delivering heroic amounts of customer satisfaction.
Would you like to hear the interview? You can listen to the whole thing here. Enjoy! :)
If you’ve experimented with redefining the role of your sales team, definitely let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear how it has worked for you.
About the Author: Lars Lofgren is the KISSmetrics Marketing Analyst and has his Google Analytics Individual Qualification (he’s certified). Learn how to grow your business at his marketing blog or follow him on Twitter @larslofgren.