Rekha Thomas shares her views on connecting buyers, engaging customers and future of sales
Sellers and teachers—at first glance it may appear that these two professions are worlds apart. But if you dig a little deeper, a key objective for both is to educate. Teachers seek to impart knowledge to their students, while sellers attempt to educate prospective buyers about their product or service. Regardless of whether you are teaching algebra or selling software, the same talk track is unlikely to resonate with each member of your audience. Students are at different places in their subject matter knowledge, ability to learn, and even in their preferred mode of instruction. Similarly, buyers have unique business challenges, differing levels of understanding about a vendor’s solution, and even varying budget constraints. Successfully educating buyers, and students, requires a commitment to building personal connections and delivering engaging experiences.
Building relationships helps teachers understand who their students are—where they are in their learning journey, what their challenges are, and how they like to learn. And the most successful sellers are able connect with their buyers—gaining insight into their pain points, how they prefer to consume information, and where they are on their path to purchase.
Making connections in virtual learning environments
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on education as we know it. Whether the delivery model is fully remote, hybrid, or in-person, school looks and feels very different than ever before. In addition to reimagining curricula, group projects, and labs, teachers are desperately seeking new ways to build student connections, virtually. Microsoft Flipgrid, a video-based, social learning platform offers teachers and students one way to connect. Group discussion is a key aspect of the traditional learning toolkit, providing opportunities for students to share opinions, participate in discourse, and build connections with others. In a remote environment, teachers are faced with the challenges of online instruction, including the significant barrier of having students click “unmute” to participate in virtual discussions. Flipgrid provides a unique way to ‘see and hear’ everyone, allowing students to determine the right time to add their voice to a discussion, through video. Teachers record or upload videos on topics for discussion to a “grid” which can then be shared with their students. Students are then able to contribute to the discussion by recording a brief introduction and their own thoughts on the topic in a fun way. In addition to connecting groups of students around a topic, Flipgrid is also being used for asynchronous one-to-one interactions between counselors and students. Rather than setting up formal meetings or typing emails back and forth, students may choose to record video questions for their counselor who then responds with a video of their own. Students are able to share their voices, interact in an engaging way, and build stronger connections with peers and teachers, even in a virtual environment. The use cases continue to grow exponentially as communities of Flipgrid users share best practices with each other.
Connecting with buyers through remote selling
Similar to the innovation we’re seeing in education, B2B sales has also been forced to adapt. How do sellers build connections with their buyers, especially in today’s predominantly virtual world? The lines between personal and professional lives have blurred and the communications overload is real. According to The Radicati Group, the number of business and consumer emails sent/received per day will exceed 306 billion globally by the end of 2020. Breaking through the clutter of emails flooding your target buyer’s inbox is challenging. Sending videos is one way to differentiate yourself and your message from other static, text-based communications. Another aspect of the shift to virtual selling is that sales road warriors who have historically relied on people skills have been forced to figure out new ways to build those connections. Companies like BombBomb, Vidyard, and Hippo Video recognize that communications like text or email aren’t that effective at conveying the emotion or tone in a message and may even be subject to misunderstanding. And data shows that they may be right, 68% of surveyed customers ranked short video as their top method to learn about new products and services. And using videos in email can increase open rates by 19% and click through rates by 65%. Video is increasingly becoming a necessary tool for building better business relationships in remote selling.
I recently relistened to a Ted Talk, given by Sal a few years back, about the impetus behind starting Khan Academy. It all began when he, sitting in Boston, created a YouTube video for his cousins in New Orleans as a supplement to tutoring. The main reason was that they were not physically in the same location. Coincidentally, this is the predominant situation today with the emergence of almost fully virtual selling models. And although we will return to more in-person seller-buyer interactions over time; the new normal is likely to remain hybrid.
At many B2B organizations, sellers are the critical touch points between your buyers and your brand. The good ones understand both the pain points and challenges of your prospective buyer and the value your brand provides in solving the buyer’s pain points.
However, great sellers act as facilitators who educate the buyer effectively about how their brand and solution can address the buyer’s problems better than any other option.
Three reasons engagement is critical for student and buyer education
As it turned out, Sal’s cousins preferred his virtual self to the real Sal for three reasons, which are incredibly relevant not only for students, but also for buyers. The common thread—all three involve active, intentional engagement.
1) Put the buyer in the driver’s seat with self-paced content
With an educational video or interactive sales content, the content consumer is in charge. They don’t have to sit there bored if a topic is irrelevant or they have already mastered it. They can easily skip past and choose the sections or topics that are more interesting, or require more depth. And they don’t have to feel uncomfortable asking the seller to explain a topic again. They are able to review the content as many times as they want, without exposing their lack of knowledge overtly or feeling embarrassed. Just like Sal’s cousins could pause or speed up virtual Sal; buyers don’t have to keep looking at their watches during sales calls. And they don’t have to ask sellers to explain concepts again.
2) Drive content consumption through a “choose your own adventure” model
All students interested in learning a topic are not at the same level, even within a class. Some may immediately grasp one concept while others need to view or listen to deeper content before achieving mastery. Their path to learning is personalized and student-driven. The same is true with buyers. Although sales content has become more personalized around persona, buyer journey, industry, etc. there will be varying levels of buyer proficiency about their own organization’s challenges and the available solutions in the market. This is where interactive sales content is extremely powerful. Some buyers may need to dive deeper into some topics to better understand them while others are able to quickly go through sales materials and determine that they are ready to engage directly with a seller. It is a completely buyer-driven experience.
3) Increase engagement by offering multiple content types
What started out as a set of YouTube videos Sal narrated for his cousins has evolved into an audio, whiteboard, and interactive experience on Khan Academy. You listen to the material being presented as you watch the scribblings on the whiteboard. And you have the opportunity to reinforce learning by completing online quizzes on topics, moving ahead only after completing a certain number of problems correctly. Gamification through collecting badges adds to the engagement. This same approach is possible with interactive sales content. You no longer have to endlessly scroll through static sales material. Buyers can engage with microapps or other interactive content types which can also be built from multiple content formats, such as embedded videos, animated gifs, interactive charts, graphs, and even quizzes. Data shows that people remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read—but they remember 80% of what they see and do. The best part is that buyers are able to navigate this immersive content in a non-linear path, guided by their own interests.
The key to buyer engagement is to flip the conversation
All the aspects of interactive content mentioned above such as self-pacing, buyer-driven navigation and multiple content types are able to do for sales enablement what Khan Academy has done for education. Sal has successfully flipped the classroom. The “lectures” happen at home, and in the classroom, the students are in charge and the teacher takes on the role of a facilitator. Students bring their questions and problems to the teachers and classroom interactions are bi-directional. Similarly, interactive content is changing the traditional dynamics of buyer-seller engagements—elevating the seller to the position of a facilitator.
Although the new eras in education and in B2B sales will look very different than they have historically, three fundamental principles will endure:
- Building connections between people will remain critical to the learning and selling processes, even if these relationships have to be fostered virtually.
- Content may have been King but today it’s experience that reigns supreme. Delivering immersive experiences will be critical to keeping students and buyers interested and engaged.
- Teachers and sellers will retain responsibility for educating students and buyers—but they will do it as facilitators, not skilled orators.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rekha Thomas, Head of Content Strategy at Seismic
Rekha Thomas is the Head of Content Strategy at Seismic, the global leader in sales enablement and marketing orchestration. She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and brings close to two decades of experience in marketing leadership roles at DocuSign, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard, and technology startups to her current role leading content strategy at Seismic. She is passionate about helping brands combine the power of storytelling with the objectivity of analytics to better understand and engage with their customers.