Digital marketing has revolutionized the way consumers shop. The continued separation of marketing and sales is diminishing the digital value-add to the sales process, especially when it comes to a considered purchase.

Considered purchases, large dollar items such as insurance policies, vehicles, homes, mortgages or appliances, are complex. There is a lot of buzz right now about one-to-one-communications. When it comes to selling considered products or services, it really is a two-to-one communications stream. Both the brand marketing team and the sales force, which can be a mortgage rep, franchise, agent or dealer, are talking directly to the consumer. I believe the brand marketers’ priority should be fostering a better connection between the sales force, a dealer or distributor, and the consumer. It is an approach that streamlines the sales path to purchase.

The lost opportunity from fractured sales channels is significant and unnecessary. Companies that optimize marketing and sales grow their revenue 32 percent faster than those that do not align the functions.

More often than not, true-stories like this occur. One Fortune 500 brand collected intent commitments from 34,000 people indicating they were in the market to buy a new car within the next 90 days. The brand did not pass on the leads to their dealers.

Digital solutions are available that can automate the pre-sale process. Brands can nurture the sales relationship before the consumer even meets the sales person. Merging the sales process with the buyer’s journey creates a customer-centric model that aligns marketing and sales (see illustration). When this happens, marketing and sales are rewarded with shorter sales cycles, lower market-entry costs, and a decrease in the cost of sales.

Synchrony’s Fourth Annual Major Purchase Consumer Study, confirms that while 80% of major purchase shoppers start with online research, the majority of people close the deal at the store. Salespeople are a major differentiator.

However, sales has radically changed. Armed with internet research, consumers hold the position of power instead of sales. This requires that marketing integrate sales enablement in a way that continues to empower the consumer.

How can a brand’s content management efforts include a complete end-to-end sales enablement strategy?

  • Map the Buyer Journey

First, you need to start with a strategy and plan that includes a good understanding of the customer’s entire purchase journey (awareness, trigger event, consideration/evaluation, and purchase) across all departments and organizations. This will help you understand how your brand fits into the life of your customer. You will understand the context in which customers interact with your brand and clearly identify the sales touch points across the channels, devices and departments. You will learn what is relevant to customers and identify the right time to send the information. This results in a stronger, longer-lasting and more profitable relationship. This is an important point. The goal is to build a relationship not just make a sale.

  • Establish trust through a great user experience

Establishing trust during the trigger phase is critical to getting to the close. It is an important part of the lead nurturing process. Most websites do a good job with incorporating a consistent brand look (logo, general color scheme and fonts). Far more challenging is communicating the right feel or online experience. Millions of advertising dollars are spent creating awareness and driving consumers to a brand website. Then in the quest to convert a prospect, the experience is akin to meeting a pushy salesperson. Over and over again, I see these common mistakes on websites;

— prematurely asking visitors for personal data,

— immediately requiring a first-time visitor to login, or

— asking for too much personal data.

If someone walked in to your physical store, would you immediately hand the person a form and ask for his or her email? No, you would not. Then why do it online? Our research shows a direct correlation between forcing someone to log in and an increased abandonment rate.

The right content and a well-placed call to action (CTA) will prompt a consumer to volunteer their personal information and move you to the next phase of the purchase, evaluation. If consumers think you are too pushy offline and online, the typical response is to walk away. You want a qualified lead for sales, not just any lead.

  • Educate the consumer — don’t just sell them

What entices a customer to stay on a website is great content. Google’s research shows that 51 percent of smartphone users purchased from a company other than the one they originally intended to because the competition’s website information was more useful. To trigger engagement, it is important to share the details of a product or service. And it is important to share the related information someone may need to make an informed decision such as mortgage calculators, how to measure drapes or financing details.

When it comes to major purchases, financing is an important part of the consideration. Eighty-nine percent of cardholders surveyed by Syncrony said promotional financing makes larger purchases more affordable. Yet, half the shoppers in the study said they were not made aware of any promotional financing offers. It is critical that marketers are transparent and prominently display any offers online. The finance options are an important part of negotiating and closing the sale. Financing directly influences the buyer’s evaluation of your product. Financial transparency also helps foster trust.

  • Use self-service to connect the sales force

Industry research consistently tells us that personalization delivers a greater ROI (five to eight times) and lifts sales 10 to 20 percent. Aberdeen’s study on self-service reveals a self-service offering retains 40 percent more of their customers. Recently, I purchased a Tesla and they did a great job of crafting a personal online experience from the onset. When we got home from our test drive, we had already received an email with a link to, a self-service account that introduced us to our sales advisor, let us learn more about the car and evaluate the various vehicle options. We could also save our vehicle configurations.

Customers prefer to use a company’s website to get answers to their questions. It is not because consumers hate sales people. We loved the Tesla self-service account because it was a time-saver and neutralized the sales pressure. The content prompted us to ask our sales person more better questions.

A self-service account is a great way to introduce the sales agent. During the evaluation phase of the buyer journey, the goal is to engage the customer, create a relationship and close the sale. It is not just about automating the sales process; it is about creating a personal buying experience. The goal is to position your sales force as advisors, people who will help the consumer navigate the purchase.

To be sure, more and more of the sales responsibilities will be automated. However, in the considered purchase arena there will always be a role for the sales person, which is already morphing to more of an advisor role. The more technology comes in to play, the more important the sales person will be as a differentiator.

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