How to Convert Traditional Sales Guys into Digital Evangelists


For sales professionals, the traditional sales approach no longer cuts it. According to HBR, 90% of decision makers say they never respond to cold outreach, whether it’s cold calls or cold emails. Harvesting numbers and emails is officially a tried and failed business model. The problem, of course, is that our inboxes are overflowing. The Washington Post reported that Americans received 26.3 billion robocalls last year, up 46% from 2017, and spam monitoring service Hiya found out what you probably know from your own experience: nobody’s picking up.

Of course, what else is happening is no secret either. Consumers are online and finding things out for themselves. According to AdWeek, 75% consult social media before making a buying decision. And those sales professionals who already became digital evangelists are reaping the benefits: they’re 72% more likely to exceed their sales quotas than their non-social peers. If becoming a digital evangelist is the only way for sales professionals to go, the question remains, how do you ready your sales team to make the switch?

Define The Benefit

The benefit of turning your sales team into digital evangelists is larger than just increased sales. A strong, digital sales approach creates a virtuous feedback loop – input from customers during the sales process can drive product development at the company, giving sales team members confidence now and in the future that they’ll be able to close deals better. And, with new product and services roadmaps in place thanks to customer input, manufacturers will have the momentum they need to innovate towards their larger growth strategies. The benefit to sales team members is not just more and smarter sales now, but being a key part of business growth at large.

Identify In-House Capabilities

It may be that you have sales team members who are already digital evangelists and you’ve probably already identified them. Who is social online? Who is continuously finding the limits of your CRM? Who takes a consultative approach to potential customers and tries to help them problem solve? Who, sadly, may be leaving your organization because it’s adapting slower than the rate of change? Those are your digital evangelists and your first step in tipping the scales towards teamwide digital evangelism.

Find Out Where Your Customers Really Are

Depending on your industry, your customers may be congregating in different places online. For some, it might be LinkedIn. And, in particular, they might be reading certain authors, following certain pages, or active in specific groups. For others, Reddit, and in particular a few key subreddits. Your digital evangelist team members will probably know them intimately, and can work with you to create a launching pad for sales activism online. The end goal: each of your sales team members develop online reputations for themselves as go-to sources of industry expertise.

Provide Relevant Training

According to Forbes, 68% of workers reported that training and development are the most important workplace policy. Meanwhile, 84% of executives ranked employee learning as important or very important. In a famous case study put together by the Digital Marketing Institute and IBM, training IBM’s insider sales team on a customized digital selling program resulted in 80% self-reporting satisfaction and 84% higher performance. IBM went global with the program back in 2016. Once you understand where and how to develop relationships online, the next step is to make it the foundation of your sales training.

Deliver the Resources

Social media outreach combined with robust CRMs should give sales teams clarity on where their potential customers are, how to approach them, and allow them to close more deals. Both should facilitate deal flow, giving them more touchpoints with potential customers and allowing them to deliver more value after the fact. Ask yourself, is your CRM doing all that? And what is adoption like among your sales team? Are they all on board or are there a few outliers who’ve insisted on their own processes? If so, it may be because either your CRM is lacking or training is insufficient. If you want to convert your traditional sales team into digital evangelists, they will need the right tools to support the transition.

Employ Account-Based Sales Development That Are Analytics Based

Making sure to identify the right prospects–low funnel and high potential to convert–is an indispensable part of sales. Now it’s easier than ever to research and pinpoint the best potential accounts to approach and nurture. The key is segmentation, a process that involves organizing prospects into different tiers, for example industries or stages of the sales funnel, so that your team can land on the best approach.

For example, if you’re organizing by stage, you can separate leads into how bottom funnel they are, differentiating between those that would require less input, but at a higher quality, versus those that are newer to your company and would need more general exposure before a hands on approach is needed. Your sales methodology can involve any or all of the steps below:

  • Identifying key potential accounts
  • Developing and disseminating thoughtful content marketing that addresses their pain points
  • Following leads on social media and understanding what they find engaging, for example, who they follow and what articles they write or share
  • Creating engaging messaging that’s unique to them and doesn’t feel like it’s been copied and pasted
  • Using multiple touch points to create a sense of industry leadership, for example by also running retargeting ads to prospects
  • Tracking all interactions with the use of a CRM and challenging yourself to increase open, click, and response rates

Involve Sales Professionals in Innovation Strategy

In the manufacturing industry, innovation strategies are usually sales oriented. Obvious goals may be to improve sales or create more lifetime customer value. One typical aim of a digital transformation strategy is to build competitive advantages that make it worthwhile for customers to come to you and stay longer.

This is what we did at Kloeckner with our two main digital products, Kloeckner Direct & Part Manager. Both were intensive projects that were built around solving our customers’ pain points –digital supply chain transparency and part reordering automation–that gave us a technical competitive advantage over our competitors. Both projects helped our sales team bring on new customers and keep them longer.

While this strategy originated with the executive team at Kloeckner, our sales team members were indispensable to implementing a successful strategy. We recognized early on that our sales team are our product experts and, when it comes to innovation, it would be our sales team members who would intimately understand our customer and product offering, giving us invaluable insight on how to improve it to solve customer pain points.

Involve your sales team into cross-functional innovation teams. Some larger companies put together dedicated innovation teams, but for manufacturers, scrappier cross-functional teams recruited from existing employees may make more sense. Typically cross-functional teams need at least three roles represented: a product manager, a lead engineer or developer, and a sales team member, but the rest is up to you and depends on your organization, industry, and innovation needs.

Are Your Sales Team Digital Evangelists Yet?

To continue sales leadership, organizations should consider not only making their sales team the foundation of their innovation strategy, they should also take the necessary steps to convert their sales team into digital evangelists. Many organizations may find that much of the hard work has already been done for them: by sheer luck or good recruiting, digital evangelists may have made it onto the team. The next step is to learn from them and turn their expertise into a prototype for the rest of the department.

From there, it comes down to helping the department understand the benefit, getting a firm grasp of the customers, providing the training, and ultimately setting up a foundation for success that includes all the resources necessary for proper analytics-based, account-based sales. Hopefully, at the end of this process, you’ve created a virtuous feedback loop, where your innovation strategy supports your sales team, and your sales team, your innovation strategy.


Melika Nouri
Melika Nouri is the Marketing & Communications Manager at Kloeckner Metals. Melika holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Marketing from Kennesaw State University. She previously worked in the technology industry at Hewlett Packard Enterprise as part of their global MarCom team but is very eager to take on steel!
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