The rise of the Internet, coupled with increasingly sophisticated buyers and new technologies like predictive analytics, have changed the world of sales and marketing forever. Simply stated, new technology that enables buyers to move through the evaluation and purchasing process without ever engaging with a live salesperson has fundamentally altered the roles of marketers and salespeople.

Marketing professionals must become dramatically closer to their prospects and customers. Salespeople must presume unprecedented levels of sophistication and knowledge of products, pricing and the competitive landscape among their potential customers.

This is not a brand-new phenomenon. Back in 2011, Jim Lecinski of Google coined the term ZMOT, which stands for Zero Moment of Truth. The term has been widely used to describe the moment an online purchasing decision has occurred. Until fairly recently, it was assumed that this phenomenon was mostly applicable to consumer purchasing decisions. However, in 2012, a Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 customers found that customers completed 60 percent of their typical purchasing decisions before ever having a conversation with a vendor. That's right, they are already 60 percent of the way through the proverbial funnel before the sales team is even engaged.

Making matters even more intriguing, new predictive technologies as mentioned in my previous post, Love or Hate It, Why Predictive Analytics is the Next Big Thing, can precisely target prospects with messaging that identifies unrecognized needs. In other words, marketing can offer potential buyers provocative insights about how to solve those latent needs. More importantly, marketing can actually "coach" prospects through the buying process long before competitors and sales teams even get invited to the ever-popular "pricing bake-off" with procurement.

So what does this mean for salespeople? Have they been forever relegated to negotiating prices with increasingly savvy buyers? The short answer is a resounding no, but ensuring it doesn't happen will require a significant change for salespeople.

There are three big things that smart salespeople must do in order to thrive in the new world order of hyper-educated buyers.

1. Sales must communicate with marketing. Now, before everyone writes me off as a hopeless ideologue, hear me out. I am not talking about idle chitchat about the weather and Monday Night Football. I am talking about real, honest-to-goodness, two-way dialogue about targeting agents of change--not simply those with budget or authority. In other words, if today's salespeople want to set the agenda rather than simply respond to customers that have already made up their minds, they must partner with marketing and think differently about identifying the best prospects.

The fact is that most seasoned salespeople have been classically trained in Solution Selling--a methodology that presumes salespeople should initiate conversations with open-ended questions designed to uncover well-understood, existing pain points. The problem is that most of today's buyers are already acting on those existing challenges. In other words, using this approach makes salespeople tardy to the purchasing party.

2. Leverage Prescriptive Sales Technology. In order to get out in front of the competition, the second thing enlightened salespeople must do is to adopt a new approach that goes beyond Solution Selling and even beyond the Challenger Sale espoused by Matt Dixon in his terrific, bestselling, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation. I call this new model "Prescriptive Selling". Prescriptive selling requires the adoption of a predictive analytics engine that can help identify the best possible prospects based on criteria that go far beyond industry, job title and the like. Salespeople armed with this technology can not only identify the best prospects, but when, where and how to contact them. In some instances, this technology can even arm the modern salesperson with provocative messaging that will stimulate immediate action. This revolutionary breakthrough in sales technology is akin to night vision goggles for modern day warriors--without it, salespeople are literally flying blind.

Now here's the kicker: Today's predictive lead scoring tools are typically the providence of the marketing team. My bet is that in the near future, the best salespeople will want in on this action and will demand tools that dynamically prescribe sales activities versus simply providing a static lead score. As a CMO, I believe top-of-funnel lead scoring tools definitely have value, but the real action is a bit further down the funnel where action-oriented, non-conventional opportunities reside.

3. Adopt marketing techniques and messaging to elicit action, not just interest. The bottom line is that salespeople could learn some new tricks from marketing about how to target and engage prospects with controversial messaging that will stir emotions and incite radical change. Similarly, marketing must engage earlier and more directly with customers to set the table for sales. If both sales and marketing teams are committed to this new line of thinking and higher levels of collaboration, automation will radically accelerate sales, not eliminate salespeople.

Let me know what you think...