Innovative brands are focusing on new sales channels consumers interact with post-sale. Learn why.
July 28, 2022
Sales channels have evolved since the concept of selling goods and services first entered the collective human consciousness. It's 2022, and sales are no longer limited to in-person or online transactions. Instead, businesses will use a variety of new methods to connect with customers and sell products and services. This change is driven by the growth of technology, changing consumer behavior, and the rise of new sales channels.
Today we're diving into how sales channels have evolved, some think-outside-the-box sales channels available today and where they're headed in 2022 and beyond.
There have been tremendous changes in the world of sales. Technology and omnichannel integration have ultimately led to a complex web of sales touchpoints available to brands.
Before the dawn of the internet, physical sales channels, of course, reigned supreme. Brands got their products into the hands of consumers by selling them at brick-and-mortar retail stores, through retailer partners or even door-to-door.
Later, mailed catalogs gave customers their first taste of the flexibility to purchase from their homes without the pressure of salespeople.
Soon, brands began launching e-commerce websites. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that the earliest e-commerce website for Boston Computer Exchange was launched as early as 1982!
As the world gained broader access to the internet, it became increasingly important for brands to have sleek, well-designed, and often expensive e-commerce websites to win out over the competition. Soon, giants like Amazon and eBay were born, bridging the gap for smaller brands and allowing them to take their businesses to online marketplaces and reach their consumers en masse.
Eventually, email marketing largely overtook telemarketing as a less intrusive but direct form of sales outreach. Around the same time, search engines like Google gave companies the option of launching paid ad campaigns, allowing brands even greater control over targeting and a much lower cost-per-acquisition than ever before.
Personal computers, smartphones, and other digital devices expanded sales channels even further. Although social media began in the 2000s, it wasn't until more recently that these platforms were used to sell directly to customers. Mobile apps gave buyers another avenue to access their favorite brands' products.
These new digital channels allowed brands to expend fewer resources on outbound sales and attract new customers through less disruptive inbound strategies.
In 2020, brands experienced significant disruption to their sales strategies due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Physical stores were largely shut down, and a contactless economy became the norm. As a result, brands that were previously largely in-person flooded to the digital space looking for creative ways to connect with their customers and sell products.
As they often do, these disruptions quickly led to innovations. A prime example of this is the resurgence of Quick Response (QR) codes. QR codes were first created in 1994 but didn't become a mainstream part of most brands' customer-facing strategies until recently.
Part of this resurgence is thanks to smartphones' ability to scan QR codes with their native camera apps. Still, the pandemic gave them yet another push as brands began to leverage them to get their marketing messages in front of consumers during quarantine.
Restaurants were some of the first to use QR codes heavily and often creatively. For example, rather than pass out papers or printed menus, dining locations used scannable table stands or stickers to direct customers to their menus to limit contact and fight the virus's spread.
Near-field communication (NFC) technology has also become much more mainstream during the pandemic years, all in an effort to reduce person-to-person contact and keep consumers and employees safe. Many businesses even stopped accepting cash, directing buyers instead to apps and services like Venmo, Google Pay and Apple Pay. All of these changes and innovations have led to a consumer base that is much more comfortable and familiar with using digital channels to complete the sales process.
2020-21 also introduced other significant changes to the way products and services are marketed and sold. The surge toward digital sales channels and marketing created a more cluttered, noisy online space. With so many brands competing for attention, it can be hard for some to be heard. Even now, as the world returns to some semblance of normalcy, it's a challenge for brands to get customers to engage with their channels all the way through to the point of sale.
These challenges highlighted the need for customization, personalization and innovation in the sales channel. As a result, brands have been coming up with new ways to connect directly with their buyers and cut through the noise.
In the coming years, brands can expect to see a continued focus on personalization at all stages of the buyer's journey. This means that brands will need to know their customers better than ever in order to succeed.
First-party data will become increasingly important as we move away from cookies and other third-party tracking methods. This data gives brands the ability to track their customer's interests and purchasing behavior across channels and devices without relying on cookies. The now infamous iOS14 update left many brands scrambling to put a plan in place to both acquire and leverage first-party customer data at scale.
On top of access to better data, brands in 2022 and beyond will also need technology that allows for quick turnaround times so they can rapidly iterate on new strategies. Modern customers demand fast and easy service—no matter the sales channel. They expect simple means of browsing and ordering from their favorite brands, and they expect to be able to order "on demand."
Future-forward channels will meet customers where they are and anticipate their needs, and one way to tackle this is by creating sales channels in new and unexpected places.
These days, physical products themselves can be turned into sales channels through connections buyers are familiar with, like QR codes on product packaging, allowing customers to reconnect with a brand in seconds to re-purchase a product. They can even benefit from personalized product recommendations based on their previously purchased item.
This means that brands previously left out of the first-party data party can now leverage demographics and past sales data to customize the customer experience. The result is a highly connected, personalized and engaged channel that can be leveraged for future sales.
Giving buyers multiple ways to engage with your company post-checkout is key to solidifying repeat purchases and developing brand loyalty. Most brands recognize the importance of connecting with the customer after the point of sale. Still, many product-focused brands have not traditionally utilized this bottom-of-the-funnel focus on customer retention to its fullest. At least not in the way digital service providers have, for example, with lengthy email nurture campaigns and complex retargeting strategies.
Putting the sales channel in the hands of consumers through QR codes on connected products is one way brands are continuing to nurture relationships with their customers after the sale.
For example, Product Commerce from Blue Bite allows brands to tell stories and share information using connected products. Blue Bite's digital platform gives brands the power to transform their sales channels and move beyond the traditional for stronger customer connections. In a world where consumer behavior and expectations are changing, these connections are more important than ever.
Sales channels have evolved extensively, especially since the world has moved online. The global pandemic brought about even further change, speeding up the rate of innovation in the digital sales space.
While we can expect sales channels to continue to evolve rapidly, we can be sure that taking a human-first approach to sales — personalizing messaging, ongoing customer engagement after the sale and relying more heavily on first-party data — will continue to be an essential pillar of digital sales for the foreseeable future.
This guest post is by Ryan Gould, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services at Elevation Marketing.
From legacy Fortune 100 institutions to inventive start-ups, Ryan brings extensive experience with a wide range of B2B clients. He skillfully architects and manages the delivery of integrated marketing programs, and believes strongly in strategy, not just tactics, that effectively aligns sales and marketing teams within organizations. Find Ryan on LinkedIn.