Customer Expectations: Are Sellers Making the Grade?

A few months ago, we talked about how bullish salespeople were on sales as a profession. Of over 900 salespeople surveyed, 90% said that they would highly recommend a career in professional B2B sales to someone just coming out of school. They espoused the relative autonomy, lifelong learning opportunities and entrepreneurial aspects as a draw with great promise for the future.

At the same time, some industry pundits are a bit more bearish, with many predicting the elimination of selling jobs altogether, or at least a drastic reduction in the near-term. At least one storyline sounds something like this: 1) An increasing number of sales tasks can be replaced by AI-based technologies; 2) Sales organizations will be motivated to replace expensive salespeople with technology that doesn’t earn commissions; 3) Buyers won’t object because they are happier working online; 4) Sales as a profession will contract.

We wanted to stress test this belief with buyers themselves. In our 2018 Buyers Preference Study, we asked 500 B2B buyers in large organizations a range of questions to better understand their relationships with salespeople.

Fortunately, the news isn’t as dire as you might think. Almost two-thirds of buyers (65%) said that they found value in the relationships that they had with the salespeople they interacted with. In fact, only 3% agreed with the statement, “I can’t wait for a day when I can conduct all B2B interactions online and never have to work with a salesperson again.” So, good news: Buyers don’t hate those of us in the sales world.

But. (There is always a but!)

Two-thirds (62%) also said that when they work with salespeople, their expectations are met. Less than a third (32%) were “dazzled” by sellers saying their expectations were exceeded. And that is very bad news when you consider the principles of customer experience. Customer experience teaches us that loyalty is earned only when you consistently exceed customer expectations (and occasionally if your recovery processes manage to turn around impressions where you fall short of expectations). Simply “meeting” expectations creates only a neutral impression. The impact is critical. Customers will not prefer you to other options, will not be loyal, and will have limited perceptions of your brand and relationship.


How that plays out in the sales world is an “apathy loop”:

  • Buyers (62%) say that sellers “meet” their expectations. Yet, those expectations aren’t very high. When asked where they go to solve a business problem, buyers ranked salespeople next to last in a list of nine.
  • Given the view of sellers as walking product brochures, a whopping 70% of buyers said they preferred to engage with a salesperson only after they had already clarified all of their needs. In fact, almost half (44%) said they preferred to wait until they had already identified a solution.
  • Salespeople were then brought in late to explain their products within very specific parameters and found little opportunities to differentiate. Most buyers (58%) said they saw little difference between salespeople.

And ultimately, the neutral opinions that buyers have about salespeople are reinforced.

Customer experience encompasses the full customer path and relationship from awareness to purchase to implementation. The sales process only focuses on the middle of this journey.

Marketing is becoming increasingly sophisticated in its ability to measure impressions during the awareness phase, and most functions have a data-based opinion on how their customers view them. Ideally, this includes a clear set of touchpoints, “defining moments” where impressions are made and key milestones where decisions are being made that change the nature of the relationship.

Unfortunately, we find that few sales organizations have a similar data set on the experience that their sellers are creating during the sales process. By looking at the sales process through a customer experience lens, you may be better able to sort truly positive from neutral impressions and alter your sales process, sales methodology and skills to better align with the desired customer relationship.

Questions to Ask

  • What value do your buyers glean from interactions with your salespeople?
  • How do you know? What evidence do you collect?
  • How effective is your method for collecting win/loss information?
  • What is your competitive advantage that your buyers see in your team?


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