What buyers want isn’t that complicated… but that doesn’t mean it’s easy

In my last blog, I talked about the “apathy loop” in which buyers across industries and across geographies are marginalizing their relationships with salespeople. While buyers are not demanding that their sellers be replaced by artificial-intelligence fueled bots, they certainly wouldn’t fight to keep them.

Yet there is a place for salespeople now and in the future. Ninety percent of buyers said that they would consider engaging sellers earlier in a sales process. Opportunities for earlier engagement include the context for the purchase, the decision-making style of the buyer and the perception that buyers have of their experiences with sellers.

We asked buyers about the specific behaviors that added value to a relationship and encouraged them to make a purchase. And we asked the converse: What did sellers do that discouraged a sale? What did buyers wish that their salespeople would do differently or more consistently?

Four items rose to the top of all of these lists:

  • Knowing the customer and their business at a detailed level. At the same time, we know from the World-Class Sales Practices Study that sellers are strapped for selling (face-to-face or phone) time. This expectation requires more than just a quick Google search prior to a sales call. B2B buyers are consumers first. And they have become used to logging onto websites, even ones they have never visited before, and being presented with information linked to their digital footprint. Sellers are struggling to find the time (nor do they often have access to the tools) to do this kind of research efficiently and effectively.
  • Demonstrating superior communication skills in every interaction. This one sounds like it should be easy. After all, we’ve been talking about this for over three decades. But, here again the expectations have skyrocketed. Buyers need to conserve their time and are intolerant of anything they view as inefficient. Every email, discussion and conversation must be crisp and compelling. At the same time, over half of the sales organizations in our recent World Class Sales Practices Study said that their ability to conduct a thorough needs analysis (58%) or build a solid business case/demonstrate ROI (54%) needed improvement or major redesign.
  • Painting a picture of what the future work and results will be, versus focusing solely on the sales process. In my previous blog I talked about the customer experience starting before the sales cycle and extending beyond it, through to implementation. Buyers shared that too often, sellers focus exclusively on the part they drive, the sales process. Yet what the buyer really cares about is what happens after a deal closes.
  • Educate the customers with insights and perspective. The final one was a somewhat newer expectation. If a buyer is going to invest time with a salesperson, they want to be smarter, more equipped and more successful at the end of it. Buyers have positive impressions of salespeople who help them do a better job of buying and do a better job of getting business results. And they are less impressed by those who stick to the basics of asking questions and describing solutions.

 
The first three – customer/market knowledge, communication skills, and future-focus – are essentially “table stakes.” While vital, it can be challenging to differentiate on the basis of these alone. It was the fourth on the list – “perspectives and insights” – which had the greatest opportunity for differentiating. At the same time, this behavior can also be the most variable. There is no one way to do it and no one right time:

  • Perspective is not an alternative to the other expectations. It is a complement. An educational point of view lacks impact if the seller can’t put it into the customer context, or communicates it poorly, or loses focus on what matters to the buyer: end results. Buyers didn’t say that traditional solution selling wasn’t important. Understanding needs and solutions were still the top call objectives for buyers. But they said it wasn’t enough.
  • Perspective can be used to expand the customer’s vision of success, expand their solution definition, and challenge or validate their thinking. The key is that the insights help the buyer move to the next step of their buying process. It doesn’t have to be a counterintuitive thought or a case study or an ROI calculation. Form differs by situation.
  • Perspective can come at the beginning, middle or end of a sales interaction or sales process. There is no one right time. There is no silver bullet; it’s all about agility, preparing a strategy ahead of time to be flexible in the moment.

 

Questions to Ask

  • What tools, training and content are made available to your sellers to assist with customer and market knowledge?
  • How do Sales Enablement and Marketing work together to provide sellers with content they need to provide insights and perspectives?
  • How aligned are your sales process and sales methodology with the customers’ buying path?

 

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