The last couple of years have turned the B2B buying process inside out. Instead of seeking out salespeople to gain answers to their questions about solving problems, buyers now push sales conversations to the end of their purchasing process. The information they need for most of their research and consideration is now in plentiful supply on the Web.
This is downright frustrating for salespeople who are used to establishing a relationship at the start and guiding their prospective customers toward a purchase decision across the entire process. Because buyers now decide when to involve sales, stepping into the relationship in mid-stream is a new skill that requires salespeople to focus more on extending conversations than on starting them.
The way in which online dialogues are transitioned into 1-to-1 sales conversations can either keep your prospects’ buying momentum moving along or stop it cold.
The reality is that there’s a critical gap between what salespeople know well and what buyers want to discuss. According to the buyers who participated in a Forrester Research study, the sales meeting would be considered effective 65% of the time if the salesperson was capable of addressing the problem.
Unfortunately, this level of competence is not the norm. Considering that 53% of purchase decisions are made based on the buyer’s perceived quality of sales conversations, companies need to take action to transform the buyer's experience.
Step 1: Take Steps to Shift the Reality
Buyers are looking for vendors who can become strategic partners in helping them achieve business results they need. It’s not about products and solutions. It’s about what they enable your customers to achieve that they couldn’t do before. By enabling your salespeople to have relevant conversations based on business concerns and objectives the value-add becomes clear, moving price negotiation to the back burner by eliminating the commodity perception.
Giving buyers what they want should be built into our DNA. If your marketing strategies are pulling buyers farther through the purchasing process to the point where they’re willing to engage with a salesperson, your company has the intelligence available to help salespeople become value providers. By connecting the dots and contributing valuable ideas, salespeople will keep the momentum going that turns prospects into buyers.
Step 2: Connect the Dots
Buyers are busy. The new priority that just landed on their desk is not a replacement to their other responsibilities, but an addition to an already full plate. The complexity of solving problems in today’s dynamic business environment can be overwhelming. The speed of change is making knowledge obsolete faster than ever, lessening the confidence buyers used to have in the quality of their decisions. The following factors can help your salespeople become sought-after resources buyers search out to help them find the answers they need.
- Make Introductions: In my work with clients, I’ve heard a lot of salespeople say they want better transitions into their conversations with buyers. Instead of marketing (or inside sales) sending a qualified lead on to sales and expecting the salesperson to call in blind, provide an introduction. You do this for peers and colleagues, so it should be a natural extension to do so for your buyers. Given the brief, introductory email example below, you can see how much easier it will be for the salesperson to extend the conversation this buyer is already having with the company.
Bill, I’d like to introduce you to Nancy Smith. Nancy is one of our best resources for insights about how to reduce costs in your data center without reinventing the wheel. She has been instrumental in helping companies just like yours increase efficiencies with virtualization.
Nancy, please allow me to introduce Bill Jones. Bill is the CIO for ABC Corporation and is concerned about the escalating costs in his data center. He would like to ask a few questions raised for him by our white paper, How to Gain Economies of Scale in the Data Center.
- Simplify the Complexity: Your solution may have 57 whiz-bang features, all of which your salespeople are well-versed in discussing. But, your buyer’s immediate concern is about the few that will impact their immediate problem. With access to the prospect’s online activity history, a salesperson can easily see their highest interest points and come prepared to discuss the impact of the most closely related features to the problem at hand.
- Compare Apples to Apples: There are probably many alternatives to your product or solution. The ways in which companies talk about—and package—their products, makes it tough for buyers to compare the functionality head-to-head. Provide your salespeople with accurate assessments of “like” features including scenarios that showcase the performance of your offering.
It’s important to provide as unbiased a view as possible. This can be difficult as it goes against the nature of selling—especially for passionate salespeople who believe your product is the best. Trust me. Your company’s credibility will escalate as a result. Disparaging competitors creates friction for your buyers that will have them wondering if what your salespeople say is true. That means they’ll be spending some time thinking about the competitor. And that’s not in your best interests.
Step 3: Contribute Ideas
A complex purchase is accompanied by the need for education. If your company is producing thought leadership content and comprehensive customer success stories, you likely have the insights salespeople need to weave valuable ideas into their conversations with buyers.
- Provide Unexpected Outcomes: The goal for solving a problem either increases or decreases something critical for the buyer (e.g., increased revenues, decreased expenses). Look deeper and prepare your salespeople to introduce additional outcomes buyers may not have considered when they set out to solve the problem. Take an in depth look at what your customers are achieving beyond the outcomes your solution is most commonly known to deliver.
- Address Overlapping Considerations: Buying committees are getting larger. This means there are more stakeholders, each with their own expectations about the way a problem is solved. It’s likely that implementing your solution will affect other departments and processes beyond your buyer’s immediate focus. Your salespeople need to be prepared to intelligently discuss the impact of your solution across the enterprise, to address the perspective of each member on the buying committee.
- Overcome Obstacles: Even when buyers are tasked with solving a problem, that doesn’t mean they have a clear path to doing so. Salespeople must be able to help buyers overcome obstacles from a variety of sources—from executive misconceptions to the personal preferences of influencers to the internal competition over securing budget dollars for other projects.
Building a business case is not one-size-fits-all. The components may be similar, but their order of importance will vary based on the culture of the prospective customer’s organization. The more salespeople know about which triggers are most important to buyers in specific situations, industries or in relation to primary goals, the better they can position your product—and your company—as the best choice for achieving the ROI buyers need.
Sales Conversations Must Create Movement
Every sales conversation must be focused on creating continuous momentum across the buying process. With increased competence in understanding how buyers make the necessary progress to complete a purchase decision, salespeople can be prepared to have conversations that drive desired outcomes. In the case of a complex sale, momentum is usually incremental. In other words, the purchase won’t result from one meeting. Enticing buyers to take the next steps is a critical outcome for each and every interaction.
Although learning about a buyers’ timeline, purchasing authority and budget are critical to helping the salesperson assess the value of the opportunity, they also need to become proficient at serving the buyers’ needs in parallel. The longer buyers stay in the same state, the less likely they are to purchase. Inertia causes friction and doubt. Continuous movement driven by sales conversations is the key to conversions—even if the movement is one step at a time.