With this background, I have witnessed just about every sales scenario imaginable. And because I was responsible for premier accounts — those that billed in the top 40 — I developed an expert ability to deal with large, complex sales with long buying cycles.
During my career, I have also witnessed dramatic changes in B2B selling, as the availability of information has created more sophisticated and informed buyers. In my sales days, customers relied on me to provide them with information. Now, customers want salespeople to validate information that they’ve discovered on their own.
The way I describe today’s selling environment is that “more buyers are buying than being sold.” We have all seen these numbers previously, but they are worth communicating again. According to SiriusDecisions, buyers now digitally complete 67% of their decision processes before ever contacting a salesperson. Forrester Research goes even further, citing that 60% to 90% of the buyer’s journey occurs before he/she ever engages a potential provider.
Another important change is the number of people involved in the buying process. We used to talk about finding the economic buyer: the primary and ultimate decision maker. If the customer is a mid- to large-size company, it is rare for there to be a single decision maker. More often, there’s a buying committee that takes into account the input of the business units and others that will be impacted by the decision.
Additionally, executive leaders are less inclined to make unilateral buying decisions (as they might have in the past). They prefer a consensus approach, with many stakeholders included in the process. They also expect their staff to conduct research into every known supplier for the desired product or service.
All of this has direct implications for how salespeople need to prepare for and conduct their sales calls. It starts with their own research, digging deep under the covers in order to examine buying motives. As I tell participants in every sales training class, You have to know your market and your prospects in order to offer relevant insights that add value to buyers.
Among the questions that they need to find answers for are the following:
- What is the current status of the market in your targeted business area?
- What are the common themes surrounding the problems and business issues that buyers face?
- What are the buyers’ customers looking to get from them as vendors?
- Why are the buyers’ customers resistant to changing vendors, and why will this be an obstacle for them? Most salespeople don’t examine the buying motives of customers as thoroughly as they should in today’s environment. These motives might not just be for the value or the return on investment that comes from a particular solution. The reason for the buy might also include its impact on other departments and areas of the business, and these departments and areas might be underfunded and not adequately prepared if the proposed solution is put into place. This is where insights from the salesperson can help buyers understand all of the ramifications and possibilities.
Too often, salespeople jump to comparing features and functions, touting their product as superior to a competitor’s. If both products can solve the same problem, the decision comes down to price, performance, and commoditization. A better tactic is to talk about what will happen once the product is in place and how it will help the business grow and meet its objectives.
Only by providing such insights to buyers can salespeople hope to become a collaborative business partner. If they stick to features and functions, chances are good that they’ll be relegated to vendor status and quickly discounted from the buying process based on circumstances beyond their control.
The key is to establish credibility and continue to add value by providing new ideas and insights. That’s the way to move from being a vendor to an essential partner, working with buyers as part of the team in an ever-changing sales environment.