I’ve come across a number of well-written research documents, such as Base One’s “2012 Buyersphere” report and Forbes Insight’s “The Rise of the Digital C-Suite” study, that highlight how this is playing out in the marketplace. Simply put, buyers are more educated, better prepared, and further along in their buying process when they engage sellers.
So, what does this all mean for a company, its sales force, and its ability to compete? Here are 6 steps to leverage “Selling with Insight” to help your team engage buyers early in their process and shape a solution that gives you the best odds of winning:
1. Understand the forces driving your customers to change.
Changing external forces such as new technology, competition, or regulatory requirements, as well as internal forces such as new leadership or strategic initiatives, drive organizations to change. Whether driven by external or internal factors, change creates opportunities for providers who can help companies navigate the change. To be successful, you and your sales team must stay on top of the latest trends so that you can guide your clients to capitalize on those that are worthwhile and steer them clear of pitfalls they should avoid.
2. Determine how your organization can uniquely enable these change imperatives.
This requires you to reframe your value proposition to address the change your buyers face. You need to determine how you can help them navigate the change process, the benefits they will realize, and the investment (e.g., financial, emotional, or time) required on their part for success.
It’s not enough to be able to say, “We’ve been in this business for 50 years.” That can make you sound old and stale. What have you done lately? Can you demonstrate to prospects that you and your people are at the cutting edge? What makes you better than other companies offering the same service?
3. Proactively educate the buyer on the change imperative and solution options.
Be a source of knowledge and insight to raise awareness of the issues driving change and potential solutions to navigate the change. This happens both at a macro level in marketing through research and thought leadership programs and at a micro level by helping your sales reps identify prospects in flux and engage in an insightful dialog around the issue and potential solutions.
Remember our premise above: buyers are more educated and better prepared than ever before. This gives you an opportunity in your marketing to provide research, thought leadership, and practical case studies addressing common issues so that as buyers are getting educated on the matter, you’re already on their radar.
However, don’t assume that your customer is aware of the need or how to solve these challenges. External forces, such as regulatory change or technological innovations, may not be front-page news in the mainstream media. Your organization has to keep its finger on the pulse of the forces that create need for your solutions. You need to help your sales team connect the dots between the emerging challenge and your ability to help. Savvy buyers will be skeptical of following the latest trends, and rightly so. It’s up to you to help them realize what trends to pursue and which to avoid.
What’s the best way to do this? There’s a lot of debate around whether your sales reps should lead with questions or with insights. Much of this depends on your prospect and their level of familiarity with the issue. Sometimes, prospects won’t know what they don’t know, and other times, they will know more than you do. It’s important not to patronize your prospects or speak over their heads. As such, we believe that it is best to either phrase your insight as a question (“How have you prepared to deal with issue XYZ?”) or to state your insight and follow up immediately with a question (“Many organizations we work with have done ABC because of XY&Z; have you considered that concept?”).
4. Proactively educate the buyer on how your solution is typically bought and sold.
You sell your solutions every day, but your buyers may only buy a solution to a problem once in a lifetime. You need to tell them how to buy and why that is beneficial to them. This will surface other players in the buying organization who influence the decision and who need to be on board with the solution.
There is some recent thinking on the usefulness of asking questions to better understand the buying process. We believe that not asking these questions is a lost opportunity. The mutual sharing of information around the buying and selling process with prospects that you’ve motivated to change will help you avoid missing key influencers in the sale and help you refine your value proposition to address their unique concerns.
Chances are that what you’re selling will have a greater impact in your clients’ organizations than your buyers’ immediate business unit. Explore with your buyers the “ripple effect” throughout their organization, and use that as an opportunity to engage influencers in those areas.
5. Ensure your sales reps have the knowledge and skills to educate clients, position your value proposition, and cover their bases on a complex sale.
With so much information available on the internet, it is easy for you to assume that your sales reps are following developments in their field and can confidently engage in business discussions with buyers. While your sales reps may all be active consumers of industry news, this is seldom sufficient. The biggest risk is that they will misrepresent the issue or your company’s solution or exaggerate the benefits in their enthusiasm to win business.
You need to provide your sales reps with your company’s position on the issue, solution guidelines, and expected benefits. This should be a collaborative activity with your marketing and product teams. Selling with Insights works most efficiently when your marketing team works on the front end by doing the research on the issue, market, competition, and thought leadership while your product team creates the roadmap and pricing policies.
Then, you need to arm your sales reps with this material. Teach them to communicate your value proposition to different buying influencers involved in the decision-making process, and the process to advance the sale to closure.
6. Reinforce and sustain “Selling with Insight” as a key strategic initiative.
Even after you’ve done your positioning and solution preparation and training, you need to continually reinforce the behavior change necessary among your sales reps to realize the full benefit of selling with insight. Don’t think of this as a sales training or a marketing initiative — it is really a strategic initiative that requires alignment across your organization.
It requires awareness of the issues, value proposition, and solution from top to bottom. The business needs to make the investment in thought leadership, refining solutions, and marketing. In order for the behavior to stick, each level in the sales organization has a responsibility to “own” their part of the process:
- Sales leadership needs to make the investment in sales rep and management development and have the discipline to establish metrics and measure the progress and impact of the initiative.
- Sales managers need to invest in their own continuous learning about the issues, build their ability to coach sales reps in this new selling paradigm, and hold their sales reps accountable for the right activity and effectiveness.
- And of course, sales reps need to embrace a new way of thinking, continuously build their ability to share insights, and engaging customers in business conversations.