A few years ago, I conducted research into how clients buy facilities management services and a major conclusion from the research was that buyers of B2B services don’t want to be “sold-to”. These days, buyers control the purchasing process now far more than ever before. So what does this mean for the role of the sales process? How can you sell to someone that doesn’t want to be sold to?
The answer is that a different approach is needed. Instead of talking about the features & benefits – what services they can provide and how – sales people need to take a more customer-centric approach.
The internet has changed the sales process
Whereas prospects used to rely on sales people for information and advice, they can now conduct all their initial research to understand their issues, explore the solutions of different suppliers and form an opinion on the capabilities of each supplier, without even speaking to any supplier. It’s the prospect that drives the process, not the sales person. Statistics vary, but somewhere between 60% and 80% of all B2B purchases start with a Google searchand in c70% of B2B purchases, it was the buyer that first contacted the seller, not vice versa.
These days, it’s the buyers that determine when to engage, with whom to engage, what they buy, why they are buying it, how much they will pay and when. This leaves the sellers feeling somewhat powerless.
3 lessons for today’s sales person
So how should the sales person respond in this environment? How can engage with decision makers, build trust and communicate their proposition? Here are three priorities:
1) Help prospects to understand their needs. Rather than thinking first of their own sales goals, today’s sales person needs to be more customer-centric and focus on helping prospects to understand their needs (read The Challenger Sale). The sales team need to establish itself as the leading authority on issues affecting the prospects. They will need to help buyers to educate themselves. In parallel, the sales team need to monitor their prospects’ behaviour and to conduct detailed research into the their situation from a distance.
2) Use content to add value. Sales people must focus on adding value throughout the sales cycle. The main way to do this is to understand prospects’ needs and use that to provide helpful ideas on how to improve their situation. This might be by sending them published articles before sales calls to raise the quality of the conversation or providing them with models and insight that will help them to evaluate alternate solutions.
3) Find new ways to build trusted relationships. The nature of the seller/buyer relationship is changing. There is no room now for fighting over objections, or the “Always Be Closing” attitude to Sales. Buying decisions are always multi-faceted, often featuring a “good-buy/bad-guy” team of “client plus procurement”. So, it will be critical to develop multi-point, trusted relationships within the prospect organisation. Relationship-based sales start by listening to your prospects, then educating them on their best options. The deal will go to the party that best understands the prospect’s needs and responds accordingly. Successful sales people will share content with their prospects to establish themselves as the advisors that they need. The focus will be to provide the best “prospect experience”.
The new sales objective: Provide the best prospect experience?
Rather than being a threatening body that makes a prospect feel as though they are being “sold-to”, successful sales people today need to establish themselves as an invaluable resource for prospects. They should be educating, adding value, helping and consequently positioning themselves as the advisor of choice. The aim is to provide the best “prospect experience” throughout the buying cycle. Then, all else being equal, the results will follow. In fact, perhaps we should re-name the Sales Department. Perhaps the Sales Department should be re-named the “Prospect Services Department”.
What do you think? If you support or have any contrary views on this post, please use the comments box below to give me your thoughts.