How to Produce a Great Prospect Buying Experience
Few would argue that business-to-business selling takes courage, charisma, and common sense. It has also become more complex, sensitive, and unpredictable. Buyers rewrite the purchase playbook every day by broadening the lineup of decisions makers in the mix; forgoing traditional differentiators like innovation, even price and quality; and by working to solve their own problems.
Today, how you sell is more important than what you sell.
In a Harvard Business Review article, The End of Solution Sales, the authors state: “the hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades, sales reps have become adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them “solutions”—generally, complex combinations of products and services. This worked because customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems, even though they often had a good understanding of what their problems were. But now, owing to increasingly sophisticated procurement teams and purchasing consultants armed with troves of data, companies can readily define solutions for themselves.
In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those types customers referenced above completed, on average, nearly 60 percent of a typical purchasing decision before the buy—researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on—before even having a conversation with a supplier. They define their needs upfront.
This scenario is similar to how we buy cars today. We do our research and walk into a dealership armed with data; we know the features and benefits and even the cost to the dealer. All we are looking for the dealer to do is fulfill the order. This example shows how customers learn on their own, much to the dismay of salespeople— a troubling trend for the sales business. Prospects for insurance, retirement services, IT to business process outsourcing, to name a few industries, are often way ahead of salespeople in knowing what they are looking for.
With a limitless supply of information at our fingertips, what are prospects/customers/clients looking for in their buying process? The answer may surprise you. In a research study conducted by the Sales Executive Counsel, 53 percent of buyers claim a positive “sales experience.” Company and brand impact accounted for only 19 percent, product and service delivery another 19 percent, and value-to-price ratio only 9 percent. When I read this, I stumbled over the percentages as if in disbelief.
When you dig deeper, you discover that the selling of a well-branded, highly differentiated product, supported by higher than average service still only accounts for 38 percent of what the prospects look for in their buying experience. Even so, this study reveals good news for salespeople who, instead, use a customer/client-focused sales process where they can bring a new perspective to prospect’s situation and, thus, to his sales experience.
The 53 percent factor does not represent any sales experience; it registers when a salesperson offers a unique and valuable perspective the prospect had never considered. In this case, the sales reps went the extra mile to help prospects analyze alternatives.
Fix. Accomplish. Avoid
New ideas for saving money, making money or avoiding risk grab the buyer’s full attention. Buyers buy when you help them fix, accomplish or avoid. Reps must take control of the prospect conversation with a well-planned meetings. It’s their job to review the consequences of sticking with status quo and failing to make a change. It’s their job to help the prospect to see that the pain of no action is greater than the pain of action and change.
It’s okay to bring a little bad news to the good. Don’t be uncomfortable with this approach. If the prospect doesn’t see the problem as that bad, she will simply go out to the market on a Request for Proposal or do nothing at all.
Salespeople must cultivate and offer unique perspectives through mindful, meaningful two-way conversation. They must know how the prospect defines value, then use those value drivers to help him through his decision making process. Without this focus, salespeople will never advance a complex sale. They become aerial acrobats without a net. Pipelines buzz with leads, but prospects suffocate inside the very sales process meant to convert them.
Defining a Good Sales Experience
Let me share briefly what I believe is a good sales experience. It may be different for all of us, though I know certain universal behaviors show up in the prospect I intend to sell. For instance, in good prospect experiences, they:
- begin to engage with questions or comments
- shift from tense to comfortable; watch body language
- refuse to allow interruptions
- understand that you “get them and their situation”
- open up to listen to your perspective or alternative solutions
- make a commitment to the next action or commit to decide and when
- feel trust in you and trust in the process
- walk away with a win-win reaction
In an ideal world, we’d all experience these kinds of exchanges. But we don’t.
Up the Odds
To improve the odds of a good sales experience, salespeople must do their homework and lead the prospect buying process with critical thinking, insight and authenticity, along with their unique strengths.
- Become a catalyst for action and challenge the prospect’s assumptions.
- Be sure to probe on the anatomy of the decision making process and how each members affects the outcome.
- Demonstrate clearly that you know your material, your sector and your prospect’s company to build credibility. Ensure that you accomplish these benchmarks with integrity, humility and genuine concern for your prospect’s success.
- Help your prospect see that his or her business issues are larger, different, or more worrisome than thought. Once you do that, back it up with data, facts, success stories and sound arguments and to help support the decision to change.
See you on the upside, Bill
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