Learn to Love the 57% Zone — Where Your Prospect is Your Biggest Competitor

Blog96_5-Zone1-1As a sales leader, did you ever imagine that your own prospect would compete with you?

The digital age has made it possible. We see more and more prospects buying differently today, and more marketing teams working hard alongside sales to come to terms with the change in the prospect buying process.

The 57% Zone

Prospects and buyers do not contact a sales organization until they are 57 percent (or more) of the way through their decision making process, according to a study published by the Marketing Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board entitled, “The Digitial Evolution in B2B Marketing,” in partnership with Google.

And when they first make contact with the sales organization, they come with a preconceived idea of what specifically they need. By this time, they may well be shopping only on price.  Why? They’ve spent all their time in what I like to call the 57% Zone doing online research.

Think of your prospect as zone playing in basketball. When he’s in his zone defense stance, he’s got more control, more flexibility, more ability to be aggressive. He’s free to roam the zone in search of whatever he wants or needs to block the shot. As a result of this new way of buying, power has shifted to the prospect. Companies are playing catch up to meet earlier in his prospect buying process. We’re not selling differently. Prospects are buying differently.


With prospects gathering data, doing research and taking charge of their buying process, it’s more difficult for sales people, based on their own knowledge and experience, to help shape the prospect’s concept for the solution.

Keep in mind, your prospect isn’t simply shutting you out; they are shutting out all sales people in the first half of their decision making process. So your number one competitor today isn’t so much the competition as you’ve known it. Your number one competitor today is your prospect and his or her ability to learn what they need on their own.

Outbound marketing used to work in B2B. While not dead, it’s on oxygen. Inbound marketing—where we attract the buyers to us— has become the logical evolution of marketing past. We used to refer to this as push-pull marketing. But today, buyers don’t want the push. In fact, they’ll only accept the pull if we earn it through our content, social media, and by anticipating and solving their issues.

So with prospects contacting sales organizations much later in their buying cycle, it takes longer to navigate the prospect’s decision making process, plus which there are more decision makers at the table.

The Miller Heiman 2015 MHI Sales Best Practice Study saw an increase in the average number of buying influences, well above the five-year average. With an ever-increasing quantity of information to process and more stakeholders to appease, we anticipate that both the number of influencers and the number of perspectives they represent will continue to grow every year, complicating already complex sales.

The number of decision makers involved in the typical deal increased to 5.8 in 2015 up from 4.6.  Not only are more people involved in a purchase than ever before, but there different people. And each may have their own concept of a solution and their own personal preferences for the solution.

Give an Education

Blog96_57-Zone1-2Today, prospects are doing the things that sales people always did to bring value to the engagement. Prospects identify a need, prioritize that need, determine who should get involved in their organization, and even research potential suppliers who can deliver the outcomes they desire. That’s why in order to have a competitive advantage, you must develop an educationally based approach to meet these prospects early in their buying process.

The need to shift to an educationally based approach to the sales process has given rise to a wave of inbound marketing, in particular, content marketing, in an attempt to meet that prospect early in his buying process. Those on the inbound wavelength are publishing white papers, blogposts, trend reports, and more point of view pieces to earn the trust of the prospect.

If your content communicates information they already know, you may only get a call when the potential buyer exits the 57% Zone, and then only to supply a quote. Or you may be overlooked entirely. But if your content helps the prospect self-discover a new context for her problem or issue, you stand to earn consideration as someone who can bring value outside the funnel when she needs it most to shape an informed decision.

Professional selling today means that your content must exhibit insight to the prospect’s issues, help her to discover a different way of thinking, or approaching her problem. While exploring in the 57% Zone, you want your potential buyer to recognize she has missed something materially important to her outcome. You want her to realize that by engaging with the message of your content she will sharpen her decision making skills.

Preparation Meets Opportunity

Blog96_57-Zone1-3Be fully prepared if the prospect contacts you while in the 57% Zone. Even though he’s doing some deep dives in certain areas, he doesn’t necessarily have sufficient experience to know if he has come to the right conclusion.

This 57% phenomenon frustrates many sales organizations because prospects are out in cyberspace learning on their own. They may also be at trade shows, seminars, on webinars, but they’re mostly online.  To add to the frustration, when they get ready to step out of the Zone, their buying organization goes and packs up what’s been learned into a faceless RFP. But that’s a whole other post.

When it all comes down, professional selling deals with human behavior.  People like to be in control. They don’t like or want surprises. They believe if they do it themselves they can better manage the prospect buying process, and not be subject to the clever techniques of polished salespeople. As we’ve learned from the research done on the human mind by Dr. JP Guilford people go through a multi-step process when thinking about making decisions. Dr. Guilford sees this process in three parts:

  1. Cognition thinking allows the decision maker to understand the situation he or she is facing. At this phase, your prospects asked themselves how big of a problem is this? Do I want to address it now? Who else should I involve in looking at alternatives? This is well within the 57% Zone; they are meeting internally, researching the internet and gathering a better understanding.

  2. Divergent thinking helps the person explore options and solutions. Buyers don’t accept the fact that there is only one solution. In that 57% Zone, they are researching solutions and checking out possible suppliers of the solution. This is when they may reach out to you or download valuable content from your website on possible solutions. This stage is when many organizations decide to issue an RFP.
  3. Convergent thinking enables the person to select the best solution. This stage is where they may ask for the three finalists in the RFP process so they can zero in on the right solution. Or in the ideal world, this is where they are working with you to zero in on the best solution.

Where on the Journey?

Blog96_57-Zone1-4When you first make contact with a prospect, you need to find out where he is on his buying journey. Listen carefully and you will learn the nature of the buying process and where he is in decision making by his statements. Examples:

  • Cognition Thinking: “The situation today is that we just rolled out a new product, and we are behind budget.”

  • Divergent Thinking: “We have ruled out using internal resources to solve this problem.”

  • Convergent Thinking: “The final solution will have to be implemented before year end.”

Before every prospect interaction, we must come to understand the issues identified by the buying influence or prospect. If you don’t know, this is a big red flag. You need to ask savvy questions to understand what the buying influence is trying to fix, accomplish or avoid. The buying influence’s concept is the expectation or vision of a solution.

Both business and personal. If you don’t show up until he’s out of the 57% Zone, you may need to bring an entirely new perspective or solution to him.

Your Critical Perspective

A sales person’s ability to provide perspective is a valuable differentiator. Prospects want to deal with salespeople who focus beyond the sale and all the way through to the results they want to achieve. It is about having the perspective and confidence to open oneself up to a collaborative, solution-solving discussion rather than falling back on product discussions. Can you do it?

When you arrive (or your content) in his 57% Zone, the prospect will want to discuss your solution. This is where you need discipline and perspective to get the prospect to step back and discuss the issue he or she hopes to solve. When you sell with perspective, you bring your expertise in the field to bear on every opportunity, which allows you to demonstrate your understanding across the whole spectrum of the prospect buying process.

Decision Inertia

Blog96_57-Zone1-5A big bump on the buyer’s journey is the issue multiple decision makers. We found out that consensus and diversity for the 5.8 decision makers on a typical deal is not just a selling problem, it’s just as much a buying problem. The issue isn’t so much that those individuals don’t appreciate our offering; it’s just they can’t agree with each other.

The challenge of overcoming consensus today is not so much doing a better job of connecting individual stakeholders to us; it’s doing a better job of connecting those individual stakeholders to each other.

Consider what those individual decision makers disagree over or why they fail to reach consensus. From our research it turns out the thing they’re struggling to agree on is not whether you represent a worthy organization, but whether the  problem is even worth solving in the first place, and then what the right solution is regardless of which supplier.

As a result, you need to build a proactive strategy to this consensus problem. That means understanding each buying influences’ concept of a solution and connecting them to the issue they face and then to your solution.

So the main question is:

“How do we do a better job getting the prospect through the 57% Zone, and then connecting with all buying influences in their decision making journey to help them reach agreement?”

 To arrive at a positive answer, encourage and teach marketing and sales to work closely together. Marketing holds the power to produce educationally based content that lays the groundwork for prospect engagement and decision making. Sales holds the power to identify the buyer’s vision and decision making process so when sales is called on, it can work its magic with multiple decision makers.

In this way, you turn your prospects away from competitor status toward MVP status.

Move over Golden State Warriors. There’s a new team of champions in the wings.

See you on the upside,

For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call Bill in San Diego at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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