Discover the 5 Skills Buyers Want From Salespeople

Do You Deliver?

At a recent YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) sales conference, I asked presidents and chief executive officers, “What is the number one reason salespeople miss quota?”   They answered:

 “Not enough leads”

“No formal sales process”

“Don’t have the right product”

“Reps lack sales skills”

These reasons could be a cause, but not the number one cause. Researchers at SiriusDecisions prove my point. They did survey hundreds of B2B sales managers on this exact question.

The number one reason why reps fail to reach their numbers?

Inability to articulate value in sales conversations

Why is this? I’ll share an anecdote.

Recently, I attended the annual sales meeting for a prospective client, a software firm providing CRM technology. The CEO wanted me to assess the company’s sales and marketing strategy, along with the capabilities of its sales reps. Supply of leads was not the issue. But the firm’s conversation rate was very low and its closing rate only 20 percent.

At the conference, the vice president of sales spent close to two hours in full-blown product presentations, touting features and benefits of all the product upgrades made within the year.

Next, one of the sales reps followed that pitch with a detailed comparison on how the new product compared with the competition. Price soon consumed the discussion; this team felt its value to its customer was cost-savings over the competition.

I thought I had stepped into a time machine going back 10 to 15 years when the clarion call was sell features and benefits.

Why is Selling Value So Difficult?

During the break, I spoke with several reps and asked them to walk me through their initial conversations with prospects, and then explain their lead development. They use an inbound marketing strategy around a system that produces hundreds of suspects a week.

Marketing spends some time “qualifying the lead,” and then turns the leads over to sales. The reps said when the lead comes their way, the prospect has already indicated an interest in seeing a product demo and wants to compare pricing with other alternatives under review.

Prospects are typically technical buyers who ask hefty questions on system integration and maintenance. They’re advanced thinkers who know well the range of products in the marketplace. Because of their knowledge, expertise, and empowerment, technical buyers are more difficult to sell, certainly in traditional ways.

According to a recent Gartner survey (see blurry chart below, excuse please), 74 percent of executive buyers said that salespeople focus too much on their product. Only 34 percent of executive buyers felt salespeople did a good job of communicating business value.

These empowered buyers demand more; they have already done their research online.

By the time they engage a salesperson, they know what they want and the price they are willing to pay.

When the seller’s product is complex, selling value is especially difficult because prospects lack both the time and expertise to form an accurate buying vision on their own.

If salespeople do not challenge what prospects have already learned online with authentic insight and true perspective, they will be forced to follow prospects down the road to commoditization and discounting. That’s the only outcome when your prospect has a limited view of the value of your product.

Sell Me This Pen 

My CRM technology client needed to step far away from its commodity-focused approach.

I knew considerable work lie ahead to turn around its thinking and began planting the seeds of a more proactive selling approach.

To demonstrate the need to sell value and understand prospect needs, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my Monte Blanc pen. I turned to a sales rep in the group, and said, “Sell me this pen.”

At first, he was a little surprised by my question but went along. He began to sell me the great benefits of owning such a fine writing tool. When he finished, two other reps followed, trying to outsell the others by describing the benefits of owning this fine pen. But they lost the sale.

This elementary sell-the-pen exercise consistently points out how salespeople forget to focus on needs because they’re too determined to sell.

Top Performers Sell Differently

The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) studied top performers (defined as those in the top 20 percent of quota attainment) to determine what they did differently from other reps. CEB surveyed 6,000 reps from 83 companies, spanning every major industry, on how they prioritize opportunities, target and engage stakeholders, and execute the sales process.

CEB also examined complex purchasing scenarios in nearly 600 companies in a variety of industries to understand the various structures and influences of formal buying teams.

And finally, it interviewed 700 individual customer stakeholders involved in complex B2B purchases to determine the impact specific kinds of stakeholders have on organizational buying decisions.

CEB’s findings were consistent with the research and data we have reviewed and what we have learned in our own experience with our MERGE process.

1. Top performers place more emphasis on the prospect’s potential to change than on his potential to buy. They’re able to get in early and advance a disruptive solution because they target accounts primed for change. However, these accounts have not yet generated the necessary consensus, let alone settled on a course of action. Research offers a tremendous payoff at this juncture.

2. Consistent with the MERGE process, CEB’s study found top performers know how to identify and seek out the help of advocates or coaches from within the prospective client’s group of decision makers. The presence of a coach in a multi-decision complex sale shortens the sales process.

3. Top performers coach prospects/customers/clients through their buying process. Most sales reps know how hard it is to make a complex It is even harder for prospects to make buying decisions. Reps are in a better position to help prospects with the process of buying. MERGE enables salespeople to walk their prospects through a logical, step-by-step decision-making process, based on how people buy.

Bring Perspective and Sell Value

The Sales Executive Council conducted a study asking buyers what they want from salespeople. Here are the top five attributes listed:

1. Offers unique and valuable perspectives on the market. Buyers look to salespeople to help them identify new opportunities to cut costs, increase revenue, penetrate new markets, and mitigate risk in ways they have not yet recognized. What sets the best salespeople apart is not the quality of their products, but the value of their insights.

2. Helps me navigate alternatives. Buyers look for salespeople who clearly differentiate themselves from the pack, and can explain why they are more valuable than others in the industry. These salespeople stand apart and pinpoint areas where their unique advantages intersect with the buyer’s critical needs. Buyers do not want to hear there’s only one way or a single solution. Options are essential because they create dialogue and discussion.

3. Provides ongoing advice or consultation. Customer loyalty is much less about what you sell and much more about how you sell. The best salespeople do not win through the quality of their products, but through the quality of the insight they deliver as part of the sale itself. They win customer loyalty not by “discovering” what customers already know they need, but by teaching them a new way of thinking altogether. Customers want salespeople to present innovative solutions to problems. They look for responsiveness and creativity.

4. Shows me how to avoid potential landmines. Buyers look for salespeople who understand their needs better than they do. These salespeople teach buyers new perspectives, specifically tailored to their most pressing business needs. Salespeople have to know their buyer’s business better than they know it themselves. Only then can they show buyers different ways to think about their businesses and how to avoid potential pitfalls.

5. Educates me on new issues and outcomes.Buyers want someone who can challenge their assumptions. What data, information, or insight can you provide that may change buyers’ thinking about their businesses? As technology opens new doors, overwhelmed buyers find themselves looking for someone to guide them through the challenges they face.

So, there you have it.

Five weighty insights to crack the code on buyer thinking and behavior.
Not one involves product knowledge.
However, each one brings the value your prospect craves.

Recall this great Einstein quote?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Buyers want you to challenge them in case they need to change.

Who challenges you to change?



See you on the upside,


For more information, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

News Alert

MERGE 2.0, read my latest book, now released by the publisher and available on Amazon to purchase.  Learn everything you need to know to book revenue in the new realities of B2B professional selling.

And, if you’re not a reader and prefer interactive learning, take our MERGE 2.0 online learning course.  Go here for more info.

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