The “Buyer” has never been more popular than he or she is today. To some the buyer is fully informed, socially astute, connected to the always-on community and is some arbitrary percentage through the mythical buying process before connecting with sales. The buyer has become so knowledgeable that maybe we should Hire the Buyer. I subscribe to the notion of “buyer chaos”. I don’t think it’s ever been harder to be part of a business decision team than it is today.
Buying is not the same as Business Decision Making. Buying is the relatively straightforward process of evaluating options, capabilities and cost by a business “buyer”. At the extreme this is the consumer; influenced by advertising, experienced by brand and conscious of cost. As consumers we make decisions based on what we want, need and can afford. It’s personal. I want the 4D TV and she wants new carpeting, we can work this out.
Some argue that buyers no longer need a sales person, which is true in simple, product-oriented transactions. As the digital customer experience evolves, the improved the buying “process” will continue to displace low revenue, transactional selling.
Business decisions are made differently than personal decisions. Business Decision Making (BDM) is how a group of business people makes decisions in their business context. In the world the business “Decision Maker” he or she evaluates their decision based on the value to the business and, more importantly, the personal value to them.
Business Value and Personal Value
Business Value is what is discussed and debated internally by the buying team. Features, functionality and cost aligned to the business issue. Business value is unique to every organization based on their context. Business value gets pounded into the market and pumped into the decision team by the competing vendor product-marketing organizations. Then it gets adapted to customer by each sales team. Cost savings, return on investment, time to performance and every other logical decision comparative can be analyzed, conceptualized and theorized within the context of the impact to the business.
Smarter customers requires smarter sales people to fill gaps in business knowledge that customer can’t or don’t access for themselves. This usually falls into customer specific areas of integration or customization. It also creates the opportunity for the sales person to add business value through by sharing research, data or expertise. The demand for deeper, richer content is the accelerant for sales force enablement and the driver for the explosion of content marketing.
Personal value is the “what’s in it for me” filter we all use when considering our business perspective. Politics plays a critical role in every business discussion and decision. Sales might be pushing for the new sales enablement/LMS system to support the role out of new messaging and improve new hire time to productivity, but the IT organization lacks resources and is consumed by existing projects, finance is unsure about investing in more sales technology without an equivalent increase in quota while marketing wants additional investment in marketing automation. Where you sit at the table is going to have a huge influence on your perspective.
Everyone, at one extreme or another applies their filter of personal value to their perspective. How will this impact my perception within the organization or with my boss? Do I agree with my boss or become the contrarian? How will this impact my promote-ability or will it potentially hurt those prospects? Am I aligned with the right people? We used to call it a CLM; “career limiting move”. Someone would say or do something or a region would struggle and it would have a negative impact on that person’s career and their perception within the organization – to the point in some cases they were forced to leave.
There is no amount of marketing automation, social selling or predictive analytics that can identify the intelligence of the customers decision process. The business decision method, be that formal or fly-by-night of how an ad-hoc group of business professionals will make a business decision is as much a factor of political power and influence – as business impact.
We arm our sales team with the same research, data, case studies, thought leadership, ROI-TCO analysis that we make available to prospects and customers (and competitors). It’s naive to think that every buyer reads all that stuff and is fully informed not just of your capabilities, but with all the alternatives; especially when it’s a one time, strategic decision.
Many sales teams are struggling to come to grips with the higher bar of knowledge required by customers today. Being able to add business value to the dialogue is as much a function of what the customer knows as to the sales person’s ability to add it. Sales Force Enablement teams can create a competitive knowledge advantage for their sales people to win the business value discussion.
However, understanding the decision method, political power structure and the human dynamics behind the business decision can only be acquired by sales professionals capable of building credibility and developing trust with “the buyers” to ask the decision intelligence questions. We learned early on to ask the, “who else will be involved in the decision” question.
If you break down what is unique about the high performer, it’s not just their ability to intellectually engage in a business value discussion, it’s their ability to instinctively breakdown the business decision method unique to each deal, the people behind it and the win-ability of each opportunity. They know what deals to drop, which buyers to influence and what messages will win based on this group of people. That can’t be automated and marketing can’t do it. It requires a sales professional interacting with customers.
As long as business decisions are made by groups of people, there will need to be a sales professional to win the business value discussion and solve for the decision intelligence.