Are you meeting with buyers at the right stage in their buying process and your prospecting process? The buying process is changing. And the sales process is not keeping up. As a result, we have a growing gap between what buyers expect and what sellers provide. Sellers are not at the table until later in the process, but it’s not for a lack of trying. When sellers do meet with buyers, they are trying to sell too soon in the sales process.
The solution? Engage with buyers sooner in the process by having a business conversation – before a product & price conversation – because that’s when we can differentiate ourselves from the competition and add more value.
Have a Business Conversation
There’s one significant shift in the buying process.
It used to begin with the identification of a problem or need, followed by exploring options, purchasing and implementation. What we’re finding more often is that companies are reluctant to change. They stay with the status quo. They’re asking, “Why change?” The challenge for sales reps is to motivate buyers to consider alternative options for their business. Sellers need to demonstrate the value of change, or alternatively, the risk associated with not changing.
This is why we need to focus on having better business conversations, before product conversations. We need to change the possible perception that buyers have of sales professionals. Are we relevant to them? Do they need us throughout the buying process? Do they receive value from our conversations? The answer to these questions should be “yes” if we expect to get any of their time to have a conversation.
The Sales Gap
The sales gap is the difference between what buyers expect and what sellers deliver.
Studies show the gap is growing. Why? Partly because we may not realize how the buying process is changing. And partly because it’s simply more difficult to do.
The buying process includes three general stages:
Stage 1: Needs Identification
Defining the problem and figuring out what they need and want, to improve the current situation, and most importantly their business.
Stage 2: Exploration & Solution Definition
Determining if the solution entails a change in products/services, processes or people/organizational structure.
Stage 3: Solution Implementation & Evaluation
Deciding on a solution, executing the action plan, and tracking impact or results.
Studies reveal that sales professionals are not engaged until later in the buying process. Why?
Buyers today want sellers to show commitment to the continued success of the product they are selling. That means re-examining how to approach account management post-sale. Buyers have specific qualities or traits they think demonstrate a reason to be loyal to one seller above another, but the overarching reason is because of seller engagement. Overwhelmingly, buyers want sellers to show they care for, and are committed to, the buyer’s business long after the sale. Sellers need to be open, honest in their communication, and show a willingness to collaborate with the buyer.
Technology: Buyers have convenient access to vast amounts of information and an online network. It’s easier to self-assess, consult with peers and search for possible solutions, without involving sellers. And with the increasing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, more information will be coming from online or self-serve resources.
Multiple Buyers: As organizations move to a more flat, collaborative environment, so does the decision-making process. There are often multiple people involved in purchasing decisions. And each person likely has their own buying process. The sales rep may be considered unnecessary with so many others involved.
Expectations: Buyers are consumers and are expecting that experience in the B2B sales process. This means a personalized, multi-channel, hassle-free, information-enriched and responsive experience. And just like when they buy a coffee, visit a theme park, or download music, the new standard is “exceed my expectations”. Vendors or sales reps may not be included because they don’t meet the buyer’s expectations of knowledge, communication skills, and service levels.
Less time: Buyers are doing more with less resources. Their time for sales reps is limited, and there are a range of choices to be made before a buyer makes a final decision. The sooner buyers engage sellers to assist in identifying and prioritizing their needs, the more sellers can differentiate themselves and potentially provide more value.
Sellers want to be at the table during the “needs” identification stage. We ultimately want to help clients solve business problems (and get ahead of the competition). Coming up with a winning strategy for every buyer meeting by doing the research, developing great questions, adapting to different personality styles and understanding what is most important to the buyer and their business will put a seller in a position to stand out above the rest.
The ultimate goal in sales is to remain relevant to the buyer. We want clients to have a deep belief that in order to be most successful, they need us. We no longer want to be seen as a sales rep, but as a trusted business partner that is an important contributor to the success of their business. To move beyond the label of approved seller to one of trusted business partner, we must adopt a consultative business approach to sales by using insight and experience to structure a vision for their business that creates a mutually beneficial relationship.