Changing Buying Behaviors
One of the truly dramatic changes that we have witnessed in sales over the past decade is the moment in time when the buyer first engages with a salesperson. In recent years, that moment has shifted from early in the sales cycle to very late in it. Buyers are engaging with salespeople after they have already begun to move toward a purchase decision. Research has shown that the average B2B buyer is nearly 60 percent through the sales cycle before engaging a sales rep, regardless of price point.
I believe that this shift is making the sales profession much more difficult. Not only do you have less time with the buyer to create and demonstrate value, but the buyer also arrives with a much higher bar for you to clear. Potential buyers have more knowledge and power than ever before. They have ongoing access to information about you, your company and your competitors in ways that weren’t available that long ago.
The result is that sellers need to be more sophisticated than ever about what they are selling. Buyers now expect and demand it. When engaging with buyers, your salespeople must be able to lead with a point of view, sharp insight and provocative ideas that teach the buyer something surprising and new. Otherwise, they endanger themselves and the sale by giving prospects little more than what they already have read online.
New Definition of Successful Selling
Successful sellers are those who possess that kind of intimate, inside-out knowledge that makes them a trusted and necessary resource for a buyer. They have deep insight not only about the product or service in question, but also about the buyer’s company, products, competitors and industry—and even areas beyond that such as geographic or political issues.
But how can you help your sales teams acquire and provide this kind of sophisticated knowledge? I’ve always said that the most successful salespeople are those who are hungry, lifelong learners. The seller’s most important attribute is to be an educator for a buyer—and they simply can’t be an educator without being a student first. Sellers must be forever learning and searching for new knowledge. They need to stay up-to-date on new developments and are always looking for trends and changes before they happen.
Sellers must be forever learning and searching for new knowledge
That’s why I tell sellers that if their field is not something they want to read about on the weekend, then they should sell something else. Your salespeople may be adequate at their job, but they’ll never get to the top of their profession if they don’t have this passion. Because there will always be people who are engaged on a deeper level—who will be more knowledgeable and better at their work than someone who is just dipping their toe into the water.
In this climate, sellers need to be able to size up potential buyers immediately so that they can provide the best, most useful information—insight that is tailored directly for them. The reality is that your products have no inherent value. Their value comes from the buyer’s need for them. If your sales teams don’t understand that need, then they don’t understand how to sell your product.
The sales person's value comes from the buyer’s need for them
Conducting basic online research is critical to making that first impression count. Before even meeting a client, your salespeople should have swept LinkedIn and other social media sites to learn more about the buyer and their background. They should have researched any articles or presentations by the buyer that can help them better understand the client and their circumstances.
And don’t forget: Buyers are doing the same sleuthing. Pay close attention to your salespeople’s online presence. Do they demonstrate their expertise? Are they active and engaged?
If I research someone and find they are publishing in various forums, participating in discussions, and managing their own online brand and identity, then I expect value in that discussion. And if I don’t see that level of activity and interest, then I wonder why I’m devoting any time to speaking with them. I may be inclined to look elsewhere before we even get started.
Join the conversation!
What other steps have you taken to lead with insight? How do your salespeople ensure that they know their buyer as well as they possibly can? Have you seen sellers provide knowledge and insight that surprises and impresses potential buyers—and what were the results?
About the Author
Randy Illig is the Global Practice Leader of FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice and the co-author of Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play. With more than 25 years of experience ranging from direct sales and general manager to successful entrepreneur, CEO and board member, Randy leads the global sales performance practice team as we help our clients build high performance sales and sales leadership teams. Randy is a former recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, the Ernst & Young “CEO Under 40” award, and the Arthur Andersen Strategic Leadership Award.More Content by Randy Illig