In the balance of power between buyers and sellers the pendulum has swung decisively towards buyers in the past few years. Thanks to the internet, buyers have access to more information than ever before, they can easily research product information, connect with peers and access countless benchmark tests, comparisons and reviews.
At the same time many products and services have become more commoditised with many traditionally complex products now very easy to buy and use. These and other factors have contributed to power flowing back to buyers stronger than ever before.
With so much information available to buyers, they are delaying their engagement with sellers. The most often quoted statistic, from CEB’s research, is that buyers on average wait until they are 57% through their buying process before engaging with sellers. If we consider what buyers are doing in that 57% portion, then we can see how serious the implications are for sellers.
A typical corporate buying process might have the following steps.
- Business as Usual
- Recognise the Need for Change
- Consider various solutions to achieve goal
- Evaluation of Potential Suppliers indirectly (Online/Industry contacts)
- Engage with Suppliers
- Tell Suppliers what they are looking for
- Receive Proposals
- Negotiate with preferred supplier
- Award Business
From above we can see that a lot of important decisions are getting made before buyers are even engaging with sellers. What does this mean for sales organisations? Here are five implications.
- Buyers are choosing to spend much less of their time with sellers and sales organisations.
- By coming late into the buying process sellers don’t have time to understand the priorities and the various stakeholders on the customer’s side.
- We do not get a chance to learn what the customer’s underlying needs are.
- We will not be able exert much influence over the sales/buying process.
- We are relegated to commodity status and lose our negotiation power.
Is there a way to engage with customers earlier, before they start questioning their own status quo or start developing solutions?
Of course, top sales organisations and top sales professionals have always found a way to engage with customers well before they are in a buying motion and before they have developed a solution or even recognised a need for change. There are several sales approaches based on this theme, Insight Selling, Consultative Selling, Disruptive Selling, Provocation-based Selling and the Challenger Sale to name a few.
The concept is that we disrupt our customer’s thinking by approaching them with ideas or insight on how they can run their business better rather than leading with information about our products and company.
Here’s a very simple example to demonstrate the point. Let’s say we sell a solution for the manufacturing sector. The traditional approach to a customer might be:
‘Hi, I’m Jennifer from XYZ company, I’d like to talk to you about our new system, it has all the latest features, we have great market share, we have customers in 20 countries, our quality is the highest etc’,
This is all about us and customers are just weary, and wary, of this approach. Instead we could approach with something like this.
‘Hi, I’m Jennifer from XYZ company, I’d like to talk to you about some breakthrough approaches in reducing line changeover time and improving capacity utilisation. We recently worked with ABC company and helped them substantially improve these two-key metrics. I note from your recent quarterly report that these areas are a big focus for you right now’.
We need to leverage our experience with a broad range of customers, our products and specific research into our potential customers, to bring ideas on achieving better business outcomes.
We should be able to bring tremendous value to customers and help them improve their business in ways they weren’t even aware of.
Here are some of the benefits of engaging early and disrupting our customer’s thinking.
- We’ll be creating opportunities rather than reacting.
- We will not be competing with anyone, at least in the early stage.
- The customer will get better value as our solution should be better than their status quo and their own self-diagnosis.
- We will be working with the customer on the solution design thus putting us in a good position when it comes time to buy.
- We will have positioned ourselves as a credible and trusted advisor, vs someone trying to sell something.
With buyers much less dependent on sales organisations, disrupting our customer’s thinking and taking an insight-led sales approach is more critical than ever.
Serious decision-makers are receptive to new ideas and they are happy to hear from specialists who challenge their thinking. On the flip-side they are not receptive and don’t have the time to listen to product and solution pitches. The path is clear, if you want to survive and thrive in today’s sales world you need to have a disruptive mindset.
Steven Norman is the author of Future Proof Sales Strategy, a guide to what’s working in the professional sales world today. In the book he shares Seven Steps to transform sales teams’ performance and build a bulletproof sales machine. He is also the founder of Growth Acumen, working with some of the world’s top B2B companies on implementing world-class sales practices.