Veteran salespeople probably remember a time when buyers were far less empowered. Although selling was by no means easier back then, the sales process followed a fairly straightforward, linear process. The prospect had to call companies to learn information (for example, features, benefits, and pricing) about offerings; those calls were passed to salespeople. From there, salespeople would usher the prospect through the buying cycle.
The Internet disrupted that dynamic. A few years ago, CEB and SiriusDecisions both published separate studies showing that buyers are now well through the sales process (57-67 percent, depending on which research you’re quoting) before interacting with a salesperson. Since then, thought leaders, experts, and consultants have flooded us with extinction theories. Salespeople are obsolete! The sales funnel has flipped! The sales process is outdated! The cold call is dead!
As research continues to evolve about the buyer’s journey, we learn more about what sellers can do to more effectively engage with prospects and shorten the sales cycle. Here are two of the latest insights all salespeople need to know.
Secret #1: A single buyer’s journey does not exist
There are actually three distinct “buying scenarios,” and buyers prefer at least some level of interaction with salespeople for each one.
In May, SiriusDecisions unveiled data from their newest survey about the buyer’s journey, and the results debunk the theory that salespeople are becoming irrelevant. One of the key takeaways of their research (which reflect responses from 1,000 B2B executives who had been involved in a significant B2B purchase decision within the previous six months) was that there is no single buyer’s journey. There are actually three “buying scenarios.”
The independent scenario represents a simple buying process, a lower purchase price ($50k or less), and a single decision maker
The consensus scenario represents a purchase decision made by a committee or multiple colleagues who vote to make purchases between $50k – $500k. These buying cycles take an average of six months.
The committee scenario is a complex buying process where the purchase decision must be pushed up the executive chain. Purchases cost $500,000 or more and take more than six months to close.
What’s most interesting is that buyers reported interacting with reps across all three types of buying scenarios. Human (as opposed to digital) interactions increased in importance as the purchase price went up. Writing on the SiriusDecisions blog, Marisa Kopec said:
“The new way to think about b-to-b buying is that human interactions still occur and matter, and the rise of digital marketing does not mean that personal interactions have gone away. While providers are interacting in new digital ways, just because buying behavior is done digitally does not mean that sales representatives are no longer required to instigate or facilitate a buying process.”
Secret #2: Sellers win more often when they make value the focal point of personal interactions with customers
Clearly, salespeople are not obsolete. At the same time, customer relationships are no longer king in the way they used to be.
Today, sales success is not determined by the number of contacts you have. Nor is it determined by the number of times you treat a customer to a steak dinner. What matters far more is your ability to articulate the value of your offering. Recent B2B buyer trend research from PeopleMetrics has shown that buyers make purchase decisions based on the quantity and quality of their interactions with you. Here are some highlights from their report.
- 50 percent of buyers rejected vendors because they did not see enough value.
- Three-and-a-half times more B2B buyers gave a perfect score (five on a five-point scale) on value to the team they ultimately chose.
- As buyers’ perceptions of value moved from good to excellent, the average size of the contract increased by nearly $100,000.
Many sales teams still need to make a mental shift to thinking from the perspective of the buyer rather than the perspective of the how to push prospects through their sales cycle. As Gartner analyst Tiffani Bova pointed out at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco earlier this year, many sales leaders still track “legacy” sales metrics (for example, the number of dials, emails, or social touches reps make each day). What sales leaders need to do, said Bova, is create metrics that match the buyer’s journey. If sales organizations can adapt to the nonlinear buying process, they’ll create more knowledgeable and empowered salespeople.