Buyers are Buying Differently – What Are You DOING About It?
I know it’s important to continue to spread the word, but I’m almost tired of hearing about how buying behavior has changed. Yes, buyers are buying differently. Things have changed. The real question is… what are you DOING about it?
We’ve all heard the stats, right?
The Broken Record: Buying Behavior Has Changed
- Buyers are 57% of the way through their buying process before engaging a supplier sales rep
- Almost half (46%) of buyers still prefer creating a short list of vendors before making the decision to communicate with a sales rep
- 77% of B2B buyers said they did not talk with a salesperson until after they had performed independent research
- As many as 34% of respondents said the number of team members involved in the B2B purchase process increased over the past year
- 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally
- Over half of the C-suite conducts (or starts) their own research and they do the majority of it on the Internet
RFPs are on the rise, the number of decision-makers has increased, there’s more senior executive involvement, procurement is trying to commoditize everyone into a price war… the list goes on.
The Newsflash: Sales Behavior is Slow to Change
Case in point: See this infographic from Sales For Life about social selling readiness:
- 52% of the reps studied had less than 500 social connections
- 47% had contact information on their profile
- 6% of profile summaries demonstrated value to prospective clients
- 19% didn’t have recommendations
- 3% were actively sharing relevant content to potential buyers
I don’t mean to single out social selling as the answer to the changes in buyer behavior, but it certainly is a big part of the new toolbox (where social selling makes sense). So are:
- Content marketing
- Marketing automation (Marketo, Eloqua, CallidusCloud, HubSpot, Pardot, Genius, and dozens more)
- Trigger event sourcing (also see this on SFDC)
- Alert services (Google, Talkwalker and my favorite – Mention, often used to find trigger events)
- Other online research (search engines, analyst companies, SEC filings, annual reports and 10-Ks)
- Referrals and introductions (part of social, and offline)
- Big Data Marketing, such as predictive lead scoring and buyer/purchasing analytics (and behavioral economics)
- Leveraging tools like InsideView and Lattice Engines, among others, to find prospects and clients who need you
- Smart use of CRM (go figure)
What Does This Mean for Sales Pros?
Sales & Marketing Alignment
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but as a starting point, if you haven’t already, it’s time to reach out for a real handshake with your partners in Marketing. The old saws, complaints, and whining, must stop. If you don’t feel like “they” understand you, be a force for change. (You can start by dropping the “we/they” thinking.) “They” probably don’t think you understand or capitalize on what they’re doing, to try to help you. Figure it out. Get aligned.
If you’re not in a position to orchestrate this personally on a large scale in your company, start with yourself and nudge your leadership. Trust me when I tell you this:
The future will be bleak for sales professionals who do not understand and align with their marketing partners.
If this is something you’d like to dig into, check out:
- Sales and Marketing Alignment Best Practices for Building a Revenue Machine by TOPO
- Enterprise Sales and Marketing Alignment by HubSpot
- Sales Marketing Alignment – The New Power Couple by Aberdeen
- Six Best Practices to Improve Sales and Marketing Alignment by MarketingProfs
- 2013 Sales and Marketing Alignment Study by Marketo and MathMarketing (download)
- What Doyle Slayton is doing these days, over at xoombi
Move to the Front of the Line
Content management, lead gen, predictive scoring, marketing automation, email marketing, MQL… these things are your friends. If you don’t have a marketing department, yours hasn’t yet moved into the world of modern marketing, or you work for a smaller company, you may need to fend for yourself for awhile. But if you want to get in front of buyers sooner (before they’ve done 70% of their research digitally and are almost 60% of the way through their decision), you can’t rely on business as usual from the early 2000’s.
You may have company-provided tools for research, or you may need to:
- Set up alerts for trigger events, conduct your own research, and watch the media for prospects who may have problems you can solve
- Network inside your clients to unearth opportunities to provide additional value and deepen your relationship
- Make strides toward social selling approaches that are appropriate for your industry vertical and customer base
Some social selling resources:
- LinkedIn’s Foolproof Guide to Social Selling
- Eloqua’s Grande Guide to Social Selling
- Mini-guide to Social Selling by Salesforce.com
- 10 Steps to Building a Social Selling Machine by Sales For Life
- Beginner’s Guide to B2B Social Selling by Nimble
- My post on Much Ado About Social Selling
Set aside time for research and preparation to establish automated alerts, look for trigger events, execute your social selling approaches… all with the goal of identifying possible needs sooner and getting engaged with your prospects and current clients (deeper account penetration) proactively, sooner, rather than reactively, later. My one caution with trigger research is that if triggers are obvious, by the time you are able to search for them and read something somewhere, it may be too late. See this 2010 post by Anthony Iannarino to add perspective from both sides of the fence (read the comments, too). Still, since not everyone is using alerts and tools like Avention, and many reps remain in “response mode,” you can still gain some significant advantage this way, in my opinion.
Some trigger event resources:
- How to Find Hidden Opportunities and Shorten Sales Cycles by Craig Elias
- Posts with a tag of Trigger Event Selling by Tibor Shanto
- Posts on Trigger Events by Alen Mayer
- Sales Trigger Events – A Comprehensive Guide by CTOsOnTheMove.com
Inside your current accounts, you’ll hopefully rely on relationships, account mapping, strategic account management, and mouth-based data mining (asking questions!), but within large companies, your contacts may not always have visibility into what’s happening in other divisions. In a case like this, mining for Trigger Events and then leveraging your internal relationships to gain a competitive advantage, can be a powerful combination.
Bringing Value to the Table Early
Whether you call it insight selling, selling with insights, thoughtful selling, or something else, this is all about bringing relevant data and information that can help your clients see things differently. It might help them see around a corner and recognize a coming threat sooner; it might help them realize an opportunity they might otherwise have missed; it might help them recognize your competitive differentiation.
Finding real insight isn’t easy, but it doesn’t always need to be Earth-shattering. It just needs to be enough to help someone see things in a new way. How you position the information can matter a great deal.
Here are some good resources on selling with insight and thought leadership:
- Insight Selling and The Challenger Sale, a Primer by Straligence (it’s the CEB’s content)
- Dialogue: The Oldest, New Killer Selling Skill by me at Richardson (see program info here)
- Why Selling is a Joke by me at Richardson
- Insight Leads The Convergence of Company Message and Sales Model by Launch International (see their ebook here)
- Conversations are the Fuel For The 21st Century Selling System by Forrester
- Creating Conversations That Win by Corporate Visions
- (Many) solid posts by Dave Brock on Insight Selling
Do Something Differently
Those are just a few ideas, but there are certainly more. I hope you might post a few of your own or cite some other sources. The bottom-line is this: Don’t be one of those people who do the same things over and over and hope for a different result. Don’t be a “victim” of the changes in the market. And by all means, don’t sit around waiting for it to get worse. Do something different and start now. Figure out what ideas here might help you take a next step, create a plan, and execute. I fully realize that your choices are very dependent on your situation and context, so if you want to discuss that, reach out. I’m not consulting now, so this is not my full-time job, but I’ll do my best to help or point you in the right direction.
Whatever you decide and whatever your next steps, I wish you the best of success with your journey. I’d enjoy hearing about it, if you care to share.
In the meantime, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means, let’s continue to elevate our sales profession.
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution
<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>