Have the rumors of the death of B2B sales been grossly exaggerated? According to the Harvard Business Review and Gartner, B2B buyers report that, compared to other sources of information, direct interaction with a vendor is the most influential part of their decision-making process. Though, as noted below, a majority of the other influential “interactions” leading to a decision are digital versus “human” which has made the selling process also much more fluid. The opportunities to self-educate have put buyers in the drivers’ seat.
And yet buyers still expect sales professionals to explain how a new technology or service can deliver ROI as “customer value ultimately resides in…usage, not just the individual product.”
The challenge facing modern B2B sales is not irrelevance (as SiriusDecisions recently noted). It is the dynamic and distributed buying process that requires more than a rolodex and telephone to be successful.
Here are 3 insights that will help sales better understand the buyer’s perspective in the new B2B landscape:
1. The New Customer References
In the figure above, customer references secure a spot just beneath direct interactions for buyer influence. It’s not a surprise that customer reviews are powerful, but it’s important to note that the nature of such references has changed. In the past, sales could provide prospects with a simple list of satisfied customers. Today, sales must be aware of and react to the fact that potential buyers can connect with customers through community forums and product review sites to get candid feedback and impressions. Read the reviews, and understand the biases.
2. Marketing and Sales Interdependency
Activities that are typically a marketer’s domain, such as events, white papers and vendors’ websites, also play significant roles in the B2B buyers’ perspective because sales needs to take stock of what influences buyers are bringing to the table. This puts pressure on the notoriously stressed marketing-sales relationship. As the new B2B buyer’s perspective forces these two functions to become increasingly interdependent, both sides will have to work on improving coordination and collaboration. After all, “the marketing-sales relationship now tops the agenda of concerns in a survey of B2B executives.”
3. Sales as a Gateway to the Vendor Company
Finally, it’s important for sales to consider how the accessibility of company web sites, blogs, digital media and more render vendor organizations more transparent to potential buyers. Rather than previous buying cycles, such as the “inside-out funnel approach,” buyers now touch your brand at many different points, online and offline, when they want to. If the power of information is in the hand of the buyer, what do buyers expect from sales professionals (besides direct interactions)?
Buyers value communication with departments other than just sales in a vendor company and are increasingly viewing sales as a gateway to conversing with members in other roles. Today’s buyer relies heavily on sales reps to enable such engagements with multiple people at the company, and to orchestrate them with purpose and efficiency.
How Sales Can Adapt, Quickly
The good news is that there are technology options to help sales teams take advantage of these shifts in the sales process. Predictive intelligence gives sales teams greater visibility into where prospects are in the buying process and the needs they have. As sales teams adapt their strategies and practices, the most successful will be those that use the latest technology to get a leg up on the competition and gain the greatest possible insight into their buyers’ mindsets.
Frank Cespedes’s and Tiffani Bova’s original article “What Salespeople Need to Know About the New B2B Landscape” was published on Harvard Business Review.