Selling is difficult, because buying is difficult. The buyer faces competing priorities and changing needs. These factors and others have made the buying process more complex than ever. Therefore, sales professionals need a new method for closing the sale. They need to be thinkers and doers, but they need to think before they do. They need a working plan that’s ongoing.
Their plans must engage the customer in their world, because the customer has the home turf advantage. They must consider the customer’s perspective in a way that goes deeper than meeting surface-level needs. Sales professionals today need to do several things well. They need the strategy and skills that keep them in front of the customer.
Similarly, their plans must also consist of several connected parts so that they can remain proactive in driving momentum. Sales professionals must develop a plan that is buyer-centric, strategic and differentiated. Here’s how sales professionals can execute each of these three components.
1. Becoming Buyer-Centric
Buyers have changed, because their environment has changed. In this new environment, the buyer must coalesce support from stakeholders when making a purchasing decision, because committing to and implementing a solution represents an organizational change.
Therefore, customers need more than a map — they need a guide. Sales professionals who are prepared to take on this role will outperform the competition. Consider that the B2B customer experience index rating averages less than 50 percent, according to research from McKinsey. B2B customers are not understood and are, therefore, underserved.
Today’s customers perform more upfront research. They enter the decision process armed with information that has already influenced their thinking and are likely anchored to one or more beliefs before their first conversation with a sales professional. As a result, customers expect sales professionals to provide new data and metrics to serve as proof of the solution’s value. This increasingly formalized process is the result of increasing numbers of stakeholders. Each one has a definition of value and individual way of assessing worth. The net result: Sales professionals must reach a higher bar to compel customers to buy.
These challenges compound as time and resources continue to shrink. In the drive to compete, businesses seek fast solutions. Achieving speed, however, is difficult as organizations become more matrixed and decisions become distributed. Moreover, customers are increasingly skeptical of data and even of the sales professional. One study shows that customers are more skeptical of negotiating with a person than they are with a computer program. Many customers walked away from deals that were financially favorable because they were sensitive to seller-centric behaviors. This skepticism leads to a buying process in which more stakeholders need more information to move forward. The result is a dynamic buying journey.
2. Becoming Strategic
The buying journey is a long process, and it’s getting longer. More stakeholders, information and options create confusion for the buyer. Sales professionals need a method for steering customers through the labyrinth. The problem is that sales professionals are becoming less productive. According to research from Accenture, between 2010 and 2015, sales productivity fell from 41 percent to 36 percent, and 59 percent of sales professionals reported having too many sales tools.
Falling productivity is not a resource problem; it’s a strategic one. Sales professionals need a smarter way to bring the customer through the buying process. They need a strategic approach in four parts:
- Assess: Sales professionals must gauge their strengths, vulnerabilities and knowledge gaps. They must know where they can add value above and beyond competitors, where they’re lacking, and in what areas they have incomplete knowledge. A thorough assessment prevents assumptions that lead to lost opportunities.
- Strategize: Strategy gives shape to an action plan that allows sales professionals to react to customer changes and strengthen the case for change. Sales professionals need a strategy as much as customers do. A strategy helps them make better decisions and build confidence.
- Prepare: Strong execution comes from preparation. Too often, in their enthusiasm to meet with the customer, the sales professional moves ahead without proper preparation. Without preparation, sales professionals risk losing credibility. To make the most of the moment with the customer, sales professionals cannot leave it to chance.
- Engage: To advance the sale, every engagement must add value to the customer. Engaging with the customer requires dialogue and questioning skills. Sales professionals must seek feedback from the customer. The information gained from even the shortest conversation is often more powerful than any research.
3. Becoming Differentiated
Sales professionals can create a differentiated buying experience by identifying the buying factors that influence a customer’s decision to move forward. Without understanding these factors, sales professionals cannot compel customers to move beyond the status quo. Some of the most common buying factors include:
- Regret Aversion: Regret aversion is the expectation of regret. That is, the customer is anticipating regret, not actually experiencing This anticipation becomes another piece of information used to make the decision. In this respect, regret aversion might have equal weight to other information, like ROI or price. One study found that choices are often driven by a fear of regret, even though “people are less susceptible to regret than they imagine.”
- Sunk Cost Fallacy: The sunk cost fallacy is the urge to “stay the course” simply because the money has been spent, and changing plans leaves the results of those investments unrealized. Sales professionals must be prepared to help customers overcome this powerful bias.
- Choice Overload: The buying process is only one of the customer’s responsibilities. Sales professionals should limit the number of choices that they ask customers to make. They should simplify their language, written communication and visuals for the same reason.
- Status Quo Bias: Upending the status quo is uncomfortable and incites anxiety. When sales professionals understand the power of the status quo, they can prepare to leverage every asset and capability to move the customer forward.
Sales professionals need a plan that keeps them ahead of every curve in the road toward the sale. They must do more than illustrate the value of the product but must also be able to help the customer navigate the buying journey. They must become more intentional in their approach to the customer by crafting a strategy that considers all the challenges in selling. Finally, they need to understand the common thought processes that prevent a customer from buying.