Many sales organizations say they have adopted a “buyer-centric” approach, but have they? What does buyer-centric actually mean? Is it reflected in their training methods and sales processes?

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of training decision-makers report it makes sense to use a buyer-centric sales approach, even if it makes the sales cycle longer. And, more than half (55%) of sellers agree it makes sense to choose a buyer-centric approach, instead of any other, even if it requires more effort. Why? Because it’s more effective than any other method, according to new ValueSelling Associates, Inc. and Training Industry research findings.

To explore the concept of buyer-centric sales, and what it means to training decision-makers and sellers, ValueSelling Associates and Training Industry conducted a survey of 260 training decision-makers and 278 sales representatives across a range of industries and company types. We found some interesting discrepancies between the two groups.

Buyer-centric Sales Approach Defined

Training decision-makers and sellers agree on five points that define a buyer-centric sales approach, based on the research data.

A buyer-centric sales approach:

  • Means putting the client’s goals and needs first.
  • Includes creating authentic connections between salespeople and clients.
  • Requires salespeople to research and prepare insightful questions for client interactions.
  • Involves working with prospects to uncover ideas for ideal solutions and then mapping solutions to that vision.
  • Necessitates salespeople to have industry expertise or experience.

The majority of these points are tied to tangible selling behaviors. From researching and preparing to centering the interaction on the client’s goals, these are actions a salesperson can learn and take.

Our survey asked respondents to characterize the sales approach that their organizations use, as shown in the figure below. From these results it appears that training decision-makers and salespeople are aligned in how they view the sales environment.

A graph showing L&D leaders and sales reps' opinions about sales approaches

However, both sets of respondents have different opinions about the best way to engage with prospective customers.

  • Training decision-makers focused on the modality of interactions and products, favoring in-person interactions (rather than virtual interactions) and the ability to present detailed product benefits and advantages over the competition.
  • Salespeople focused on connecting with prospective clients on a human level and actively listening to understand their needs and problems.

Responses from L&D leaders and sales reps about the best ways to engage with prospects

Differences also emerged in how training decision-makers and sellers understand what “buyer-centric sales” means.

Training decision-makers most identified pitch preparation and prospect research (60%) as the crucial elements, while salespeople focused on the behaviors — and most identified with creating authentic connections between themselves and the prospect (70%) as the most.

Less than one-half of sellers have the skills to ace a buyer-centric approach.

The majority of both groups of survey respondents see the value in being buyer-centric, but do sellers have the skills to pull it off? Less than half of training decision-makers and sellers said their organizations demonstrate a higher mastery of these buyer-centric sales skills than others in their market or industry.

The Role of Sales Technology

A common theme in the buyer-centric research was the role of sales technology in the broader tech stack. The focus was on how organizations could better enable sellers to use technology to streamline and reinforce buyer-centric sales behaviors, not so much on the technology itself.

Technology doesn’t solve the problems salespeople encounter, according to 69% of all respondents.

The root cause of sales engagement issues varies across organizations. Lack of training in using technology is an issue. In fact, 85% of organizations that receive training on how to use sales technology say it improves their skills and agility in sales.

Six Best Practices for Buyer-centric Sales

Human connections continue to be at the core of sales, even with remote work and virtual interactions. Revenue teams are challenged to develop skills across teams, provide them with properly integrated technology, and measure the desired selling behaviors. Here are six best practices that organizations can use to align with a buyer-centric sales approach:

1.  Use a common enterprise language to establish a buyer-centric culture.

For most organizations, revenue teams are composed of individuals from different industries, with different philosophies and different understandings of the buying process and how to work with prospects. As a result, it’s easy for the data and customer insight to slip into fragmented disarray as it moves across individuals and departments.

To be truly buyer-centric, sales organizations need a common language across their entire revenue engine. This is about training, and how training leaders and processes use and reinforce this language. Every aspect of the buying process — from research and lead generation to account management and customer support — should be designed with the customer in mind. A common language facilitates a sales organization’s ability to engage with customers to better understand their needs, improve the customer experience and drive customer loyalty.

2.  Create feedback loops.

Revenue teams need to establish feedback loops for several reasons — to get a handle on metrics related to what salespeople are doing, to better understand what differentiates failed prospects from happy clients, or to quantify things to get a benchmark for which problems are real. This feedback enables sales organizations to have meaningful dialogues with prospects and clients, and to help identify problems and additional needs.

3.  Address contextual challenges.

For many organizations, what may seem like sales problems are often symptoms of underlying issues related to technical and sales skills. The technology used by customer-facing teams can greatly impact their behavior, but its impact depends on how it is integrated into their workflow and used to support and enhance buyer-centric behaviors. Proper integration can help them prepare, engage at the right moment and communicate efficiently and effectively. And to nurture deep conversations during discovery and to shape solutions that meet business needs, revenue professionals need ongoing skill development.

4.  Measure and reward buyer-centric behaviors.

To emphasize the importance of a buyer-centric sales approach, sales organizations should incentivize and reward customer-centric behaviors and results. This can include recognizing salespeople who consistently demonstrate a strong customer-centric attitude and providing performance-based incentives tied to customer-centric results like account expansion, multiyear agreements or customer retention.

5.  Leverage data & analytics.

By aligning the revenue engine with a well-integrated tech stack and leaning into the possibilities of data and analytics, revenue teams can make data-driven decisions and adjust their sales approach to better meet the needs of buyers. This includes tracking metrics such as customer satisfaction, lead conversion rates and customer lifetime value.

6.  Provide ongoing sales training and support.

Continuous learning and development (L&D) is the crucial component in creating lasting behavioral change. Training can include learning activities such as regular sales coaching sessions, ongoing instructor-led and online training programs, and access to just-in-time learning and access to industry resources and experts. Once you’ve successfully identified and developed the right sales behaviors, support and reinforcement can come through technology. For example, embedding on-demand learning inside of customer relationship management (CRM) systems to provide sellers with targeted information at the point of need — qualification tools, plan-creation templates and account planning add-ons will expedite buyer-centric selling and improve customer data, interactions and relationships. This enables sales managers to streamline processes and focus on monitoring and cultivating buyer-centric behaviors — and an improved customer experience.

Effectively Train Sales and Revenue Teams To Be Buyer-centric

Our latest research with Training Industry revealed that both training decision-makers and sellers understand the importance of a buyer-centric sales approach, and they are willing to put in the work to make it an effective approach for them and their organizations.

The findings also revealed that many organizations have work to do.

To implement a successful buyer-centric approach, equip your revenue teams with a common enterprise language, establish feedback loops, address contextual challenges, leverage data and analytics and provide ongoing sales training.

The key to successful implementation is measuring and reinforcing buyer-centric behaviors at the individual revenue professional level. Following these best practices, teams build deeper connections with prospects and customers, better understand their needs and ultimately drive business growth.