Sellers are falling short in today’s B2B buying journey
According to our 2020-21 Sales Performance Study, only 53% of salespeople are achieving their quota. The reason it’s so tough to sell? It’s harder than ever for sellers to please buyers. And most sellers aren’t approaching buyers in the right way, which means they’re facing more challenges than ever as they try to make a sale.
The challenges of selling virtually, combined with longer buying cycles and changed buying processes, mean that sellers have a more difficult path than ever to closing a deal.
The traditional sales tactics that may have worked before won’t work now, especially as buyers start to rebound from COVID. Now is the time for sales organizations to learn how to engage buyers earlier in the buying process and deliver not just what buyers expect, but what they need.
What do buyers really think of sellers?
The problem is that buyers don’t think much about sellers at all.
Over the last five years, buyers have relied less and less on sellers as go-to resources when facing a business challenge. As a result, they consult a variety of other sources in their buying journey, such as industry events, vendor websites, and even web searches, before they reach out to a seller.
As we see below, sellers are ranked 9 out of 10 in the list of resources that buyers turn to when they need to solve a problem. And by the stage of the buying process when a prospect contacts a seller, they’ve often already made their buying decision. That means sellers have fewer opportunities to engage with buyers.
Fewer interactions mean that every minute sellers spend with buyers has to be valuable. But most buyers haven’t changed the way they sell — unless it’s to pivot to virtual selling with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the time buyers reach out to sellers, they’ve already decided how they’ll proceed. At that point, sellers have little opportunity to influence the sale or deliver any additional value in the buying process.
As a result, buyers get exactly what they expect from sellers and nothing more, reinforcing their decision that there was no need to discuss their problem with a seller earlier in their buying journey.
We call this cycle the buyer apathy loop. Once it begins, it’s incredibly difficult to break.
Watch our client director Kelly Acland discuss the buyer apathy loop and what to do about it in our quick three-minute explainer video below.
So, what do buyers want from sellers?
As we saw above, buyers rank sellers low on list of preferred resources to consult in the buying process when salespeople are “just” helping to close a transaction. But another way to look at this is to see how a salesperson can fill the roles of many of the higher-valued resources. For example, by being seen as a subject matter expert, or by offering value inside relevant business communities, salespeople can be valuable to buyers and become one of the top preferred sources to solve business problems.
We also asked buyers which positive salesperson behaviors impact their final decision to buy. They ranked behaviors during the buying journey that increased the likelihood of doing business together. The top four priorities are:
- Understand my business
On the surface, it sounds simple. Customers have little tolerance for explaining their business to a salesperson. On the flip side, sellers are hard-pressed to devote the time needed to research accounts prior to sales interactions. Sellers need consistency, a focused approach and new technology tools to truly exceed this expectation.
- Great communication skills
Buyers are looking for an experience, not just an interaction. Today, the expectation is that every call is crisp, compelling and concise. Every interaction has to be worth the time. This covers the basics – active listening and advanced questioning – but also includes negotiating, virtual presentations, storytelling, and social selling techniques.
- Demonstrate value and how I would get results
Buyers want sellers to be able to connect a solution to business outcomes. Sellers who have listened to their prospect and built a mutually agreed-upon meeting agenda are more likely to have an opportunity to show the value of a solution, compared with those who start immediately with products or solutions. Return on investment and value are the outcomes of the right solution for the real problem.
- Provide insights and perspectives
Compared with the previous three on the list, this is the hardest to master and the most nuanced.
Sellers can offer perspective by:
- Identifying an unrecognized problem
- Detecting an unseen opportunity in the market
- Serving as a broker of capabilities that creates partnerships, expands the buyer’s business, or helps them redefine success
- Developing a new or innovative solution to the buyer’s problem
You can’t do it well if you aren’t good at the first three. Importantly, perspective can move a buying cycle, regardless of what phase you might be in. Even after putting vendors into a small product box and narrowing the scope of engagement, buyers are open to learning more.
To learn more ways that you can help your sellers deliver perspective, download our 5 top tips for adding value for your customers.
At what point in the buying process do buyers engage sellers?
When buyers want to solve a problem, they follow their instincts based on their experience. But as we’ve outlined above, sellers are doing a poor job of inspiring buyers’ confidence. That’s why the buyer apathy loop exists.
As a result, buyers wait to engage buyers until after later and later in their buying process. Our 2021 Buyer Preferences Study showed that only 43% of buyers engage sellers when they’re analyzing their needs or identifying possible solutions — a significant drop from the 56% of buyers who engaged sellers in these phases in 2018.
One in five buyers — twice as many as in 2018 — evaluate solutions and resolve outstanding questions on their own. These buyers only engage sellers when they want to negotiate a contract or implement a solution.
Even worse is the increase in buyers who think there’s nothing sellers can do to engage them earlier. This number has risen from 9% to 25% since 2018. If this trend continues, buyers will stop turning to sellers altogether.
But all isn’t lost. The good news is that 75% of buyers said that they would be open to engaging with salespeople earlier in the buying journey if the circumstances are right, which we’ll look at next.
When are buyers willing to engage earlier in the buying process?
Most buyers reported that they’d engage sellers earlier when dealing with four scenarios:
- A decision that’s risky for the organization with significant legal, financial, or reputational implications (27%)
- A new challenge (25%)
- A complex decision, such as solving a problem that involves buying influences from several departments (13%)
- A decision that’s risky for the individual buyer (10%)
Clearly, sellers minimizing risk and uncertainty are what these buyers are looking for. This is the opposite of what used to be a popular sales strategy: FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to scare buyers into engaging.
And while that doesn’t guarantee more valuable relationships, it does provide sellers with more opportunity to deepen a relationship and differentiate themselves if they are able to take advantage of the additional time and information offered in earlier engagement.
Another factor to consider is different buyers have different preferences for when to engage sellers based on their decision-making style. 44% of buyers willing to engage with sellers early in the buying process identify with a risk-taking and innovation-oriented buying style. These buyers with a “charismatic” decision-making style are eight times more likely than “skeptics” – those that need to be convinced with evidence – to welcome early engagement.
How to reconnect with clients and prospects on their buying journey?
Breaking the buyer apathy loop is challenging, but it can be done. It’s important to find ways to engage buyers earlier in their buying journey, then exceed their expectations.
When sellers exceed buyer expectations, they stand out from the competition. They’re more likely to rise up the list of resources that buyers turn to when they face a challenge—even if that challenge isn’t new, risky, or complex. And that’s how sellers win more deals and build a lasting, strong relationship.
Our 2021 Buyer Preferences Study explores the buyer-seller relationship and the ways that COVID-19 has transformed the buying cycle. It also explores how sales organizations can transform and build strategies to weather change.
Download our 2021 Buyer Preferences Study: Reconnecting with buyers for a deep dive into the buying cycle and to learn how your buyers can engage earlier in the buying journey.
And to discover how your organization can transform to exceed buyer expectations both now and in the future, get in touch.