Selling solutions to customers’ problems, it seems, is no longer enough. Customers today, especially B2B buyers, are determining what solutions are best for their specific need, and then looking for companies that can provide them. Increasingly rare is the occasion when a salesperson encounters a prospect at the beginning of the sales cycle. In fact, the sales cycle itself is evolving to a customer-led buy cycle. More and more, customers do their homework on what they need to meet a goal or solve a problem, contacting potential providers once they’ve created their own short list.
The Internet, of course, has and continues to play an integral role in this evolution. Customers have always sought recommendations and information, but the ease with which they can now acquire both has significantly and permanently altered how they buy.
In B2C this change is most obvious in such areas as car and high-tech or electronics sales like home theaters. Savvy buyers conduct extensive research, even determining what price they’re willing to pay based on what they’ve learned, before speaking with a salesperson. Recommendations may go unheard and unheeded, and price may be the primary focus, as a result. In B2B the change is pervasive across industries, and the price-focused scenarios even more common.
What this means for salespeople and the marketers who support them—especially in B2B—is that they have to rethink the sales process and start to think in terms of a customers’ purchase process. First, salespeople need to be where their customers are and get into the conversation early. Participating in discussions and serving as an information resource (no sales pitches!) in online communities and forums is one way to do so. Another is to provide relevant content like research reports and white papers. Marketers and the content they produce is integral to this.
Second, salespeople must focus on maintain and building customer relationships more than ever before. The more salespeople know and understand their customers, and the better they serve them as a result, the more likely their customers are to come to them early in the buy cycle, recommend them to associates, and care more about partnership than price alone. Again, the customer information that marketers have and can share with salespeople is invaluable. It’s essential to create systems for proactively share that data.
Third, salespeople and marketers alike must gain a deep understanding of how their customers buy today. If salespeople don’t understand how their customers buy, they may not get the chance to talk to those valuable customers or the prospects like them before competitors do, if at all. And if marketers don’t have that insight, they can’t support sales with the tools salespeople need in today’s purchase process.
All this means one thing: Data is more important than ever. Whether it’s corporate facts and figures like transactional and behavioral data or information salespeople have gathered over time like customers’ habits or preferences, the more relevant, comprehensive insight available to salespeople in real time, the more likely they are to reach out to the right customers at the right time with the right solution to the issue or opportunity a customer is facing right now.