When I worked as a financial consultant selling investments and insurance to Companies and individuals, I was taught a linear sales process:
- Building rapport.
- Qualifying if B2B using BANT framework.
- Presenting a solution or B2B presenting value.
- Address objections.
- Closing the deal and the next step.
- Onboarding and follow-up.
Sales is no longer a linear process. For many industries, the linear process is obsolete. Digital sales processes have moved across from consumer sales environment and to business to business (B2B) sales. B2B buyers are self-educated; therefore, the sales process begins not with the rapport building introduction as before, assuming the buyer knows little. However, with an assessment of how much the prospective buyer already knows and what specific gap they are trying to fill.
Before building rapport, the seller must give relevant value. Buyers do not want to build a relationship with sellers if they believe the sales rep does not have relevant value for their specific need.
Why it no longer looks like the linear buying journey for many?
- 57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier. (CEB)
- 67% of the buyer’s journey is now digitally. (SiriusDecisions)
However, Forrester research indicates that the conversation with sales reps is still a strong source of buyer influence. Lori Wizdo, states that “vendor sales in person, is identified as an important influencer at an early stage of the buying process”.
Let’s face it; there is a lot of conflicting information
One reason the sales process is not linear: Because there is typically no single buyer, Harvard Business Review report the number of people involved in B2B purchasing decision has grown from 5.4 to 6.8 in two years. The consensus is complicated and often confused. There is no ‘average’ in any buying unit; personas are almost irrelevant for B2B marketing.
Reason two, sales is not linear: Buyers are no different to your circle of colleagues, some are more extrovert and want to talk through their problems and evangelise a vision, while others are more introvert and like to think through the options with professional contacts and peer-created content. Some buyers want engagement early in the process while others prefer to do their own research, some like self-service and others want sales interaction over a relationship building lunch. The point is the personalisation of sales information, service and within the system must suit the individual buyer.
Reason three, sales is not linear: The real people behind the corporate purchasing department have become accustomed to AI and automation, consumer-focused tactics in their personal lives, and they expect the same in their working environment.
In a recent survey, 74% of business buyers told Forrester they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase. Forrester’s detailed in Business Technographics Global Priorities & Journey Survey, 2014, consistently proves that buyer behaviour and preference is very different in the industry from the averages. Such as:
- In Storage buying decisions, Sale rep in person ranks at #2 (with 20% choosing it as a primary resource), right after Vendor Websites (at 22%).
- Sales rep ‘in person’ is the most influential channel for Business Intelligence and Analytics.
- However, for buyers of Security Software Sales rep in person rank #6 on the list after Tech Info Websites, Tech Analysts, Vendor Websites, Peers, IT Forums.
It is a fallacy that buyers have little need for a sales rep. However, the sales process must accommodate the varying buyer preferences. If the entire digital collateral and experience are doing its job of moving your ideal buyers to where they want to be in the buying journey, then the ‘in person’ sales rep must be integrated with this journey. Because:
- 19% of buyers want to connect with a salesperson during the awareness stage of their buying process when they’re first learning about the product.
- 60% want to connect with sales during the consideration stage after they’ve researched the options and come up with a short list.
- 20% want to talk during the decision stage, once they have decided which product to buy.
If your sales system enables your buyers, if they choose to select their buying preferences through to purchase, then you must evaluate the role of your sales reps within your sales process.
Then there are many detailed versions of the classic three stages of the B2B Buyer Journey:
Digital has moved the buying process in Makiko Ara’s buyer journey map:
- Recognise need
- Determine Product Specifics
My favourite version of the B2B Buyer Journey Mapping Basics:
Adapt or Die: Buyer Demand a New Sales System
Buyers demand more customised option than available, and seller must utilise their most valued ‘in person’ sales resource where they can be most effective in delivering excellent customer experiences the exceed their customers and buyer expectation – on demand.
The approach represents the leading edge of the digital transformation in B2B sales; the key is knowing where the prospective buyer is regarding the sales journey. In most cases, the buyer is entering the very first conversation with a great deal of product knowledge – possibly, even more, knowledge than the sales rep and they require something specific that they cannot answer for themselves.
Sellers must integrate the ‘in person’ options into digital touchpoints of the sales journey. Effectively ‘seeding’ the digital journey so the buyer, regardless of where they may be in their buying journey, will have ready access to the relevant information they need to fill the gap and move them to where they want to go towards making a decision. Sales reps can no longer assume the buyer needs to be educated or even wants to be courted.
There is a definite real-time shift in the sales and buying journey, which runs counter to the traditional wisdom of the linear process. Immediate response to social conversations is a new tactic that legacy sales agents need to learn.
Despite the rise of the self-educated buyers, business decision-makers want to talk to sales reps to fill the gap in their knowledge, when considering specific innovative or disruptive solutions. Sometimes, buyers need a seller to help them to connect the dots, this being the case how do you do this?
Scale Your Sales Attraction to Engage the right influencer of the decision, Educate the buyer and influencer if it is required. Then over time Elevate the relationships to one where you have your quarterly lunch and perhaps discuss what is pressing and what more add value you as a supplier can deliver to help the buyer achieve their personal and professional goal.
Buyer must be in control of accessing relevant information and conversation with ‘in person’ sales reps at any touchpoint on their buyer journey.
B2B sales reps will need a very different skill set to succeed in the buyer digital lead marketplace. Embracing this transition head-on and mastering the new sales role and tool-sets will be the only way to survive and thrive.