In the Internet age, the power of information has shifted from seller to buyer. In the past, buyers needed to contact sales people for product information. Today, massive amounts of product information is available online. Buyers can educate themselves without sellers knowing about it, and competition is global.
Traditional push marketing is becoming less and less effective in our subscription economy and world of ad blockers. The value of information is dropping, but the value of converting information into a competitive advantage is golden.
The name of the game has become to be found online. Marketing departments do their best to produce relevant content to attract potential buyers to their websites. Google is earning a fortune on paid ads when sellers maximize their auction bids for the most popular keywords. Sales people use social media to promote their skills and build their personal brands. As buyers, it’s all pretty overwhelming. What content can be trusted? Most vendor offerings look similar online. The enormous amount of options makes ordering a dish at an Indian restaurant feel easy…
So, how do buyers make decisions and how can sales leaders adapt to increase win rates?
Buying behaviors and culture
First off, I think we need to realize that people behave differently when it comes to making buying decisions. As an example, one of my brothers is a true people person; he makes very spontaneous purchases, while I do my homework extensively and have a process-oriented approach.
In a business-to-business sales environment, where on average (according to CEB's research), there are 5.4 people involved in a decision, buying cultures also vary greatly. Some are more short-term focused and place high value on the people and relationships. Others take a long-term approach and decide based on a structured process and carefully weighted criteria, using extensive spreadsheets and external consultants. Recent research from both the Prosales Institute and Corporate Executive Board highlight the importance of better understanding how buyers make decisions.
Understanding this is very important, as you need to match your approach to resonate with your buyer.
Match based on buying culture
By capturing this information in each sales opportunity, you can make sure to match the right people from your side with the buying team. Use your most charismatic sales person to lead deals where buyers indicate being people-oriented and your most structured sales champion on deals where following process and ensuring detailed decision criteria documentation will be key.
The importance of managing perceived risks
More than anything else, perceived risk for the buyer is the main influencer of a buying decision. If you are selling industrial robots to mid-sized manufacturing firms, it could revolutionize their efficiency, but also create major problems and possibly putting them out of business if things went really wrong. In addition, it would affect their workflows and require organizational changes, which will affect many people and make the decision more difficult and increase perceived risk.
Make sure you don’t ignore hidden risks that create concerns for buyers, as it may serve to create “analysis paralysis”. Loosen up these knots as early as possible in the process, to circumvent decision-making problems.
Stakeholders and their roles
If you study different sales methodologies, you’ll find that they use different terminology for stakeholders involved in a buying decision, such as “sponsor”, “decision maker”, “problem owner”, “user”, etc. As helpful as these descriptions may be, remember that the real challenge is to understand their buying decision culture and how they will introduce change in their organization.
Make sure to understand the current status quo for your buyers and how adding your solution would influence the stakeholders and which attitude they’re likely to have towards such a change. Oftentimes, group dynamics are forgotten; decisions stall because we haven’t been able to influence all of the people that would be affected. This is often where sales people get outsold. A classic example is the junior sales person, who runs a sales opportunity for months with a single stakeholder, hoping and praying that this “sponsor” will do the internal selling for them. Taking the back seat, rather than taking control of the wheel, often ends up with the vehicle sliding off the road.
Beliefs, values and motivational drivers
It’s also important to understand the world-view and beliefs of your buyer, as they will shape their risk aversion and buying behavior. If you’re a new player in your industry with a revolutionizing product and your buyer is extremely risk-averse and holds the belief that “I won’t be fired for choosing the largest vendor”, you’ll face an uphill battle.
So how do you know? By analyzing people’s communication styles on LinkedIn as well as their email and phone conversations, you can draw conclusions about their thought patterns. Some people speak about the future and the big picture, while others hone in on details; the how and the what. Some are motivated by moving away from problems while others are more motivated by moving towards new achievements (I wrote another post on understanding motivation that you can find here).
Timing & triggers
No matter how great your solution is, unless the timing is right for the buyer, they won’t be buying. A common statistic often quoted is that buyers have completed 67% of their buying journey before contacting a sales person. If you have not been able to influence the buyer during this time, the risk is substantial that somebody else has…
By learning about trends and triggers in their industry, you can be proactive and package your offerings in appealing ways. If you can be present where your buyers come to learn and network effectively, you can establish yourself as a thought leader and influence your potential buyers in the areas where you can assist. Combined with intelligent marketing and tools to capture trigger events, you can go from being reactive to proactive. You can be the one on their side during the initial 2/3rds of their buying journey.
Create a lighthouse for change
When driving a sales opportunity that will result in an investment for the buyer that creates a change for the better, you have the possibility to rally all their stakeholders around a clearly stated vision. Use this possibility to your advantage and make sure that you create a lighthouse for the change. Also make sure that you have at least one frontrunner on the buying decision team who boosts the energy of the others about the change. If you help create a common language about their current challenges and the future ambitions, you’ll facilitate their decision-making process and speed up the time needed for them to reach consensus.