In 2012, the global research and advisory firm Forrester Research reported that regarding B2B sales, business clients are now totally in the driver’s seat and those with products and services to sell have much less influence over purchasing behaviors than was enjoyed a decade or two ago. The sales process has evolved and we have entered the era of the buying process.
Business owners, professional services providers and sales professionals historically would strive to present ourselves as “trusted advisers,” who expected to guide clients through the sales process and influence their choices, ideally for mutual benefit. But now that the buying process rules, we say goodbye to all that.
Your organization’s sales approach to B2B clients must evolve in response to the new reality, because what once was will never exist again. Get used to your clients making decisions about your products and services largely without your input.
According to Forrester, clients now routinely discuss and pre-select product and service needs in consultation with their own team of trusted advisers, who may include unknown third-party “experts” they find on websites like Yelp and Angie’s List. How far along the path of the buying process that they’ll proceed varies by industry, but the report indicates that 65 % -90 % of client research is completed without assistance from you. By the time the client is ready to make a purchase, for the most part, only your price quotes and delivery date will be needed.
As you may have guessed, clients prefer being in control. A mistrust of sales practices that are sometimes perceived as unsavory, combined with access to technologies that allow them to rather easily research product and service needs once those have been identified, are the driving forces behind their independence. Many B2B clients are leery of being manipulated into paying for upgrades and add-ons that do nothing for their objectives.
To thrive in the realm of the buying process, accept that your marketing strategies will play a more prominent role in the sales process, in response to the client’s desire for information. Marketing messages must resonate with target clients and media platforms must be carefully selected. Remember also that traditional media outlets may still be important to some clients, so the relevance of the press release should not be dismissed.
Build marketing campaigns that will create and sustain demand through highly targeted messages and narratives designed to persuade target clients that your solutions will be effective and always include convincing calls to action. Choose media outlets and platforms that target clients follow and trust, to enable your information to be discovered and endorsed.
Content marketing will maintain its influence, distributed by your website and social media platforms that matter to your clients. In your writing, be sure to include motivating factors that drive clients to research your products and services as they evaluate possible solutions, as well as the benefits they’ll receive, frequently asked questions and the ease of buying from you.
OK, so the marketing people will get to keep thinking that they’re big shots! What will the salespeople do? How will B2B sales professionals generate billable hours or sales in the era of the buying process? Will the sales team be reduced to mere order takers?
To the contrary. We will apply our well-honed communications expertise toward identifying networking opportunities and building relationships. It’s wonderful that the marketers can generate excellent content that showcases the organization in internet searches but in my town at least, no one hires an unknown, regardless of the artfully written content. When the decision-maker is unfamiliar with the organization, there is often no sale.
In the era of the buying process, sales professionals will focus on getting in front of live audiences by moderating or speaking on panels; teaching workshops; joining and speaking at business association meetings and in general, becoming the public face of the brand. Networking will balance the equation, the yin to content’s yang, as you meet potential clients and referral sources and build relationships. The B2B buying process is a tall order for those who sell to survive, but we are determined to succeed and we will rise to the challenge.