The way in which B2B buyers research and buy today demands changes to the sales process. Strategies must adapt to the current ‘online generation’. Sales people can no longer focus on just their actions. Today, the sales process needs to be a collaboration. It’s about finding leads that are the right fit for your service early in the process, then helping your prospect gain comfort with your ability to help them achieve results.
Let’s take a look at the more traditional / outdated selling process (which a lot of companies still follow):
The traditional selling process
Prospecting– The sales person finds new customers by sourcing names, job titles and phone numbers. It can involve handing out flyers, collecting business cards, or doing flip chart presentations whenever the opportunity arises.
Qualification– The sales professional decides whether a sales opportunity exists based on limited information.
The Approach – This is where the rubber meets the road in the traditional sales process. A cold call is a sales person’s first chance to build a relationship and convince the buyer that what you’re selling is amazing and works. With nothing more than a name and job title, sales people sell to a profile, a stranger.
The Needs Assessment – When the prospect has shown an interest, the sales representative must now discover the prospect’s business problems. This involves asking a lot of questions, typically during the first cold call. Only then they determine how you can truly be of service.
Determining Value – When you know the prospect’s business problems, the sales rep must map out exactly how their service / product can be of value to them and how it will solve their problem.
Find Key Influencers – Find the influential decision makers necessary to close this opportunity.
Proposal –Delivers the proposal including the offered price.
Negotiation/Review – The prospect may try and negotiate on the proposal.
The Close – You either win or lose the sale.
What has changed?
Marketing now has an integral part to play in the selling process. Sales and marketing need to work together in order for a business to work. Today’s buyers are doing their research online. Most B2B buyers are 57%-70% through their buying research before first contacting the seller, according to CEB. This means that you have to produce enough great content so that your customers can find your brand and see you as a thought leader. So if you don’t link content marketing and sales, it’ll be like having one hand tied behind your back.
This approach to selling is more subtle. It’s not “in your face.” Instead, it’s about providing prospects with something of value without asking for anything in return. And who doesn’t like to get something for nothing? Chances are, they’ll be more willing to buy from a ‘thought leader’ than a stranger giving a frantic sales pitch over the phone.
The era of the internet has made it possible for even the smallest brands to gain worldwide recognition. By sharing content that is in line with the buyer’s journey, your target audience will be able to find your information as they carry out their research online. If you’re not out there, they won’t find you. It’s that simple. Oh, and even better! If they found value in what you’ve written, they’ll share it around with their social media connections – dramatically increasing your visibility and solidifying your reputation as a credible resource.
3,000 executives were asked in a study to share the questions they ask when faced with a buying decision. Most important is “Why do we need it? What problem does it solve?” Sales professionals must address this question with their prospects, if not, they won’t get very far. So to attract the right audience to you, create content that describes the problems you solve for your customers.
Suggest ways to solve the challenge. Be sure to deliver value. This will increases trust and credibility in the eyes of your prospects. Buyers tend to choose the first company whose content truly resonates with them.
I’m not saying content marketing alone generates sales. I’m saying it generates familiarity and credibility that lead to sales. Content targeted at your key audience will drive quality traffic to your website. This ultimately means that marketing today is powering the sales process, therefore, powering business.
The new selling process
The selling process has changed ultimately because of the internet. Buyers have changed how they make purchase decisions, and the selling process must adapt to suit these potential customers. Businesses who adapt to these changes will thrive, and those who don’t will perish.
Once you have content, here is a basic overview of how the selling process works today:
The internet and social media have given sales people an immeasurable wealth of data to find relevant prospects. Buyers expect sales people to already know who they are and what problems they’re facing by the time they actually get to speak to them. Cold calling isn’t as effective as it once was. And in an increasingly competitive business environment, sellers need to go well beyond finding a name and number and do extensive research on their prospects.
The great thing about inbound marketing is that you know the buyers who clicked on your ‘Benefits of marketing automation tools’ blog post are at least somewhat curious or interested in what you’re selling. These prospects come to you. They identify themselves as potential customers. It is up to the sales person to take it from there.
Tools and services available today make it a hell of a lot easier to identify quality prospects. Sales is partly a numbers game. The more prospects you pursue, the better your chances of closing a deal. But sales people ideally want to be pursuing quality prospects only. The difficulty with today’s selling process is that there’s so much unfiltered information online that identifying relevant prospects feels like finding a needle in a haystack. Many companies today are investing in lead generation services so that they can outsource the more time consuming rough work for sales teams to professional data scientists. This means significantly increasing your chances of making a sale with everyone you contact – because everyone you contact would be a key decision maker and most likely to buy from you.
Social media gives sales people the opportunity to build relationships with their prospects – notably on Twitter and LinkedIn, but others certainly fit the bill. Through commenting on, liking, and sharing prospects’ and customers’ posts, salespeople create relationships with buyers and boost their credibility by taking an interest in what they’re interested in. If a prospect expresses a problem they’re facing in a LinkedIn group chat, here’s an opportunity to share with them relevant content which might interest them. You’d be surprised how far this will go in terms of ‘likability’ brownie points for you.
The needs assessment
This comes along with the necessity of thoroughly researching leads for that competitive advantage. That’s why in today’s selling process you must discover a prospects pain points before you even talk to them. You can discover these problems by either researching their company, checking LinkedIn group discussions, or finding out which articles they’re reading. Buyers aren’t interested in a sales pitch. They’re interested in their business. But if you make it clear how your product can solve a specific issue their company’s facing, well, you’ve caught their attention.
When it’s finally time to call the potential customer, the sales professional will be fully armed with enough information to convince the prospect why this product is needed in their particular company. On top of that, sales reps will hopefully have built up enough familiarity and credibility with the prospect on social media for the sales rep to be favourably considered for a sale.
Deliver the agreement.
You win or lose the deal.
Are these changes good or bad?
Well, for the hard working salespeople out there, they’re good. For the more lazy salespeople, they’re bad. The selling process has without doubt become a lot more complex. It is actually benefits the customer because with so much access to information, companies and sales people have to up their game in order for them to succeed. They need to know who the prospect is, what challenges they face, and how exactly they can help prospects overcome these challenges. I think now, more than ever, those that put the hard work in across multiple disciplines will always win out.
But although the sales process has become more complex for sales people, today’s internet age has enabled businesses to have greater social influence over an audience on a scale that has never been possible before. With the right tools, you can do lead generation and source quality prospects in huge numbers. With the right marketing content, you can attract those who are at least curious about what you have to offer. And with the right social selling strategy, you can convince prospects that you are the most credible and trustworthy source to buy from, long before you ever even make them an offer.