Time spent with a professional buyer is precious and limited. According to Gartner, only 17% of the overall buying journey is spent meeting with potential suppliers. The rest of the buyer’s journey consists of researching independently online, meeting internally, and researching independently offline. If you get involved in the buying process too late, you’re dead. But how do you engage early?
During his October Webinar, Engaging the Professional Buyer: Utilizing Value to Close Deals and Build Relationships, Chris Provines, Founder and CEO of Value Vantage Partners, discussed exactly how to adapt to the new professional buyer to speak their language, advance negotiation, close more deals, and build collaborative relationships. Upon concluding the webinar, he was asked some questions from the audience:
Getting our sales team to do absolutely anything new is really hard, so how do we make this easy? Where do we start?
You have to make it clear what’s in it for them. So are they losing business, or do they feel like they’re wasting time? I would get started with really simply helping them first understand the customers buying process, and secondly, where they might engage differently. Are there situations where they shouldn’t be responding to RFPs, and using that free time to spend with their family? You should make it so there is something in it for them, whether it be the ability to close more deals or waste less time so they can have some additional family time.
How does our value communication have to change throughout the various depths of the buying process, as we run into different stakeholders with varying priorities?
You will have to customize your value proposition to different stakeholders. As a procurement person you might be interested in certain things that maybe you know our department head is less interested in, and there may be things the department head is really interested in that you are less interested in. As a procurement person you need to be able to somewhat customize your value proposition to the audience, you want to be able to tailor it to who you’re talking to and what really matters to them. In terms of the process itself, you want to show them the possibilities and educate them on what it could be. As you move further along you’ve got to get to some specifics about what it means to them and their organization.
First you need to get people aligned on a general vision of what you’re selling and what it could mean for their organization. Then illustrate what that means to the organization’s cash flow, their balance sheet, their financial statements in general, and what are you going to do for them to help them compete differently. As you go along, asking some questions in the beginning is really important to help guide the customization of the value proposition. The question is, how will they actually make the decision? Do they vote, do they use a weighted scoring model, is it based on ROI, is it total cost of ownership – what is it? Asking them very early in the process will help guide you on which approach from a value messaging standpoint you want to use. For example, if you have a customer tell you they’re going to be making a decision based on total cost of ownership, you may take a very different approach than if they told you it’s going to be on a weighted scoring model.
We sell to a variety of buyers from small businesses to large corporations with different buying processes. How can we assure that our sales reps are prepared for all of them?
It is likely that as you get to larger organizations, they’ll probably be more formal and probably more sophisticated than smaller organizations. You might want to spend some time, if you haven’t done it already, and build prototypes of different segments and how they behave. Keep it simple, but if you had a general segment view of large customers and how they buy, you should engage them differently than the segments of smaller customers and how they buy. You might need to make tools less sophisticated for the smaller customers. With larger customers, often the sales process is much longer because you have lots of different people involved and they have some formality in their process. You should just try to get some segmentation and customize your approach a little bit.
How do we assure that our sales reps are communicating value early, when they’re so customized to their features and benefits presentation?
What I’ve found is you need to be able to educate the sales team on why they need to move beyond features and benefits to value. Some of them may understand, and are already asking you for tools. You could do value-based pilots and see what’s what happens to your close rate and your sales. But if you are dealing with a large enough sales organization, whether you have formal tools or not, the sales team usually has a sub-segment of 10 or so of them who are very clever people – those who have developed their own selling tools and are using them with some degree of success. You could survey your sales team and find out if there are people in the sales team who have developed their own tools and are using them successfully. Then the question is, how do you get the rest of the group to buy into that and then get them to the skill level where they can use those effectively.