According to the latest B2B customer purchase decision-making survey by the CEB*, the average customer is already 57% of the way through their purchase process before they consider calling in their chosen vendor’s sales reps. Commenting on this in the July 2012 Harvard Business Review**, the authors quoted one CSO as saying, ‘Our customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into (simply) fulfilment conversations.’
With the changes in buyers’ journeys brought by the digital age, the days of the traditional approach to “solution” selling are waning. Now with the Internet proving the majority of product intelligence, enterprise companies have created sophisticated procurement teams that eliminate the need for much of the information sales reps previously provided, i.e. the education of prospects regarding vendor capabilities and fit. In this disruptive environment, marketing and sales need to rethink their approach and redefine what types of sales intelligence are most useful for prioritizing and engaging prospects.
Successful sales and marketing teams position themselves and their company to be viewed as industry insiders and sources prospects will look to for industry insights. This means becoming experts on all things affecting your target market’s business, including topic areas that help you “see around corners,” such as pending regulations, or trends in related industries which will reverberate within your prospect’s own. In fact, the CEB research found that the majority of high-performing salespeople (Challengers) now challenge their prospects with “provocative points of view.” Another study referenced underscored this finding, noting that the number-one factor behind B2B customer loyalty “is a supplier’s ability to deliver new insights.”
Marketing best practices indicate that messaging should focus on the business benefits your solutions provide, rather than the technical benefits. But there is real differentiating value to be found in taking this one step further by developing insightful content around your target’s emerging needs. While prospects nowadays tend to approach vendors with a well-defined set of needs, you can capitalize on your insightful knowledge by letting prospects know which questions they should be asking, revealing needs they didn’t know they had. This new approach is being called “insight selling”.
But how do you get started and how should you adapt your current sales and marketing efforts? The first thing to realize is that it takes time and resources to learn about your customers’ needs and to start the process of developing insight. It becomes even more important to divide up the effort. Segmenting your market into smaller sub-segments can help or focusing in on a defined set of target accounts. You’ll also need to better understand your prospects – Who are they? What roles do they have? What titles? What are their pressing issues, the ones they’d welcome insight around?
Indeed, even your lead qualification criteria need to be modified when seeking to disrupt the buyer’s perceptions. Discovering that they have a well-defined need is equivalent to being asked to be put on the bidder’s list. You’ll be too late to influence the buying criteria. Beyond checking on solvency and business viability, Challengers qualifying their prospects by investigating criteria such as:
- Pressure – how much pressure is the prospect under to perform, change, compete etc?
- Contentment – how comfortable is the prospect with current solutions and is that view common across the organization?
- Receptivity /flexibility– is the prospect open to, or seeking, new ideas and perspectives? How difficult will it be to change approaches or processes?
- Potential – what is the current operating model – what solutions, installs, applications, processes etc. do they currently use? Is there potential for the company to benefit from emerging developments?
Researching these varied areas online is either impossible or just too time consuming. Your resources can be better spent by cutting through that swath and getting information directly from the source – your target prospects. Marketing must assume the role of “insight content creator” and research their specific needs before they ask sales to engage. Surveying your prospects is one valuable approach. Not only can you collect insightful intelligence, but surveys can also serve to engage and qualify prospects, getting them to opt-in to an early sales call. In this way, you can work smarter, not harder, and begin reclaiming the sales conversation.
For a comprehensive list of sales enablement information requirements, including helping sales develop better insights from marketing intelligence, please download the SimplyDIRECT B2B Sales Enablement Checklist. Click on the button below to access the Checklist.
How do you help your sales people become “Challengers” and provide customers with the additional value of insight?
*CEB Marketing leadership Council®, The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, September 2012
**Adamson, B., Dixon, M., Toman, N. (July/Aug 2012). The End of Solution Sales. Harvard Business Review.