The first of this two part series, Step 1 – Define Your Prospects Better, focused on defining the B2B decision maker. This post will focus on evolving your sales process to better align with buyer behavior in today’s digital world. As part of our previous discussion, we broached the topic of personas and their importance for gaining insight into our target’s mindset. This time we’ll look at how to research those personas, as well as how to use the knowledge gained to connect with your target and address their concerns. This is an activity that must start during the marketing stage of the process and continue as sales takes over the baton.
To develop useful personas, begin by understanding the perspective of your prospective buyers. Research their challenges, concerns, motivations, and attitudes using the Internet and social media. Read the relevant industry publications, subscribe and participate in the blogs, identify any relevant Twitter hash tags and note how they are trending, join communities such as LinkedIn groups to see what the discussions are about. Your goal is to discover what is driving your prospects collective thinking. Are they (or how are they) concerned with technology innovation (e.g. an amazing new product), new rules and regulations, competition, their customer experiences, slow growth, high costs, budget cuts….and so on. In short, what’s important to them and who or what has the most impact and influence on them?
Well-researched personas allow marketing to develop the content they’ll need to attract and engage prospects during the research phase of their buying process. Having a clear view of who the ideal customer types are and what their motivations are likely to be is like gold dust for sales. Now you know what’s top of mind with your prospect and can start your conversation on a topic that they are desperately interested in. Hopefully, you’ll also have warm leads from the marketing process that you can pursue. And incidentally, all those places you’ve visited in an effort to ferret out the challenges and behaviors of your decision makers are precisely the same places to go to engage with them.
OK, but what if my buyer doesn’t use social media and is hard to connect with because of gatekeepers and other factors? Many senior executives are reluctant or unable to participate in public online forums or communities on a regular basis, for example, especially if they represent a public company. They need to balance their thought leadership activities with their other business responsibilities. To find out what are the challenges and needs of these folks, you have to ask.
Easier said than done? There is one unique method of going about it, that both serves as a first-level of engagement, while providing vital, individualized information from which to both create the content for marketing and the customer intelligence needed by sales: namely, the prospect survey.
Use the information gathered during your Internet and social media research to help craft survey questions that will demonstrate an understanding of a key challenge your prospects face – preferably the one you have the solution for! Use your questions to get them thinking about your unique perspectives and the types of solutions you offer. In this manner, your survey questions become the starting point to engage your prospects. And their answers provide the information needed to drive the sales process. Done well, the survey can also become the trigger for moving prospects from their research phase to the vendor investigation phase, for example by asking how they’d like to be contacted.
Surveys provide further insights into prospects’ specific pain points and also ensure that they are actively aware of your offering. Of course, don’t expect to get a 100% response rate. The response will depend both on the topic and any incentive offered (which should match the character of the persona). However, you can expect the survey to be a qualification factor. Those who have a stronger interest in solving a particular challenge are more likely to respond, especially if you offer to share the aggregated results with them. That way, they get to see what others in their situation are thinking about the challenge and how to deal with it. And senior decision makers do respond (in fact we guarantee it!).
By adapting your sales process (including the marketing part) to the behavior of your prospects, you’ll have much greater success in both engaging with them and closing deals. The big advantage of using a prospect survey is their individualized nature. They deliver specific information regarding respondents, while indicating your interest and capabilities.
What’s your view? How have you changed your sales process to accommodate changing buyer behavior?