Much has recently been written about the digitization of sales and marketing. One study by CEB Global found that by the time a customer engages with your sales team after performing initial research, a whopping 57% of the B2B purchase process is already done.
This blog is about the next 43% of the B2B buying process, i.e. what sales teams can do to deliver on the human-to-human side of the sale.
The stakes are now higher for the human element of sales: You’re coming in later in the process, the customer is armed with more competitive information than ever before, you have less time with the customer, and ultimately, less margin for error.
In a recent review of several hundred voice-of-customer telephone interviews we performed for clients on B2B purchase experiences*, our firm heard these five keys to success directly from decisions makers:
- Come to me, don’t make me come to you
Customers appreciated sales representatives who contacted them and felt valued when they did not have to make the first move. At first glance, this might seem to conflict with the trend of letting customers research on the web and engaging only when they’re ready. It’s not. Done right, reaching out to buyers complements good advertising and company web/social presence.
- Know my needs and know your product
Products and services are becoming increasingly technology-enabled and able to add value for customers in new ways. But it’s hard for customers to keep up. And it’s effortful for them to read about new product features and try to understand them. A good sales person takes the effort out of matching business needs with product capabilities. And a great sales person spots opportunities to deliver more value in new ways for customers, even challenging the customer’s originally assumptions of what solution they think they need. For more, see The Challenger Sale, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson.
- Follow up, follow through
Again and again, we heard verbatim customer comments highlighting the importance of following up and then following through on promises made. Not just on key deal points, but on details as seemingly trivial as “I’ll follow up and let you know the lead time for ordering that optional attachment.”
Customers want you to manage the buying process, not chase sales people for information and action. For many sales people, getting this right is deceptively difficult: they’re natural social connectors and love to talk, but fall down on the unglamorous grunt work behind the scenes.
What we hear from customer is: Eat your vegetables, if you want dessert. There’s no short cut around sheer hard work.
- Make the case for “now,” but don’t pressure me
Creating a sense of urgency is important to get deals closed. The trick is finding a genuinely compelling reason for the customer to buy now. It needs to feel like a win-win. A real turnoff we heard from customers was having a sales person push to close the deal when the customer was not ready or didn’t see a compelling reason to rush. So, avoid high-pressure sales tactics in multi-thousand-dollar B2B sales.
- Make the money and paperwork easy
A common suggestion for sales improvement from buyers was to be more knowledgeable about options such as purchase vs. lease, financing, and warranty terms. Getting these bottom-of-the-funnel details right, including smooth handling of the paperwork of the final purchase transaction, can speed up the deal closing process and increase the customer’s satisfaction with the entire sales experience.
While these tips help you get the initial sale, we must also mention what we heard about the importance of post-sale follow-through: If you want repeat sales and long-term loyalty, you must nail the delivery/activation of who you sold the customer and should follow-up regularly to check in on them.
Most customers not only don't mind occasional calls from sales... as we learned in #1, above, they want you to stay in touch. If you take care of them along the way, you may be fortunate enough to create a customer not only for your lifetime, but the next, too. A case in point is our favorite customer quote from our review:
"I hope [our equipment supplier**] is still around when my children take over my business, so they can keep the relationship going."
*Interviews conducted with decision makers for multi-thousand dollar purchases of equipment and services at small and mid-sized companies in the transportation and agriculture sectors.
** Company name is anonymized and the quote is paraphrased for the sake of confidentiality.
The Daniel Group helps leading B2B and industrial companies measure, manage, and improve their customer experience. Founded in 1989, the firm is based in Charlotte, NC, and serves clients across North America.