The Sales Script Flipped: Secrets of the Buying Process

In 2012, the global research and advisory firm Forrester Research reported that regarding B2B sales, business clients are now totally in the driver’s seat and those with products and services to sell have much less influence over purchasing behaviors than was enjoyed a decade or two ago. The sales process has evolved and we have entered the era of the buying process.

Business owners, professional services providers and sales professionals historically would strive to present ourselves as “trusted advisers,” who expected to guide clients through the sales process and influence their choices, ideally for mutual benefit. But now that the buying process rules, we say goodbye to all that.

Your organization’s sales approach to B2B clients must evolve in response to the new reality, because what once was will never exist again. Get used to your clients making decisions about your products and services largely without your input.

According to Forrester, clients now routinely discuss and pre-select product and service needs in consultation with their own team of trusted advisers, who may include unknown third-party “experts” they find on websites like Yelp and Angie’s List. How far along the path of the buying process that they’ll proceed varies by industry, but the report indicates that 65 % -90 % of client research is completed without assistance from you. By the time the client is ready to make a purchase, for the most part, only your price quotes and delivery date will be needed.

As you may have guessed, clients prefer being in control. A mistrust of sales practices that are sometimes perceived as unsavory, combined with access to technologies that allow them to rather easily research product and service needs once those have been identified, are the driving forces behind their independence. Many B2B clients are leery of being manipulated into paying for upgrades and add-ons that do nothing for their objectives.

To thrive in the realm of the buying process, accept that your marketing strategies will play a more prominent role in the sales process, in response to the client’s desire for information. Marketing messages must resonate with target clients and media platforms must be carefully selected. Remember also that traditional media outlets may still be important to some clients, so the relevance of the press release should not be dismissed.

Build marketing campaigns that will create and sustain demand through highly targeted messages and narratives designed to persuade target clients that your solutions will be effective and always include convincing calls to action. Choose media outlets and platforms that target clients follow and trust, to enable your information to be discovered and endorsed.

Content marketing will maintain its influence, distributed by your website and social media platforms that matter to your clients. In your writing, be sure to include motivating factors that drive clients to research your products and services as they evaluate possible solutions, as well as the benefits they’ll receive, frequently asked questions and the ease of buying from you.

OK, so the marketing people will get to keep thinking that they’re big shots! What will the salespeople do? How will B2B sales professionals generate billable hours or sales in the era of the buying process? Will the sales team be reduced to mere order takers?

To the contrary. We will apply our well-honed communications expertise toward identifying networking opportunities and building relationships. It’s wonderful that the marketers can generate excellent content that showcases the organization in internet searches but in my town at least, no one hires an unknown, regardless of the artfully written content. When the decision-maker is unfamiliar with the organization, there is often no sale.

In the era of the buying process, sales professionals will focus on getting in front of live audiences by moderating or speaking on panels; teaching workshops; joining and speaking at business association meetings and in general, becoming the public face of the brand. Networking will balance the equation, the yin to content’s yang, as you meet potential clients and referral sources and build relationships. The B2B buying process is a tall order for those who sell to survive, but we are determined to succeed and we will rise to the challenge.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Sales Process Productivity: 5 Best Practices & 20 Key Questions

While many businesses make efforts to improve production, distribution, and various administrative work processes, it is less common to find organizations that focus on applying the fundamentals of Continuous Improvement to the sales process.

However, our research and experience indicate the selling process is more complex than many people realize. In addition, we have consistently found that the largest waste in most commercial and industrial organizations is lost gross margin that results from sales not made, sub-optimal pricing, and excessive costs in sales-related processes.

So, leaving aside the “selling skills” or “charisma” associated with those perceived as the most successful sellers, when you consider the day-to-day activities required of field-based or outside sales professionals, there are some proven best practices that can help boost field-day efficiency, which include the following five:

  1. Pre-call planning: by planning each sales call in advance, in writing, sales people can position themselves to accomplish more in less time, thus increasing personal productivity as well as accelerating overall cycle-time. Not only will running more comprehensive sales calls increase efficiency, but the habit will also make a stronger, more positive impact on customers. Many who have embraced this best-practice report that their customers recognize the difference and, over time, become more willing to schedule meetings or sales calls, thus enabling them to more easily make more calls each day, an important part of the job as noted in the next bullet.
  2. Set a daily call volume goal. This may sound like an unnecessary step, but a surprising number of sales people are unable to quantify the actual average number of sales calls they make each day. As author Jack Falvey has said, “Want more sales? Make more calls.” By setting a personal goal, which will vary depending on the nature of each territory, sellers are often able to self-motivate more effectively and make more calls per day.
  3. Geo-plan: by creating a strategic geographic or travel plan for each day, outside sales people can minimize drive time and optimize “face” time. The best plans will begin by creating territory quadrants and then mapping the locations of customers and key prospects. The rule-of-thumb is to avoid traveling beyond two quadrants in any given day, so when an appointment is set in one area, try to schedule meetings or plan to visit others in the same general region to enable a maximum number of interactions in a minimum amount of time.
  4. Bookend each day by scheduling an appointment early in the morning and another late in the afternoon. This will promote “staying the course” as opposed to deciding to drive back to the office early to do administrative work. This best-practice might also help to achieve item #2 above.
  5. Try to schedule next steps (i.e., follow-up meetings, conference calls, etc.) “on the spot” before the conclusion of each sales call. This simple best practice can significantly boost efficiency for two reasons. First, it helps sales people more easily populate their calendars for future selling days in the field; and second, it can help shorten selling cycles by securing time with buyers sooner than could be done otherwise.

But the sales process extends well-beyond a day in the field, as it encompasses everything from identifying a lead to delivering a solution.

Considering this broad spectrum, it is really not surprising that the largest waste within most businesses can be found in the sales area.

The first step toward improvement – that is, moving from “where we are now to where we’d like to be if everything were right” – is to identify specific areas of sales process waste, and a good way to start might be to answer the following 20 questions:

  1. What is our current market share?
  2. What are our customers’ requirements?
  3. How well are we meeting these requirements?
  4. What would it take to truly delight our customers?
  5. How long does the sales process take from lead to sale?
  6. What is our lead conversion ratio?
  7. What were the top 3 reasons for lost sales over the past quarter?
  8. How many calls do our sales people make, on average, each day?
  9. How much time do we spend talking with uninterested or unqualified leads?
  10. How do we continually improve our sales team’s skills and habits?
  11. What percentage of prospects contact us first?
  12. How does this percentage (#11) compare with industry data?
  13. Does the sales process take less time to complete for inbound leads? If so, how much less?
  14. What is our response time to customer or prospect inquiries?
  15. How many customer complaints do we receive?
  16. How much time do our sales people spend interceding or responding to complaints?
  17. What is done with the information associated with customer complaints?
  18. How do customer complaints or how does customer dissatisfaction impact our ability to make sales?
  19. How often are discounts extended, and what is the average discount?
  20. Are discounts offered due to competition or in response to dissatisfaction?

Clearly there are many ways to analyze and improve the productivity of an organization’s sales process, but these five best practices and twenty questions are good starting points.