By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It is astounding to see how often the phrase “changes in buying behavior” is invoked in articles about selling. In my mind, vendors that for decades have clung to traditional sales and marketing approaches have made some flawed decisions in reacting to perceived buying behavior.
B2C buying has served as the canary in the coal mine for B2B buying. Many approaches apply but I believe a line has to be drawn in the sand. For complex B2B offerings costing more than $50,000 (a figure I’ve arbitrarily chosen) the landscape should be considerably different because there are many people involved in what becomes a committee decision.
The deluge of inbound website activity has left vendors little choice but to make some changes. The biggest confusion that I see is that inbound visitors have been viewed and therefore treated as though they are buyers. People have seen studies over the last 5 years that show increasingly higher percentages of buying activities are completed before salespeople are involved. While true in many cases, I don’t think this data is accurate for B2B transactions over $50K.
I can accept that up to 80% of product/offering evaluations can be completed without seller involvement, but there are many buying activities that need to be completed before enterprise purchases can be made. The questions become:
- Who does most of the work in evaluating offerings? I believe the answer is researchers who are not buyers. When you step back, you realize that grading of website activities (#visits; duration of visits; pages views; time spend on pages; webinar sign ups/attendance; etc.) likely means that low to mid level staff are the only people that will score high enough activity levels to be considered “qualified.”
- Why are they evaluating offerings? I think there are many instances of DIY evaluations that stem solely from curiosity about what’s available in the market more from user than buyer perspectives. Without budget and awareness by Key Players most of these evaluations will fall under their own weight. Without budget or funding, no buying will take place. It is possible sellers won’t be involved at all.
- Why treat evaluators as though they are buyers? Don’t get me wrong, interest in offerings should be a good thing, but to my previous point, part of nurturing is making B2B researchers aware of potential value and payback that can be realized by implementing offerings. For that reason I believe the role of researchers is to serve as coaches in helping sellers gain access to higher levels so that value can be established.
- What activities beside product evaluations are necessary if purchases will be made? Before a PO is issued the business objectives of Key Players should be defined, the reasons those objectives cannot be achieved should be uncovered and buyers should understand the capabilities they need to address those reasons. In addition potential value and payback must be documented, vendors must be evaluated in a number of areas that include financial viability, support, quality, reputation, references, expertise, terms and conditions must be negotiated, etc.
- How have approaches been changed so that when they are contacted by knowledgeable buyers, sellers can align with them? I hope you’d agree that sellers that either treat these buyers as novices or prematurely try to change the requirements will provide negative buying experiences and run the risk of not making the short list of vendors being considered if the evaluation gets that far.
What I find most ironic is that researchers (not Key Players) are the root cause of knee-jerk changes vendors have made in processing inbound interest. This is a consequence of vendors confusing researchers with buyers.
In a strange way it has provided a common ground of sorts for vendors and executives within their prospects and clients. Vendors have always been concerned about controlling their cost of sales by trying to focus only on qualified opportunities. In a similar sense unauthorized DIY evaluations have and continue to waste valuable time researching offerings that ultimately won’t be purchased and therefore won’t provide any value (return on research efforts).
It makes you wonder if vendors and executives they call on are better or worse off than they were 15 years ago before the rush of evaluations via the Internet. It seems to be in the best interests of both parties to ensure potential value/payback exists before resources are expended. This could allow a win-win by reducing the costs of sales as well as evaluations.