During initial conversations, many sellers (and sales methodologies) assume buyers are “blank canvases” as relates to their needs. The Internet, websites, search engines and social networking have made this a dangerous assumption, especially for inbound inquiries. Traditional selling approaches will frustrate buyers that have done their homework. A poor buying experience can mean being excluded from the short list of vendors that will be allowed to provide quotes or proposals.
Buyers that have done their homework will resist seller attempts to do need development at the beginning of their interaction with sellers.
Their motivation in doing research was to learn what’s available and make their own decisions about their requirements without the influence or pressure of salespeople. It’s analogous to starting a B2C decision about buying a car by reviewing Consumer Reports rather than visiting several showrooms and having each salesperson tell you why their car is the best one for you.
If sellers proactively contact people that were not looking (and therefore have not done research) the sequence would be to uncover business outcomes they want to achieve and then go directly into a diagnosis of their current situation.
B2B buyers that have leveraged the Internet and social networking have an idea of what they want. The last thing they’re looking for is a product pitch or early attempts to change their list of requirements. My suggested approach to better align when contacted by these buyers is to take the following steps:
- Ask how they came to contact you. Their answer often will provide insight into the fact that they’ve visited your website (and likely those of other vendors) and that you should respect the research they have done.
- Ask the buyer what, if any requirements they have established based upon the research they’ve done. This allows the buyer to talk and provides the seller with an understanding of what they feel is important. If the buyer shares something that you feel isn’t valid, resist the temptation to challenge them this early. Later in the call be sure to ask qualifying questions to help determine if their requirements are all valid.
- Ask the buyer what they or their organization is hoping to accomplish by buying whatever offering is being discussed. If the buyer is in middle management or lower, their focus may have been more about the offering rather than potential business issues that can be addressed through the use of the offering. If a buyer can’t answer this question, consider offering a menu of potential business outcomes that can be achieved and try to have the buyer tell you which one(s) are important to them. If the company is going to spend money, the buyer (hopefully with your help) will need to establish value.
- Once a business outcome is shared ask the buyer what capabilities they’ve seen in their research that would help their organization achieve the desired business outcome. The buyer is likely not to have a quick answer because few will have done any “mapping” of features to business outcomes.
- At this point, hopefully you’ve earned the right to do a diagnosis of reasons the outcome can’t be achieved so that you can learn how the buyer or organization does business without your offering. During this diagnosis, it is critical to ask questions to uncover capabilities they buyer hadn’t thought of. It is likely that during this discussion the buyer will add requirements to their initial list. In some cases they conclude some of their original requirements aren’t valid. Requirements beyond the offering may be in play if professional services or consulting may be necessary during implementation.
Today, buyers that have done research prior to contacting sellers are much further along in their buying cycles than ever before. They will feel they are “being sold” if sellers try to change their requirements list without first learning what buyers think they want up front. Establishing credibility to earn the right to do a proper diagnosis will allow the buyer to conclude one of two things:
1. Their requirements were valid and both the seller and buyer agree what they are.
2. Their requirements list was incomplete and the seller helped uncover what else is needed and/or the requirements that weren’t needed.
Buyers have dramatically changed the landscape of selling more in the last five years. Many sales organizations have been slow to recognize or change their approaches. If a seller you didn’t know left a compelling voicemail about a relevant business issue you are facing, would you:
- Call the seller back?
- Go to the seller’s website to learn about the company and offering?
An increasing percentage of buyers would choose the second option. Better aligning with knowledgeable buyers may be critical to achieving your revenue objectives.