How and Why Sales Reps Must Sell the Way Buyers Buy
In this day and age it’s unfathomable to shop without using the internet. We research and buy products, pay our bills, book vacations, register for classes, file our taxes and download music all from the internet. Just the other night I was with two buddies after work for happy hour when one started sharing with us how he bought a new car. He shared with us how he started off by researching different makes and models on the internet. After narrowing it down to a couple of different cars he did additional online research on each specific model to gain insight on the performance and safety features of each model and to see what current owners had to say about their experience owning those cars. From there he started looking at different dealerships-all online-to compare prices and financing options and figure out who was offering the best deals. In essence my friend had walked us through his buying journey and how he arrived at the car he purchased. Keep in mind that about 80% of this was all done on his own, before he even picked up the phone and spoke with a sales person.
This is a perfect example of how people, both consumers and corporate America buy products and services today. Perhaps you’ve read the research conducted by the CEB that shows that the average buyer is 57% of the way through his or her buying process before they ever engage a sales rep. Things were not always this way. There was a time when buyers actually needed sales people from the start. In fact, there was a time when sales people, not the buyer, held all the cards. When and why? Before the internet because sales people were the only ones who could answer the buyer’s questions like:
- Tell me about your solution and how it works?
- What does it cost?
- How does your offering compare to your competitors?
- Who are your customers and what do they have to say about using your product/service?
- How do I buy and how do we get started?
The internet brought the entire sales profession into a whole new era in which the sales process is now predominately driven by the buyer, not the seller. In short, the internet has turned the traditional sales funnel upside down so that the buyer-not the seller-holds all of the cards. As a result, the information that buyers need to make a purchasing decision is just a few clicks away. Despite this radical shift, many IT staffing firms continue to sell the way they’ve always sold. Sadly, many of those firms have fallen behind the times and are struggling to catch up.
To stay aligned with today’s empowered buyer, IT staffing firms need to transform how they sell. IT staffing firms need a sales methodology and sales process that is aligned with how their customers buy. Many IT staffing firms talk about the need to transform how they sell buy very few do it. I’m going to share with you how and why I teach sales reps to sell the way buyers buy and how to tie your sales process to your customers buying journey.
Define and Map Your Buyer’s Journey
Traditional, transactional IT staffing sales reps make their personal agenda the focal point of their sales process instead of the needs and wants of their buyers. These are the sales reps that focus on peppering the buyer “to learn more about your role and your business,” or pitching candidates, their service offerings, their candidate database, screening process, awards and accolades. Transactional sales people focus their time and energy trying to “squeeze prospects into their process” based on what their sales manager has told to do them rather than listen to and support the prospect throughout their buyer journey and purchasing process. For example, most sales reps are told to make cold calls, schedule meetings and pitch candidates regardless of their buyer’s wants and needs and where they stand within their buyer journey or purchasing process. This self-serving approach fails to account for the buyer’s needs, creates friction between the buyer and the sales rep and ultimately makes the sales rep and customer feel out of sync. Not only that, this self-serving process delivers zero value to the buyer.
If sales people can’t add value beyond the information found on their company’s web site (where the buyer can read it on their own) the buyer has no reason to engage sales people. Apparently there are many sales reps out there who fail to deliver value: According to Forrester Research, only 19% of the more than 400 US-based IT and Executive Buyers surveyed believe that their time spent with sales people is valuable and lives up to their expectations. To avoid this, I suggest you consider the following three-steps as your basic framework for your Buyer’s Journey:
- Awareness Stage
- Consideration Stage
- Decision Stage
During the Awareness stage buyers begin to realize they’re experiencing an issue or a challenge or they identify a goal and then they decide whether or not solving the issue or pursuing the goal should be a priority. In order to fully understand your buyer’s awareness stage, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do your buyers describe the challenges or goals your service solves (to answer this question you will most likely need to understand your buyer persona’s)
- What problems do you solve for your customers?
- How do buyers learn more about how to solve these challenges or achieve these goals? Where do they go, who do they talk to and what research do they conduct?
- How do buyers decide whether the challenge or goal should be prioritized and pursued? This speaks to understanding how your customers buy and why your customers buy.
Once your buyer has made the decision to solve the problem or pursue the goal they enter the Consideration stage in which they have clearly defined their issue(s) or goal(s) and have committed to addressing it. During the consideration stage they assess different approaches and solution offerings to resolve their issue(s) and/or help them achieve their objectives. To best understand your buyer’s consideration stage, ask yourself:
- What categories of solutions do my buyers consider? Staffing firms? Professional service organizations? Bench based system integrators? Offshore and/or out-souring? Full-time employees? Internal recruiters?
- How do your buyers perceive the pros and cons of each category?
- From your customer’s perspective, what differentiates you from the other options?
In the Decision stage, buyers are trying to make a decision on a solution. It is here that buyers create their decision criteria and map the different vendors and their service offerings to those criteria in order to decide on the one that best meets their needs. In order to fully understand your buyer’s decision stage, ask yourself:
- What offerings are your buyers evaluating and why?
- What criteria do your buyers use to evaluate your offering (and your competitors)?
- From your customer’s perspective, what differentiates you from the other options?
- Who is involved in the decision making process and what role does each person play? How does each stakeholder’s perspective influence the decision?
To put this all in context I have created a sample buyer journey for how a buyer might become a customer for a fictitious IT staffing company called DTF Staffing. Let’s assume DTF staffing helps companies find technical consultants to solve data management and data integration challenges. DTF targets U.S.-based companies in the Biotechnology industry between $300M and $600M in revenue. Sales reps at DTF are seeking out companies that fit their target market profile and trying to compel them to hire DTF to solve their data management and data integration challenges by sourcing and delivering data management consultants. DTF decides to transform their sales process by aligning it with how their buyers buy. Here is the buyer journey DTF’s clients go through when trying to select an IT staffing firm:
Design Your Sales Process to Support and Align with Your Buyer Journey.
Now that we understand how & why our customers would buy from us we can begin to design our sales process. Unlike traditional, transactional IT staffing firms that design their sales process first, top performing sales teams design their sales process after they have defined their buyer’s journey. Following this sequence allows you to design a sales process that will foster sales behavior in which sales reps will not only support their buyer through their buying journey but add value.
In order to align your sales process with your how your buyers buy and add customer value to the sales process you should ask yourself what your sales people can be doing at the awareness, consideration, and decision stages to support buyers. Here is a sampling of the first three steps of the sales process.
- Define Target Market
- Connect and Qualify
Define Your Target Market
Before you can identify potential buyers (sales leads), you first need to define which buyers you can help and which buyers you can’t. During this stage you really want to focus on identifying the buyers in which you and your IT staffing firm have the highest likelihood for success. For example, maybe your firm fills 65% of all of help desk job orders but only fills 15% of mobile developer positions. While your IT staffing firm can certainly work on and potentially fill a mobile developer position, your highest likelihood for success would lie with buyers who need your assistance with supporting their help desk. I refer to this as defining your target market, segmenting the “highly aligned buyers” from the “out of alignment buyers.”
Traditional IT staffing firms including transactional sales reps however fail to define their target market so they don't know who to target or why which wastes time and creates frustration. Transactional sales reps are also unaware of which buyers are active in a buying journey where as top performing sales reps can quickly identify and target buyers they believe are a good fit which shortens their sales cycle and improves sales win rates.
Connect & Qualify Stage
For most IT staffing firms the first stage of the sales process entails “Connect” and/or “Meeting.” During this stage, transactional sales reps focus their messaging efforts on generic emails, generic LinkedIn invites and generic voice mail messages. These generic outreaches highlight the same general broad brush elevator pitch and attempt traditional staffing sales reps use to entice buyers to meet (again, self-serving, zero value for the customer). When transactional sales reps actually do connect with a buyer on the phone, most of the effort is focused on asserting their self-serving agenda by pushing for the face to face meeting or taking a job order.
Unfortunately today’s empowered buyer doesn’t rely on messages from sales reps to learn about their service offerings because this information is readily available online. Additionally, the buyer is not ready for a sit down meeting or presentation at this stage of their journey. Instead, they want the sales rep to properly frame their problem (or goal) and offer ideas or share stories of how they have solved a similar problem. The buyer wants and expects to engage the sales rep in a valuable conversation that is worth their time so that when the conversation concludes, they have learned something new. To engage in this dialog and support your buyer you will need to define your buyer persona.
When today’s top performing sales reps reach out to a buyer they lead with a message that is personalized and tailored to the persona of the buyer and their context. This could be the buyer’s industry, role, challenges, goals, or interests. The other differentiator with top performing sales reps is that in their initial introduction they make an offer that is aligned with where their buyer sits within the buyer journey. Unlike traditional, transactional sales reps who pitch offers that are out of alignment with the buyer such as asking for a meeting on an introductory cold call where the buyer is still in the awareness stage and seeking help with framing their problem or goal.
Preparing for the “Connect & Qualify” stage starts by defining buyer personas. At the most basic level, personas allow you to personalize or target your messaging for different segments of your audience. For example, instead of sending the same generic lead nurturing emails to everyone in your database or all of your leads, you can segment by buyer persona and tailor your messaging according to what you know about those different personas.
Chances are you have many different buyer personas that you sell to such as:
- Persona 1: VP of IT at a technology company
- Persona 2: VP of Talent Acquisition at a technology company
- Persona 3: Manager of Infrastructure at a pharmaceutical company
- Persona 4: Manager of application development at a health care company
- Persona 5: Director of Procurement at a health care company
- Persona 6: Director of HR at a health care company
Once personas are designed sales reps can outline their lead nurturing strategy and sequences for each. The lead nurturing strategy and sequence defines how you will reach out to the buyer (phone, email, social, etc.), the nature of the content (message, align with stage of buyer journey) when you will reach out, and how frequently you will reach out.
Discovery Call Stage
As with most buyer-seller interactions including the discovery call, transactional sales reps typically “put the cart before the horse” by launching into broadcast mode without first having an understanding for the buyers context and current situation. As a result they miss out on the opportunity for creating a meaningful and memorable customer experience. Because transactional sales reps lack buyer context (buyer journey stage, challenges they face, goals they’re pursuing) they’re forced to revert back to pitch mode and talk about their service offerings. This again gets the sales rep out of sync with the buyer and puts additional pressure on the sales rep to carry the conversation. Top performing sales reps on the other hand focus on engaging buyers in a discovery conversation in which they probe deeper into the buyer’s specific goals and pain points.
By teaching sales reps a methodology to engage in discovery dialog in which they leverage their buyer personas, they can quickly and easily establish credibility and build trust. With an awareness of the buyer (persona) sales reps can offer fresh ideas and insights that engage the buyer in meaningful dialog. Additionally, sellers can use strategic probing questions in which they wrap their expertise around the question in such a way that the customer perceives them as an expert on the topics most relevant to the them.
Sales reps who go through Menemsha sales training are taught to to follow a discovery methodology to ensure the discussion is a valuable use of time for the buyer. Here’s a sample rubric designed to initiate and guide discovery dialog with buyers.
Those are just the first three steps of the sales process and the beginning of the discovery stage but hopefully you can begin to see how the sales process is designed keep the seller in alignment with, and support the buyer through his or her buying journey.
By understanding your buyers including their buyer persona and buyer journey, IT staffing sales professionals can personalize their messaging to quickly build rapport and demonstrate credibility. Wrapping their expertise around their strategic probing questions allows sales reps to speak like thought leaders which builds confidence. Finally, by designing a sales process that supports your buyers journey, sales people can easily add value to their sales conversations which makes for a memorable and valuable customer experience. In the highly competitive IT staffing industry, this is typically the differentiator.
In today’s selling environment sales reps must understand that the role they serve as a sales professional is far different than what it was just a few years ago. Traditional or transactional sales reps who only serve as sources of information or order takers will soon find themselves unable to compete with today’s top performing sales reps who understand the unique needs of today’s corporate buyer. Modernize your sales approach so that it supports your buyers throughout their buying journey by getting started with a Menemsha Group sales training academy course.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.