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. This is a perfect example of the buyers journey.
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 salespeople from the start. In fact, there was a time when salespeople, not the buyer, held all the cards. When and why? Before the internet, because salespeople 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, sellers must learn how and why sales reps must sell the way buyers buy.
Because today's buyer is educated, informed and ultra-empowered, IT staffing sales professionals must transform the way in which they sell. IT staffing firms need to adopt a buyer aligned sales process and adopt a customer centric sales methodology that supports the sales process. 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 salespeople focus their time and energy trying to “squeeze prospects into their process” based on what their sales manager has told to 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 salespeople 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 four steps as your basic framework for understanding your buyer’s Journey.
- Awareness Stage
- Consideration Stage
- Commitment 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 Commitment Stage your buyer is deciding whether or not pursuing the goal or solving the issue is worth the investment. Additionally, they are also assessing whether or not they and others who will be impacted by the solution are committed to making the change and leaving the status quo. They have to consider whether or not they can get others stakeholders to buy in and commit to change as well begin to coordinate the purchasing process.
To best understand your buyer’s commitment stage, ask yourself:
- Does the investment in your solution outweigh the costs?
- Does the benefits of your solution outweigh the risk of leaving the status quo?
- Can you gain consensus from all of the stakeholders to agree on your solution?
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?
How and Why Sales Reps Must Sell The Way Buyers Buy
If we have learned anything about how & why customers buy including the buyer's journey, then we know that:
- Salespeople can no longer expect to make random cold calls and expect to land meetings with corporate decision makers.
- Salespeople can longer expect hiring managers to respond to a generalized, broadcast sales pitch
- Salespeople can longer expect to "put prospects in their sales process" expect to results.
- Buyers expect their time spent with salespeople to be invaluable. The expect salespeople to tailor their messaging and content based on the stage of the buyer's journey.
As today's empowered buyer progresses through the buyer journey, they expect to receive personalized and targeted information from the seller based on their specific needs and where they reside in their decision making progress. Salespeople who fail to recognize what stage of the buyer's journey their buyer resides in are unable to support their customers through their buying process and quickly get out of sync with their buyer resulting in lost opportunities.
If you want to improve sales performance, download the free eBook titled "The Definitive Guide to Building a Buyer Aligned Sales Process."
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.