When it comes to that all-important moment when your customer (or prospective customer) decides to purchase your product or service, what used to be a fairly simple decision has become a lot more complicated. Today we live in a world where everyone has access to nearly perfect information; as a result, customers often have a thorough understanding of the problem they wish to solve long before your sales representative shows up. This constitutes a striking difference from the way businesses used to buy and sell.
As the authors of “The End to Solution Sales,” a recent Harvard Business Review article point out, “… a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision—researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on—before even having a conversation with a supplier. In this world the celebrated ‘solution sales rep’ can be more of an annoyance than an asset. Customers in an array of industries, from IT to insurance to business process outsourcing, are often way ahead of the salespeople who are ‘helping’ them.”
In other words, it’s no longer sufficient to be a “solver” (though this remains a critical element in the selling process). We also have to educate our customers on how to buy.
Match to Match
In some situations, merely sending a sales rep to the customer’s home office won’t suffice. It depends on who your customer is. If, for example, their VP of technology attends the sales meeting, your top IT person should be there, too. You want to “match-to-match” (combine your implementers with their implementers). Sellers have to anticipate likely issues or objections, as well as any “cross-departmental politics” within the buyer’s company, and pro-actively overcome these objections for the sale to proceed. That’s why it’s vital that you invest in the time and effort it takes for your sales team to thoroughly grasp the nuances of the customer’s purchasing process. Suppliers must be better positioned than ever before to steer a major purchase through the buyer’s organization.
You have to know how the sale will unfold better than the customer does.
Back in the mid-2000s, when businesses had more of a cushion, if a CEO wanted something done, it got done. Today, there’s far less tolerance for mistakes and far less margin for error. CEOs want buy-in across the board before they make the decision to buy your product. Your product/service appeal must extend beyond the “Yes’s” in the room and also appeal to the “No’s.” This is how important decisions are made in today’s business climate, where any “No” person can easily derail the process. Sellers that understand this shift in the decision-making process are thriving. Companies employing the same old sales process are not.
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