Technological and lifestyle changes have triggered shifts in customers’ buying behavior that are turning the sales process upside down. Research points towards a clear trend: traditional salespeople arrive late to the sales conversation. The hunter is getting caught off-guard.
According to Corporate Executive Board, on average 57% of B2B sales professionals are first contacted by buyers when these are ready to make a purchase. Similar figures have been published in multiple studies. In this scenario sellers not only have lower chances to influence purchasing decisions but they also become trapped in price discussions that may jeopardize profitability.
The connected and empowered buyer
Ubiquitous information enables customers to access information online and learn the details of specific products and services without interacting with a salesperson until they are ready to make a purchase. According to Forrester Research ”today’s buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% through their journey before they reach out to the vendor”. The connected and empowered buyer is driven not only by the proliferation of information but also by a behavioral change in which they prefer to find information and identify alternatives on their own.
In a nutshell, easy access to information seems to have triggered a fundamental behavioral change among customers. Buyers and decision makers are doing their own research because they prefer to gather and research information by themselves. A study by Forbes Insight and Google, which surveyed 354 senior and C-level executives at US companies, showed that nearly 53% of C-suite and 40% of senior decision makers prefer to gather information on their own. Research by Buyersphere revealed that 70% of the content consumed by buyers during the research or due diligence phase was not delivered by sales or marketing professionals but rather retrieved by them on their own time. In general, evidence points towards a shift in the traditional buyer-seller relationship.
Shifting seller-buyer relationship
As mentioned previously, changes in buying behavior are altering the buyer-seller relationship from sales driven to buyer driven. Traditionally, B2B salespeople were information gatekeepers who controlled the flow of information and hunted potential buyers. However, we know the situation is quite different now when customers can easily search for information, read referrals and reviews, access case studies and compare prices among alternatives on their own. When buyers gain control of the relationship, traditional B2B sales reps are pushed towards later stages of the traditional sales process. In other words, the buyer decides when to contact the seller. We know traditional B2B salespeople have experienced the following challenges as a result of a transition from a sales driven to a buyer driven business relationship:
- No longer in control of the flow of information
- No longer guide customers through a linear buying process
- Sales task increasingly reduced to answering RFP's and delivering price quotes.
- Constant struggle to move the conversation away from price and onto value
- Lower chances to influence purchase decisions when customers already know what they want
Despite the challenges, innovative sales reps are finding approaches to get early access to the conversation; when chances to influence purchase decisions are still high. As mentioned in a previous post, a wave of digital solutions is already enabling salespeople to join sales conversations earlier. In other words, digital technologies offer an opportunity to early engage with buyers and to stay one step ahead of the game.
5 behavioral cues to stay ahead of b2b buyers
There is plenty of evidence to confirm businesses operate in a buyer centric marketplace. However, one question still remains: how can sales organizations turn the trend into an opportunity? Imagine if your sales reps could receive a notification when potential buyers read information about your products or services directly from your website. Would it lead to better qualified leads? Would it allow salespeople to drive the negotiation? An interesting article by Hubspot listed a few digital behaviors that may signal the right time to initiate a sales conversation.
1. Multiple website visitors from the same company
Sales reps can find prospects among website visitors specially if many decision makers from the same organization visit your website during a short period of time. This behavior may signal the team is either considering your offer or interested in your product or services. Either way, it may be worth to book a meeting.
2. Several visits in a day or week
Because buyers do research online, you can easily detect if someone is doing research on your product or service. Multiple visits to a particular page during a day or week may indicate someone is gathering information in order to include your company among others in the supplier's list. This information may enable salespeople to identify who is doing the research as well as what information not available via the website may be of interest to prospects .
3. Incomplete forms
Partially completed forms can be a great source of information to complement your prospect list. Information about incomplete forms may connect sales reps with someone who has previously considered your company but for an unknown reason decided to not continue. Sales organizations can leverage on the information stored and give the rep a great reason to call and engage in a more personal manner.
4. Read case studies and pricing pages
Previous success stories are usually sought by buyers who have moved to the evaluation phase of the cycle and are looking to validate if your product or service suits their needs. By installing a trigger in the case study section of your website your sales team can regularly update prospect lists with visitors. The same can be done with pages disclosing pricing information. Interest in prices is a big buying signal that your sales teams may want to be aware of especially if they are in the middle of a negotiation.
5. Tweet or status update about your company
A tweet or post in a social media channel where buyers requests opinions and reviews about your products or services. Wouldn't it be amazing if your sales team knew about it?
Be aware of the opportunities
Sales directors operating in fast moving industries can better position themselves by being aware of the opportunities available. Do you know what your customers do when they navigate online? Do you know what online communities and websites they gather information from? Do you want to know what online activities are most likely to influence sales?
Ph.D. Markus Ejenäs, ProSales Institute