Once upon a time, the mantra of B2B sales training was that it was the salesperson’s job to teach the customer how to buy. Now, that’s a myth.
Today’s business buyers are walled off in digital fortresses virtually impervious to the arrows of salesmanship. Penetrating those walls is a major challenge for companies engaged in B2B sales, and it is especially challenging for small and medium-sized businesses. Conventional cold-calling to acquire new clients has become a real test of a salesperson’s perseverance and ingenuity.
About 90 percent of B2B decision-makers don’t respond to cold calls and 75 percent say they regularly use social media in their decision-making process. Yet it’s too simple to point to digital technology for disrupting the B2B sales process. The technology itself didn’t prompt the change — its use unleashed new expectations that did the disrupting. Buying behavior has evolved. Now, in many cases, business buyers expect the convenience and simplicity that they have shopping at home when doing their B2B purchasing.
Consider the following: Technology allows us to isolate ourselves — and keep salespeople at bay. Caller ID makes screening calls easy. Emails have become the equivalent of phone calls, but they don’t get returned or even opened.
Corporate offices are often secured so the unannounced visit is out. And it seems that with long hours, traffic-snarled commutes and family responsibilities, opportunities to meet face-to-face have been reduced. Too often, lunch is at the desk, not in a nice restaurant discussing a sale.
Certainly the annoying methods of consumer selling — spam, robo calls, and junk mail — have colored a business buyer’s attitudes about purchasing and being sold. The research firm Forrester reports that 60 percent of businesspeople prefer not to interact with sales representatives as a primary source of information, with 68 percent indicating that they prefer to research online. And 62 percent say that they can now develop selection criteria and finalize a vendor list based on online content only.
The Amazon effect
Consumer buyers have become spoiled; they want what they want when they want it. They have adopted the expectations that 24/7 online shopping provides them at home: immediacy, wide selection, competitive pricing, overnight delivery and throw in free shipping too, please. (Forrester as well as Gartner indicate that their research suggests that by 2020, 80 percent of consumer and business buying will occur online without any direct human-to-human interaction.)
Now, B2B buyers are taking those same expectations to the office. However, they can’t always get what they want. The business world is complex and layered, meaning that B2B products and services are usually more complicated than those on the consumer side; therefore they can’t be sold the same way. So there is a gap between expectations and reality; and it is the responsibility of the salesperson to bridge this gap.
B2B buyers want to make wise purchases. Granted, the process for buying commodity products differs from that of products and services that add more value. The latter requires more time, thought and research. While a website is perfect for hunting down specifications and making comparisons, when it comes to exploring nuances and uncovering insights, more in-depth investigation is needed. And that usually involves a conversation with a live person at some point. Too often, however, that conversation does not produce the value that is expected based on the evolution of B2B buying behaviors.
What is the better way?
Obviously B2B selling needs to change, but the big question is how? It must evolve past the numbers game of making X cold calls to get one sale. So perhaps the biggest change needed is a change of mindset, an update to the self-limiting transactional outlook.
Acquiring new clients in this challenging sales environment demands a more strategic approach. By thinking strategically, B2B salespeople can sell from a position of strength as part of an ongoing process, not a start-and-stop one. This form of success will require nurturing ongoing relationships with contacts and diligently expanding networks as new leads will come from referrals. This approach requires investing in activities and events offering the opportunity to make new contacts — hours which in many instances are spent outside of the office, blurring the line between personal and professional time. The bigger the network and the more it’s mined, the more successful a salesperson will be.
Perhaps with a fresh perspective, we can report that, to borrow from Mark Twain’s quip, the death of the salesman is greatly exaggerated.
James Thompson is the CEO and president of The InSource Group, a technology staffing and placement company with offices in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. He can be reached at JT@insourcegroup.com.