Selling was something that worked when the customer knew less than you did. Selling was something that worked when customers had to depend almost exclusively on companies for information about products produced by those companies. Selling was all about "convincing" someone that they "needed" something.
Well, those days are gone, over, kaput. Not in the minds of company managers, sales managers, or salespeople, mind you. Nope, they're still playing the game as if selling still works, and selling still matters. It doesn't.
Customers begin their buying process with a need and a set of questions. Note that the need already exists. They start their research doing one of two things: they search on Google (for Low- to Medium-Scrutiny products and services) or they talk to their peers (for Heavy-Scrutiny and Intense-Scrutiny products and services). They start getting answers and recommendations, from other customers who have purchased the same product or service that they are thinking of buying. In other words, they turn to the Customer Community for answers - using reviews, discussion groups, blogs, and direct contact via email and conversations.
By the time these customers come in contact with a salesperson - or a website serving the role of a salesperson - the Customer Community has already served the role that the salesperson used to perform. Most of their questions have been answered, and the answers have steered them in a particular direction.
So why do we still need salespeople? Well, at some point, towards the end of the customer's buying process, especially in the case of a more complex buying process, some questions will have to be answered by a knowledgeable person. They are situation-specific questions, and questions that involve what it will be like to work with the company selling the product or service: Will this work with MY thing? How much will you charge ME? How long will it take for you to do THIS thing I'm thinking of doing? Will this fit me or my situation? Will I like how you do business with me? Are there people on your staff who can help me? And, the Big Deal Question most commonly asked by buyers and most commonly ignored by sellers and marketers: "What's going to happen to me after I buy?"
In the end, the sale will be made by the company that answers these very specific questions most successfully. "Hunter" salespeople aren't really good at this. "Nurturer" salespeople are much better. They are patient. They don't push. They just keep answering questions or getting the answer from a company specialist until the customer is satisfied.
Unfortunately, most salespeople are only able to answer the questions that the customer has already answered for himself. Salespeople are also trained to "convince" the buyer, which is really stupid, because the buyer already had the need when he started his buying process. His buying process is a search for the best solution to his problem, if a solution exists. It is now the salesperson's game to lose.
We are now experiencing the biggest disconnect that has ever existed between the buyer's process and the seller's process. Buyers are frustrated. Here are just two examples that have landed in my email the last few weeks:
- Very savvy manager is looking for a cloud-based PR/marketing system. "I first contacted them over 5 months ago after responding to an offer for a free iPod in return for sitting through a 30-minute demo online. I was intrigued by their technology. The presentation by the salesman was mechanical and showed no signs of homework and its relevant application. After a month and no followup or iPod, I called them. Turns out my presenter was MIA. After talking with a manager, I was assigned to another salesperson. He was conscientious, but still didn't get what was needed to position their system's offerings to our needs. I am still waiting for the iPod's arrival. Talk about lousy first impressions."
- Another smart business person is looking for a CRM system. "I was asked to sit in on a sales pitch for an accounting package that has CRM and eCommerce. I walked out of the presentation in less than ten minutes. The sales guy was a wind-em-up talking suit, all buzz words. 'We sell to big companies, small companies, 10,000 companies, so buy from us. We are the only alternative of choice versus Oracle and SAP for any high-growth but medium-sized company.' Yada, yada, yada. When my CFO asked a particular question, the guy had no idea which companies were actually like us. When I went to their website, it was all generalizations. No pulldown on CRM, though I eventually found it under the products tab. The different elements of CRM shown there were the right ones, but the descriptions were all too vague to mean anything. 'Gain real-time and accurate visibility into pipeline and forecasts, boost sales efficiency...' I want to talk to someone who can tell me about the struggles of putting it into practice and living with it day-to-day. It was clear from the 5 - 10 minutes that we spent with this guy that he was not going to be able to address any of the practical issues."
These salespeople UN-sold these prospects. These prospects came to them hopeful and left discouraged, even disgusted. They will look elsewhere.
By the time a customer has come to you, the Customer Community has answered many questions, and you are now on the prospect's short list. If your salespeople are selling the "old" (normal) way, you will lose the sale.
- Interview customers who have already bought from you, asking them what their concerns were as they were buying and how you finally successfully addressed those concerns. Map out their buying process and make sure you are aligned with it, at every step. When they take their next move, you should be right there, with exactly what they need. (Instructions here.)
- Make sure their concerns are all addressed on your website, answering the question, "What's going to happen to me after I buy?" Be sure you answer these questions in your content marketing as well, including blogs and emails.
- Make sure your salespeople can answer the very specific questions they will be asked when the customer finally makes contact with you, after the customer has gotten the "generic" questions answered by the Customer Community. If a salesperson can't learn what he needs to learn, or doesn't have the patience to answer questions properly, replace that pushy, superficial hunter with a nurturer. Personal experience with clients has proven to me that nurturers can outsell the hunters.
Buyers have already changed their buying process. You must change your selling process - now - if you don't want to be left in the dust.