In 2017, Forrester predicted “The Death of a (B2B) Salesman,” boldly asserting that one million B2B salespeople would be displaced by 2020. They believed modern B2B buyers preferred self-service and digital research, and it would eliminate the need for sales reps, especially those who do not add value to the buying experience.
While people will never truly be replaced, Forrester brings up a valid point: Sales processes must be revolutionized to meet buyers where they are in their journey and focus on their specific needs. Otherwise, more and more salespeople will find themselves cleaning out their desks.
70% of buyers want to speak with a rep but only 8% trust the rep they are working with. (CEB)
Why don’t most salespeople get a second meeting? Most often, it’s their inability to express the full value of their offer articulately and consistently. What B2B salespeople provide to buyers in early conversations can make or break the sale – in fact, if buyers have to solve a business problem, salespeople are only number nine on their list of preferred resources(7).
When businesses identify an internal problem, their first step is to begin exploration and research to find solutions that will address the issue and satisfy their company requirements. When interacting with salespeople, 66% of business decision-makers said vendors provide them with too much content to sort through, 57% said much of the material is useless, and as a result, 60% of buyers said they get most of their information from other sources(5).
B2B sales success: Why do reps miss the mark?
The majority of sellers miss the mark on the content provided to buyers. While some may “show up and throw up,” presenting a generic pitch deck used as a “one-size-fits-all” demonstration, others share the wrong content at the wrong time. Both of these situations are detrimental to your sales success.
Have you ever bought a house or rented an apartment? Early in your search, you had basic requirements in mind, right? Let’s say you were looking for three bedrooms, dog-friendly, must have a dishwasher and the location must be within five miles of your office. You submit these qualifications to a realtor, and they spit back out some quick results. What happens if that realtor takes you to see a one bedroom home located ten miles from your workplace, but it allows dogs and also has a dishwasher. Would this be acceptable? No, of course not. And chances are, you’re already looking for a new realtor.
Why isn’t this acceptable? Because the realtor completely overlooked the needs you laid out in front of them to push something that would benefit themselves. This is the same thing salespeople do. Pushing one product or solution and expecting it to meet the needs of every buyer will never be an effective approach. A customer should not have to bend to fit into your ideal buyer mold, but instead, the buyer and seller should collaborate to determine the right approach to fit the buyer’s needs.
Sales enablement: What does your buyer want?
B2B buyers want to work with reps who help them solve a business challenge, not reps who are there to sell to them. Reps that act as advisors or partners to buyers demonstrate their understanding of the buyer’s industry and organization and can clearly articulate how their solution can address their issues. It’s the salesperson’s duty to comprehend the full offerings available and interpret them to make recommendations that fit the buyer’s needs.
While many sellers understand the inherent value of the product or service their company offers, stale sales enablement practices often hinder their ability to effectively communicate the total value of everything available to buyers. Because of this, the buyer perceives the product to be much less valuable than it really is and sales are stalled or lost.
When consumed correctly, content is a powerful sales tool. Successful salespeople don’t tout the features of a product because it doesn’t resonate with the buyer. Instead, they focus on the application of the product and how it works in the context of the customer’s business problem. Customer use cases and stories are examples of buyer-focused content that achieves the best results. Evoking emotion through storytelling and illustrating the outcome of your solution for a similar customer provides compelling and evidence-based proof that encourages buyers to move forward.
A reference, case study or success story used in the customers’ awareness phase can significantly speed up the prospects’ process of creating a shared vision of future success and defining how to get there as well as the desired business results.” – CSO Insights
Content creation: Does it resonate with buyers?
65% of sales content created by marketing is never used by sales because they create too many materials, it provides no value and/or it is misaligned with the buyer’s journey(5). More often than not, less is more. Marketers can empower reps by measuring content effectiveness, leveraging dynamic assets and creating materials that help the buyer, well, buy.
More than two-thirds of companies are underperforming or performing inconsistently when it comes to creating the urgency to get prospects to buy sooner rather than later(6). Producing content to accelerate the path to purchase is dependent on marketing’s ability to understand what a buyer needs at each stage of the customer journey.
Buyers have plenty of obstacles to overcome, so make it easy for them to make a purchase. Marketers should create content that answers questions such as “Why Buy?,” “Why Now?,” and “Why You?” Identify what their internal challenges are and develop assets to articulate the ROI of your offering, like an easily digestible piece of content to share the business case for your product or solution with stakeholders.
Knowing what content to use to engage customers is not enough. Making the process as frictionless as possible is a key factor in sales effectiveness. In fact, 89% of consumers buy based on the overall experience, regardless of price or functionality. Six years ago, it was 12%(3). Buyers will make a purchase from the first salesperson who delivers value(2) and puts them closer to solving their business needs. It’s all about delivering the right content at the right time to the right person.
Sales training: Is it enough?
Training your reps is a good place to start. Sales training consists of educating sellers on the company, products, and processes through a standard onboarding experience for new hires. However, sales training is a subset of sales readiness, which encompasses coaching, contextual and situational learning, communication styles, and role-playing. In essence, it’s less about the knowledge of what you’re selling, and more about your preparedness to conduct engaging conversations with buyers.
Have you ever jumped in a cab, told the driver where you want to go, only to find out they’re going the wrong way? Too many sellers jump in the driver’s seat, with the buyer in the back seat, taking them in a direction they may or may not want to be heading. But enabling sellers to lead engaging interactions that deliver value for buyers means letting buyers take the wheel and sellers ride shotgun helping to navigate the route ahead. Sales readiness prepares reps to join buyers on their journey, assisting them on the most efficient path.
Buyer-focused content creation that speaks to the buyer’s needs and is used effectively by sellers is the key to sales success. For B2B sellers to remain relevant, marketing and sales must align and tell a value-based story to buyers, using actionable data that can drive purchase decisions and actually ignite change. To learn more about engaging buyers with the right content at the right time, download “The Complete Guide to Engaging the Modern B2B Buyer”.
1) Hoar, A. The Death of a (B2B) Salesman. 11 May 2017. Forrester. https://go.forrester.com/what-it-means/ep12-death-b2b-salesman/
2) “How B2B Sellers Win in the Age of the Customer.” pp 1-14, 2016. Forrester Research. https://ejjg6j4772uoghudr74bot9-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MediaflyEvolvedSellingWhitePaper.pdf
3) Mathers, M. Marketing-Fueled Buyer Enablement. 2019. Gartner.
4) Ostrow, P. and Papoulias, I. Is Your Content Driving Revenue? 5 Dec. 2018. https://www.mediafly.com/webinar/is-your-content-driving-revenue/
5) Ramos, L. and Camuso, M. (2018). Credible, Empathetic Content Wins Over Elusive B2B Buyers. Forrester.
6) Riesterer, T., Peterson, E., Smith, C., and Moliski, J. Decide or Defer: What Message Gets Executive Decision-Makers to Buy Now Instead of Never? Corporate Visions. https://win.corporatevisions.com/rs/413-YED-439/images/Report-Decide-or-Defer.pdf
7) Schenk, T. (2018). What Buyers Expect from Salespeople and What it Means for Sales Enablement. CSO Insights. https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/what-buyers-expect-from-salespeople-and-what-it-means-for-sales-enablement/
8) Travis, T., Berkowitz, T., Bharaj, G., Hilbert, M. 2018. Gartner, Inc. Market Guide for Digital Content Management for Sales.