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How Buyer Behavior Is
Reshaping Sales Organizations

By: Donncha Carroll

How Buyer Behavior Is <br> Reshaping Sales Organizations

How Buyer Behavior Is Reshaping Sales Organizations is the first in a three-part series on how highly effective sales teams can drive profitable growth for the organization.

Look back at the two to three big purchases you made in the last few years – how much research did you or a family member do online before you made that decision?  At what point in the process did you reach out to the vendor?  From retail to real estate, consumers are fundamentally changing how they make purchase decisions.  Similarly, corporate buyers are using online reviews (e.g., G2 Crowd) or curated content from resources like Gartner to research vendors and the experiences of other similar organizations to better define and address their own needs.  Thus, the shift in consumer buying can be observed in business-to-business (B2B) transactions as well, and it’s impacting how sales teams can and do influence the buying process.

If your marketing team has done its job well, most buyers have already identified your company as a provider long before your sales team made first contact.  They already know your business, the types of products and services you offer, and how you’re perceived in the market.  As a result, the formula for sales success is changing—with real implications for the people, business processes and technology used to support a go-to-market strategy.  For example, more and more buyers are looking for:

1.    A sales partner that can help develop and – very importantly – implement solutions that address specific business problems

2.    Interactions with sales professionals that deliver meaningful value, and clearly provide a return on the investment in the time required to engage in those interactions

3.    Vendor relationships that are highly integrative, persist over long periods of time – often well beyond the date a primary agreement is struck – and look more like true business partnerships than the transactional exchange of goods and services

Retail is a great example of an industry where the customer is asking suppliers to extend their reach further and further downstream.  Whether it’s providing insights on the end consumer, developing strategies to lift sales through better category management or reducing inventory while keeping shelves stocked.  Let’s take a look at each of these emerging requirements and how they might influence the design and deployment of your sales team.

1.  TREND:  Solutions-Focused Partnerships

Customers make buying decisions when they believe a product or service is uniquely positioned to solve a business problem.With more information available online, buyers are asking vendors to invest time in understanding their company, discovering the nuances of their operating environment, and thinking through solutions to problems together.While “solutions-selling” is not a new concept, customers are asking for assistance with the design and implementation of those solutions and are holding providers accountable for success post-sale.

IMPLICATIONS: Problem-Solving for High Value Accounts and Prospects

A different skillset is required to diagnose and solve problems, and that skillset is more challenging to find.  Of course, not all customers need or even deserve the same level of attention, so many companies are responding to this trend by:

a.    Further segmenting customers into groups based on potential value over the lifetime of the relationship (vs. last year’s sales and margin contribution)

b.    Creating and deploying a solutions-focused sales role to serve high value customers that need a partner with whom they can collaborate to actually solve the business problem

c.    Reducing cost by assigning lower value accounts to inside resources (either exclusively or in partnership with a more transactional field sales role)

d.    Sourcing talent for the role that have good business acumen, problem-solving and solutions-selling ability combined with project management skills (consider using a sales-specific assessment to target these traits)


2.  TREND: Value-Based Interactions

Today, customers want a different sales experience.Developing relationships and building trust has never been more important, but it’s less likely to happen on the golf course or at a ball game. Buyers have less patience for the kind of rambling presentation that focuses on sharing information about you and your company (which, surprisingly, some sales teams still lead with). Customers want every interaction to be a good use of their time, and that means each meeting should be planned, structured to achieve a common set of goals, and experienced by the customer as one step towards helping them solve a problem they care about intently.

IMPLICATIONS: Increased Discipline and Consistency

Creating higher value interactions requires a more disciplined approach to industry research, business issue discovery, and ultimately meeting design, planning and execution.Sales teams that do this well:

a.    Develop a process and a set of templates that encourage the broad adoption of a more disciplined approach, making sure that higher levels of investment are aligned with potential account value

b.    Deliver training internally and use the Regional Management overlay to provide the oversight necessary to ensure the approach is consistently executed

c.    Allow for individual decision latitude and flexibility to adapt the approach but always remain within the guidelines (i.e., try to avoid hard and fast rules)

3.  TREND: Business Partnerships

Even within the same industry, customers often want a tailored approach that addresses their specific needs, and those needs are changing faster than ever.Sales and service requirements vary widely with key differences in operating models, organization cultures and decision-making processes.Buyers expect you to discover and monitor what’s different about them and to continually modify your approach to more closely fit theirs.To provide this level of service you will have to implement a process that enables ongoing customer needs assessment and to monitor how those needs are being met over time.To do this successfully and efficiently, the partnership must provide for an open exchange of data that can be mined for insights and enable agile decision-making.

IMPLICATIONS: Agility and Speed

There is a cost to delivering this level of service.Adding these monitoring and management processes introduces complexity that impacts operations, requiring a higher level of resourcing which can compress margins.The sales team must consider the impact on volume and the lifetime value of each customer before agreeing to invest in a differentiated approach.Companies that do this well:

a.    Estimate account value and then group customers into sales and service profiles that receive a standardized but “tailored service package” that is aligned with their profile (e.g., active inventory management with volume discounts on specific SKUs)

b.    Clarify and secure commitment from customers to provide access to the resources and the data necessary to deliver against the new requirements

c.    Confirm, over time, that the economics of each service package makes good financial sense for each individual account, and then continue to monitor and move accounts over time

Yes, recent changes in buying behavior are significant, as are the implications for sales team design and deployment.  Start with the customer and use the data and relationships you have to investigate the market and build a better understanding of account lifetime value and needs.  Use enterprise data from existing systems (e.g., sales transactions, CRM profiles) combined with publicly available information (e.g., industry, organization size and growth) to develop a needs-based segmentation that informs how you serve each individual account.  While this will almost certainly mean complexity in design, make sure it translates to simplicity in execution by creating standard templates and processes that can be applied consistently to the same customer profiles.  Successfully executed, this approach can deliver a significant and very profitable sales lift.

Contact: Donncha Carroll

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