Posted by IndustryArchive Admin on 01/16/2018 Consultative Selling

How to Win the Consultative Selling Battle in B2B Markets

By: Robert Hennessey

How to Win the Consultative Selling Battle in B2B Markets

Who is winning in today’s battle of consultative selling in B2B markets? 

Some say the evidence is clear B2B buyers are in control. Given the mountains of data and information courtesy of the Internet that has reduced the traditional sales funnel to a relic of the past, it seems so. Buyers don’t need to consult with sellers until the last mile in the sales process when their mind is made up and the purchase decision a mere fait accompli.

Surprisingly buyers may not agree with this assumption. CEB, a subsidiary of Gartner, is a global best practice insights and technology firm that provides products and services to businesses worldwide. (1) Their research indicates that customers are “deeply uncertain and stressed” when making large or complex consultative purchase decisions. So, what could be driving this buyer apprehension? (2)

It could be buyers in large organizations are feeling the pressure of the new purchasing realities.

  • More information than ever before to be analyzed and assessed

  • A reported 25% increase in the number of people involved in the purchasing decision from 5.4 to 6.8 in just two years

  • Increased numbers of stakeholders from many functions and geographies

  • The lack of supplier engagement until right before purchase

All of these factors have both buyers and sellers claiming a slowing and lengthening of the purchase process or even tabling decisions for a future time. Did I hear someone say this sounds like paralysis by analysis?

So which is it?

A buyer’s paradise where the Internet has delivered buyers from having to engage sellers to become informed and where they are empowered to shop like Amazon consumers.

Or.

A buyer’s paralysis of increased delay and inaction because of too much information and a feeling of undue pressure and stress too make the proper decision.

Trust and confidence where always important pillars of a buyer-seller relationship that developed over time and these are now absent in the current sales process. The small amount of time that buyers now allow sellers to participate in the purchase journey may, in fact, be the cause for the consternation that plagues buyers today.

Buyers must now trust themselves and build sufficient internal confidence to make the purchase decision absent any significant supplier engagement throughout the purchase process.

How are buyers attempting to cope with this need to build trust and confidence? 

We see social proof whatever form it may take including comments made on sellers’ blog posts, reviews on social media by peers, and to a lesser degree testimonials found on seller websites as the new source of trust and confidence. But among all of these sources, reviews on social media by peers are the most potent regarding building brand trust and confidence. If you think the work needed to obtain reviews are not worth your time and effort, then this research finding may impact your thinking.

“More than half (61 percent) of buyers consult third-party sources before consulting a company’s salesforce. These sources include third-party sites, feedback from a business partner, social channels, and conversations with peers who already have experience with the product or service. These sources beyond the reach of a company’s salesforce are a factor for 89 percent of buyers when making B2B buying decisions.” (3)

Need more insight into the power of trusted reviews.

(4) Image Source

So Are Social Reviews the New Word of Mouth?

The evidence suggests a resounding yes. 

"Engagement on your posts works as social proof, but the reviews on your social media are powerful testimonials that can affect how new users perceive your business. They work as the digital version of word-of-mouth marketing and have the potential to touch everyone who views your pages and profiles." (5)

And, while social proof and impartial reviews are important in qualifying a seller they are not sufficient to fill the total trust and confidence gap that know exists. We see a new trust and confidence gap not being solely a supplier qualification issue, but in the difficulties of buyers to manage their internal purchase process.

Okay, so let’s recap what we now know about the empowered B2B Buyer.

  1. The buyer is definitely in charge of a new self-directed buying journey

  2. There is a 25% increase in the number of people involved in the purchasing decision

  3. Buyers seek confidence and trust via social proof and trustworthy reviews

  4. Buyers may be more confused because of the avalanche of content available to them & the absence of a buyer-seller relationship until the late stages of purchase is causing more confusion and a delay and even a reluctance to purchase

Given these realities where does one go from here to capitalize on the needs of a buyer that has changed and a sale that has become more complex for both, the buyer and seller?

The answer resides in simplification, not more complication. After all, the buyer has become more confused, overwhelmed and mistrustful of the seller even with more information to decide than ever before.

Therefore, it seems logical that sellers who provide the type of information buyers need to make a confident and informed decision they want to make will solidify a preferred partner status for these sellers.

Here are four steps that sellers can take to build their brand as a reliable partner that is service friendly and customer-focused.

How to Manage the Consultative Sale

1. Create all your sales communications from a customer-centric point of view.  

The self-directed buyer’s journey you thought you knew is no longer. Focusing on a narrow four-step sales funnel of awareness, consideration, preference, and purchase has gone the way of the buggy whip. This methodology and its marketing automation embodiment are not customer-centric. Consider the facts that Buyers are not:  

  • Focused on becoming aware of you the seller 
  • Considering suppliers 
  • Looking to make a preference judgment 
  • Interested in purchasing something

From the Customer-Centric Buyers Point of View Buyers are thinking about:

  • Stage One: identifying, quantifying & prioritizing all the competing business problems (need & risk/benefit assessment, resource requirements - people, time & budget, ROI payback, etc.)

  • Stage Two: evaluating various tactics & options to solving their top priority problems (in-house vs. outsourced, people vs. technology, build vs. buy, the ability to integrate new solutions with existing structures, etc.)

  • Stage Three: Having decided on a solution, sources suppliers first online and then once narrowed selects a small group of suppliers to engage

Now that you have immersed yourself in the shoes of the buyer you can begin to apply account-based marketing techniques and communications that will resonate with buyers.

2. Help your prospects overcome obstacles to purchase

It is important to talk with, interview or survey your best existing customers by the market, product and geography to flesh out any unique differences among and between your customers. Again, you want to learn about your customer’s struggles during the purchase process, not yours.

This exercise provides the opportunity to discover insights into the many aspects of the purchase process like: 

  • Gathering all the key pain points that motivated your customers to establish a purchase priority.

  • Identifying the important issues customers encounter during each of the customer-centric customer’s purchase stages.

  • Learning what information would help customers streamline their decision process to make a decision.

  • Probing the participation process as to the importance of who is involved, not involved, who should be involved, who got involved late or who needed to be involved early.

  • Determining how & what tools were used or could be used to identify, quantify & prioritize competing, business problems, risk/benefit assessment, resource requirements - people, time & budget, ROI payback, etc.

So we are all well aware of the myriad of internal issues during each buying stage that can disrupt and derail the buying journey. Your job now is to help your buyers through each stage of their buying process.

At each stage of the buyer’s journey, there are common issues most customers will encounter. Addressing these issues in your marketing communications will go a long way towards creating a dialogue with prospects that will help differentiate and position your company as preferred supplier among others.  

  • In the early purchase stage information hurdles dominate as research gathering can cause friction due to sorting the meaningful from the irrelevant, trouble clarifying facts, and knowing how much information is sufficient along with assessing internal priorities occurs.

  • In the middle stage, the major obstacles are communications and gaining consensus among all the stakeholders. Common challenges at this point are often initiated by competing priorities, changing purchase criteria, hidden agendas, and even an inability to agree on change at all.  

  • In the latter stages, once a course of action is set then implementation options like too many, the late introduction of new options, or unclear implementation, might cause conflict that could delay pulling the purchase trigger.

Your objective must include providing direction that is useful to the buyer including helping them deal with the known challenges all customers face with any supplier as they matriculate along their buyer’s journey

3. Design Conflict Resolution Tools

The goal here is to employ customer-centric content tools that will reduce indecision and facilitate progress towards a purchase decision.

There are many different conflict resolutions tools, (CRTs) that can be built and delivered by marketing and sales. Typically these will take the form of diagnostic, assessment, survey or benchmark content that you provide to your sales prospects. All these tools are designed to aid potential customers in overcoming the usual barriers that disrupt, slow or derail the buyer’s journey.

Requirements of Successful Conflict Resolution Tools (CRTs)

  • CRTs must be impartial and credible and void of any hint of self-serving intention.

  • CRTs must be practical and reduce indecision by producing conclusions that are evidence-based to facilitate consensus.  

  • CRTs must, without self-promotion, help lead to a solution that enhances your company as best suited to deliver.

Tools that are data-backed that feature “what if” calculations that help buyer participants distill the financial impacts of various actions or taking no action are invaluable in building consensus quickly.

4. Tracking the Purchase Journey  

Knowing at what stage your potential customer is at during their purchase journey is necessary to provide the timing of a need for intervention to maintain progress and streamline the process. 

Given today’s self-directed buyers this is the most difficult part of the sales journey for sellers. To engage prospects, you must listen to how they may be engaging with your company. Whether it is your website, social media or reports from sales personnel you need to focus not on how you will solicit them, but how you might be of assistance to them.  

Here is where having your CRTs and content marketing communications at the ready is critical. These will allow you to begin a preliminary rapport building relationship that is helpful and non-threatening. 

Ideally, you would like your buyer to confirm just where they are in the purchase process. If possible, ask them if you can or help by offering to assist them with CRTs to evaluate identifying, quantifying or prioritizing business problems, help with risk/benefit assessment, or “what if” tools on resource requirements and ROI payback. If they accept you will know they’re in the early stages. 

An offering and acceptance of CRTs regarding in-house vs. outsourced, people vs. technology, build vs. buy, and insights into to integrating new solutions with existing structures would indicate there in the middle stages.  

To determine if they are in the final stage of the purchase process offering content marketing solutions in the form of white papers, customer-centric application stories, and customer reviews would if accepted would confirm this stage.  

Sometimes you can use an assessment or diagnostic tool to gain a written commitment from a prospect by requiring that the tool is used by a specified date and include executive-level signoff before accessing the tool. This type of commitment would give a clear sign towards verifying the seriousness of the prospect's intentions.  

Obtaining customer verification at each purchase stage is a clear sign that your potential customer is moving away from the status quo and is advancing towards making an actual purchase.

Bottom Line
 To win in today’s B2B consultative selling arena, you need to provide content that is useful to the buyer including helping them deal with the known challenges all customers face with any supplier as they matriculate along the buyer’s journey.

  1. Accept the reality of the self-directed buyer & discard the extinct awareness, consideration, preference, and purchase sales funnel.

  2. Recognize that buyers are faced with overwhelming content available to them causing confusion, delay or even a reluctance to purchase.  

  3. Build brand trust and confidence via social proof and trustworthy reviews.  

  4. Communicate how your best customers dealt with the internal issues during each buying stage to guide your prospects to avoid disruption and derailment of the purchase journey.

To gain back some control in an otherwise buyer controlled world sellers can shape the purchase process by helping buyers navigate their purchase journey. To do this requires a switch from selling to buyers to adopting a customer-centric approach that includes helping the buyer buy.


Sources Used in the Preparation of this Article
(1) SOURCE: CEB
RETRIEVED FROM: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CEB_Inc.

(2) SOURCE: CEB
FROM "THE NEW SALES IMPERATIVE," BY NICHOLAS TOMAN, BRENT ADAMSON, AND CHRISTINE GOMEZ, MARCH-APRIL 2017 © HBR.ORG
RETRIEVED FROM: https://www.cebglobal.com/insights/challenger-sale/prescriptive/hbr-sales-imperative-form.html

(3) SOURCE: AVANADE
FROM: “GLOBAL SURVEY: B2B IS THE NEW B2C”
RETRIEVED FROM: https://www.avanade.com/~/media/asset/point-of-view/the-new-customer-journey-global-study.pdf

(4) SOURCE: G2 CROWD AND HEINZ MARKETING
FROM: “2018 BENCHMARK REPORT: THE IMPACT OF REVIEWS ON B2B BUYERS AND SELLERS”
RETRIEVED FROM:  http://go.g2crowd.com/2018-benchmark-report-B2B-reviews.html

(5) SOURCE: ADESPRESSO
RETRIEVED FROM: 
https://adespresso.com/blog/25-proven-ways-to-get-more-customer-reviews-on-social-media/

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