By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

sales tips for understanding buying activityThis lack of revenue growth flies in the face of technology-assisted B2B buying activity as people leverage the Internet and social networking to research offerings on their own. Studies show that buyers are anywhere from 50-80% through their buying cycles before contacting sellers. B2B vendors closely monitor website activity and it proceeds at a healthy clip. It begs the question:

With all this buying activity, where’s the revenue?

My belief is that companies are confusing activity with progress. A watershed event for sellers is realizing that opportunities must be qualified to determine if buying decisions are likely to be made. Buyers willing to talk with sellers may wind up wasting their time. A survey by Sales Benchmark Index showed 52% of sales cycles driven by sellers result in no decision. Prospects either decided not to move ahead with any of the vendors they talked to or tried to address their issues with internal initiatives.

Navigating through committee decisions (these days most every decision goes to higher levels than ever before) is a challenging process. The best way to qualify opportunities is to gain access to the titles within the organization that will be involved in making buying decisions and learning what business outcomes can be improved through the use of offerings being considered. A top-down selling approach will typically result in shorter sales cycles and are more likely to occur when sellers proactively initiate opportunities at Key Player levels.

When sellers are contacted by mid to low levels within organizations, worst case they are being brought in to provide pricing leverage against the vendor that has already been chosen. The other common situation is that mid to level staff within companies have formed self-appointed “buying committees” to evaluate offerings, usually without any business objectives in mind.

In any of these situations, a competent seller plays an important role in qualifying these situations as opportunities by:  

  • Gaining access to Key Players

  • Uncovering the business outcomes these buyers are hoping to achieve

  • Summarizing the value to the organization of the offering(s) being considered

  • For large opportunities, negotiating a Sequence of Events with the buying committee that shows the necessary steps leading up to a proposal

  • Seeing if buyer(s) want to move forward

  • Negotiating final pricing, terms and conditions

With this as a backdrop, let’s consider what levels are most heavily involved in self-directed “buying.” I hope you’d agree most senior executives don’t have the time or inclination to research multiple vendors via the Internet and social networking. Furthermore, if they did, how many websites would hold their attention? Most are product, not outcome focused. Few senior executives download brochures or white papers.

Let’s assume a “self appointed” buying committee contacts 3-5 sellers. First, do the sellers change their approach because they are talking with buyers that think they know their requirements? The approach of starting by trying to change the requirements will conflict with how buyers that have done research will want to be treated as it will feels as though the seller is trying to manipulate them (the very reason buyers do their own due diligence). Any discussion is likely to be product and feature centric rather than being focused on business outcomes.

If a seller asks for talk with higher levels, isn’t it likely these buyers won’t want or be able to grant access? Buyers that don’t grant access will try to choose the vendor they feel is the best choice. If they feel strongly enough they’ll take it to management. As with inept sellers, they will lead with product. As soon as product is mentioned, the manager will ask: “How much does it cost?” Often this starts a death spiral for buying cycles because there is no credible estimate of potential value as to why the company should spend the money. The buying cycle often collapses under its own weight because there was no business case serving as a foundation.

B2C and small B2B decisions are made on a regular basis via the Internet. That said, vendors needing enterprise decisions to be made may want to re-think their strategies with non-executive website visitors. Having these buyers realize early in the process that business outcomes should be established could save you and them from wasting time.

A final thought: With sellers involved, 52% of sales cycles end in no decision. What % of self-directed buying cycles do you feel will end with revenue for you?

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