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

typing-online.pngsales training workshops in 2002, buyer control of buying cycles has significantly increased. A Corporate Executive Board study stated: “Nearly 60% of typical purchasing decisions (researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmark pricing, and so on) are completed before engaging with vendors and talking with salespeople.”

The study goes on to say, “solution sales reps can be more of an annoyance than an asset” to knowledgeable buyers.

I agree with the findings that buyers go much further before contacting sellers, but challenge some of the conclusions that were drawn. Let me begin by limiting this discussion to relatively complex offerings that could include an offering as well as implementation support or other professional services. Painting with a broad brush, efforts to get organizations 60% of the way through buying cycles, prior to interaction with a salesperson, have the following characteristics:

  • Often initiated by mid to lower levels within the company

  • Most internet research is done by lower level individuals

  • Most of the information on vendor websites is product versus outcome focused

  • Virtually impossible to determine implementation costs and professional services needed

  • Limited ability to select the “best” offering

  • Often no business outcomes defined until senior management is approached for funding

  • Without value, many of these “buying cycles” result in making “no decision”

The results of many weeks or months of research may resemble an RFP issued to vendors that lists functional specs, but no desired business outcomes that would offset the costs. The preferred vendor is often the one that has what are perceived to be the best features at the best price, without regard for whom can deliver the best cost vs. benefit.

As it relates to a seller being “an annoyance,” traditional selling is in conflict with the way knowledgeable buyers want to buy. Sellers often want to try to change buyer requirements in attempting to become the preferred vendor. Premature efforts (doing so before establishing credibility and allowing buyers to articulate what they think their requirements are) will provide poor buying experiences and can be annoying.

“Solution” sales are best initiated proactively at executive levels by uncovering business outcomes that can be improved. Gaining access to committee members to quantify potential value before doing extensive research is a logical way to proceed for all parties involved. Unless there is sufficient value, it makes no sense to have mid to lower level people evaluate multiple vendors. “Solution” sellers operating in this mode minimize the chance of companies expending a great deal of effort by doing research in bottom up sales with a high probability of “no decision” outcomes.

Vendors are concerned about cost of sales. People fail to realize the costs buyers incur while evaluating offerings. A solution sale properly executed is a sanity check for buyers and vendors to determine there is sufficient value to allocate resources to evaluations.

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