social networkingOver the last several years technology has changed the selling landscape. The preponderance of search engines, Websites and Webinars increases the chance that a buyer’s initial contact with companies is electronic, rather than an interaction with a salesperson. Sellers are contacted later in buying cycles, usually after buyers have a sense of their requirements and what offerings are available in the market.

Buyers love to defer contact with salespeople who often hype offerings. Vendors have also been guilty of making claims that are difficult or impossible to achieve. In the same way B2C buyers may refer to a Consumer’s Guide, B2B buyers crave third party data about offerings they are considering. Buyers are leery of information that is “pushed” to them. They crave unbiased input about offerings and results.

While technology has changed selling, it is starting to influence how people buy. For a recent project, our company needed the services of an adult learning theorist. Rather than search in a traditional manner, we used social networking to elicit recommendations from people who had worked with adult learning consultants. Based upon that input, we quickly narrowed our choices and made a decision within 3 weeks. Social networking provides buyers a way to avoid company or seller hype when making buying decisions. Buyers often check references provided late in a buying cycle by vendors. They now have the ability to seek references without involvement by vendors at the beginning of buying cycles to develop their short lists. Vendors exert minimal control when social networking is used in this manner. They reap what they sow in terms of the buying experiences of their customers. There are some approaches that can allow companies to improve their image with buyers.

Allow Buyers To Buy – When sellers are involved, they are the most significant factor in influencing buyer experiences. A major step in improving buying experiences is to abandon the traditional view of selling as convincing, persuading, overcoming objections, etc.

If companies recognize people would rather buy than be sold, selling can be redefined as: Asking questions to empower buyers to use offerings to achieve their goals, solve problems or satisfy needs.

Electronic Buying Experience – Increasingly, initial touches with buyers are via your Website. Have you considered the different types of buyers that may be visiting and what their objectives are? The more you can understand a web visitor’s objective, the more responsive you can be to make it a satisfying experience. When a buyer is ready to buy the hope is that your electronic touches have been positive enough so that they will contact your company.

Buying Experience – Sales Benchmark Index research shows that within organizations 13% of salespeople generate 87% of the revenue. The average buying experience will be a reflection of how your average salesperson treats buyers. Finding a way to capture and share best practices goes a long way toward improving the buying experience for your customers.

Buyer Expectations – Satisfied customers are a prerequisite for social networking to be an advantage for your organization. Helping buyers articulate results they’ve achieved makes positive references more compelling. Consider setting base lines of how things are being done without your offerings and then measure improvement as offerings are implemented. Defining variables to be measured can be part of the selling best practices mentioned above. Buyer can say they had positive buying experiences, but if they can add that their costs were reduced by 18% it can set your company apart from competitors.

Define Your Company Persona – Start with the end in mind in considering what you would like buyers to say about their buying experience and results achieved by using your offerings. The key is then taking the steps within your organization to earn those opinions from buyers. Over the last several years, virtually every company has indicated that they want to be more customer-centric.

How many designed an approach to accomplish this task and made the organizational changes necessary to achieve their goal?

The use of social networking to make better buying decisions is here to stay. Leveraging it to your advantage places an emphasis on institutionalizing the way your sellers interact with buyers. Companies make huge investments in product development, marketing and advertising to improve their top lines. Many of the benefits from these expenditures are temporary. While challenging to achieve, the ability to provide superior customer buying experiences is one of the few sustainable competitive advantages.

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