While we all know that today’s buyer is much more informed than ever before, doing preliminary research and review to the point where they’re approximately 60% of the way through the process when they’re ready to buy, the reality is you can’t afford to wait until they’re ready to purchase. In fact, there’s some startling new evidence to suggest that you need to be there at the beginning.
In SiriusDecisions’ 2017 Buying Study, researchers discovered that more than 60% of buyers went with a provider whose sales reps gave them information in the first educational phase, which is the buying process’s counterpart to the discovery phase and may occur on a different timeline from the selling process. Which is to say that for many sales reps, who come in when the customer is ready to buy, the prospect is already past the first educational phase and is now weighing options. But less than 40% of buyers eventually chose a company whose sales reps stepped in later, say during the request for proposals (RFP) stage.
If you’re still not convinced, Forrester’s year-over-year research found increasingly that buyers choose a vendor who provides a vision and clear path to value – from 65% in 2009 to now almost 75%, meaning just a quarter of purchasers are selecting a company that merely responds to a request.
This is particularly true for those products and services that are highly complex. Just because a buyer is doing research and gathering information doesn’t mean that they understand what they’re reading (not unlike university students who are doing a research paper on a topic that’s new to them). Thus, as a sales rep, you want to not only provide the buyer the context to their content and how it solves a problem, but you want to do it as early as possible.
Notice above the phrases “gave them information… educational phase”, “provides a vision”, and “clear path to value”. What’s missing? That’s right – selling, sales, overcoming objections, etc. Our core value here at Janek is the importance of sales reps becoming Trusted Advisors, and nowhere is that concept illustrated more clearly in this example.
When you’re reaching out to buyers early in their own process, you’re educating - helping them to understand and make sense of the mass of data and content in front of them. What you aren’t doing is going into a sales pitch – 1) they’re not ready, 2) they’ll think you’re viewing them just as dollar signs, and 3) turning on selling mode at this stage does absolutely nothing for building a relationship. The true way to become a trusted advisor who values and respects their clients and closes deals based on those principles.
All of this is why product experts who accompany sales reps, or even better, sales reps who are themselves product experts, are some of your most valuable resources. They can use their expertise to assist the prospect in this phase. And the bilateral communication of human interaction (whether face to face, via videoconferencing, or some other medium), is much more illuminating and clarifying for a buyer than a whole book’s worth of content, which is a single direction consumption.
By entering the buying process earlier, you can also use that time to scout the prospect in low-pressure environments. More specifically, you can find out the decision makers, influencers, timelines, and other vital intelligence without the looming weight of needing to think about closing the sale. Then, when proposal time does come, you’ll have had far more time to research, prepare, and fine-tune your presentation than those candidates who only showed up in response to the RFP.
Getting in Earlier
Of course, to be in a position to get your foot in the door earlier, you’ll have to devote resources to monitoring your leads, target markets, and verticals. Although costly in that regard, the potential benefits far outweigh the possible timesink, upping your win percentages and close rates to higher probabilities. Which in turn will, of course, raise your revenues and literally more than pay for itself.
You’ll also need to invest heavy time into networking. While a truism that networking wins opportunities of all kinds, and the cliché of it not being what you know, but who, it’s the single best way to make inroads into relationship building before the prospect is ready to buy.
This additionally involves sales development reps focusing on providing information and content to leads that would otherwise be qualified but aren’t ready to buy. Assisting the prospect during their initial educational phase with no overt or even implied suggestion of selling needs to be the strategy here. You’re helping the potential client accelerate their own buying process while subtly aligning the discovery phase of your selling process with the education phase of their buying process *and* building a relationship towards trusted advisor status. It’s a dream-winning scenario for everyone involved, and an ideal to strive for.
Although it’s easy to fall into reactive complacency, knowing buyers are more advanced at the ready to purchase stage, engaging in proactive earlier intervention is something more sales reps need to do. Not only are there numerous benefits for your company, but a happier, better-advanced customer base makes for smoother buying and selling processes for everyone.