The majority of customers—70%—wait until they’ve clarified their needs to engage sellers in their buying journey. They often delay talking to salespeople because they find other resources, such as vendor websites, industry events, social networks and their colleagues, more valuable in solving their business problems. In the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, sellers finished next to last, ahead of only local or national professional trade associations, when buyers sought to help in solving their business problems.
The failure to see sellers as a top resource means that buyers continue to spend less time with sellers, giving sellers fewer and fewer opportunities to impress buyers. With less face time, sellers start to look alike, perpetuating customers’ reliance on other resources for information and creating what we call the buyer apathy loop.
But all is not lost for sellers, if their organization’s enterprise sales strategy trains them on opportunities to connect with buyers earlier in the purchase process.
Four Key Selling Scenarios That Offer Opportunities for Earlier Engagement
Though customers today often prefer to engage sellers late in the buying process, 90% of buyers who responded to the Buyer Preferences Study said they would welcome a seller earlier in the decision-making process. They suggested these in four scenarios.
1. Facing a New Challenge
More than one-third—34.1%—of buyers welcome earlier engagement when they face a new challenge, or at least a challenge that’s new to them. Given how fast the market and technology changes today, there should be no shortage of opportunities to reach buyers early in the buying process.
2. Dealing with a Problem that’s Risky for the Organization
More than one-fifth of buyers (21.1%) indicated that they’d engage a seller earlier if they had to make a buying decision that put their organization at risk. As an example, a a seller might be able to step in earlier in the process with a company considering whether to outsource its entire finance team to another country—a move that might have significant legal, financial and reputational implications.
3. Dealing with a Problem that’s Perceived as Risky for the Buying Influence
Some buying decisions are risky for the individual deciding whether to buy. In these circumstances, 19.1% of buyers would consider seeking help from a seller early in their decision-making process. Sales leaders often face pressure to succeed when they want to invest in new measures that involve a significant part of their budget or workforce, such as rolling out an organization-wide coaching initiative or CRM platform.
4. Handling a Complex Problem that Affects Several Departments
Buyers (16.2%) are likely to work with sellers earlier if they have to solve a complicated problem, such as a challenge that involves several departments. For example, an organization may want to implement a new technology to streamline purchasing or a new workflow and software to automate requests from various business units for contract review.
How to Take Advantage of These Four Opportunities
Once sellers identify one of these four scenarios, they should take two steps as part of their enterprise sales strategy to encourage early buyer engagement.
1. Look for Buyers who Value Early Interaction
The average deal today involves at least six buying influences. With so many people involved in deals, the chances are high that sellers will meet at least one buyer who prefers to engage early.
Typically, customers fall into one of five buyer personas:
- Analytical (fact-based and detail-oriented)
- Risk-averse, brand-focused
- Risk-taking, innovation-oriented
- Skeptical (need proof)
- Value-driven/process-oriented (concerned about the how)
Of these personas, risk takers are more than twice as likely as risk-averse buyers and five times as likely as skeptics to engage sales professionals earlier in the sales cycle. If a seller finds the risk taker in a group of buying influences, they’ve found a path to earlier conversations.
A sales management strategy that teaches buyers to look for these opportunities begins with sales training courses like Conceptual Selling with Perspective, which show sellers how to identify and gain access to all decision-makers.
2. Exceed Buyers’ Expectations
When buyers feel that their salespeople exceed their expectations, they’re more likely to involve them in their initial buying stages. But those expectations can be difficult to ascertain.
The Buyer Preferences Study asked buyers what they want from salespeople. They identified four qualities they want in every sales interaction:
- Understand their business: Do your research and avoid asking unnecessary questions
- Demonstrate excellent communication skills: Keep calls concise and listen well, because every second matters
- Focus on post-sale: Show continued interest in buyers’ success after the purchase
- Give them insights and education: Provide additional value to conversations, such as expanding their expertise or changing their vision
To succeed in these skills, a sales management strategy should incorporate training on how to hold conversations that motivate customers to accelerate sales.
Use Insights and Education to and Engage Earlier
Two Miller Heiman Group sales training courses, Conceptual Selling with Perspective and SPIN Selling Conversations, teach the skills that sellers need to break the buyer apathy loop and quickly open the door to more effective conversations with buyers.
If you’re ready to set yourself apart so buyers no longer see you as just another salesperson, enroll in Conceptual Selling with Perspective and SPIN Selling Conversations today.