Today, buyers wait longer than ever before engaging a salesperson. In part, that’s because buyers turn first to many other resources—including social networks and trade publications—before turning to salespeople to solve business problems, according to the CSO Insights Buyer Preferences Study. In that study, salespeople ranked as the next-to-last resource that a buyer would consult for advice, finishing just before trade associations.

As a result, the gap between buyers and sellers is widening, launching a cycle we call the buyer apathy loop.”

The buyer apathy loop begins with the very first interaction between a buyer and a seller:

  • The salesperson meets, but doesn’t exceed, the buyer’s expectations.
  • The buyer sees the salesperson as a representative of a product rather than as a creative problem-solver.
  • From this experience, the buyer learns to do their own research into their problems and potential solutions before ever reaching out to any salesperson.
  • Now, with fewer touchpoints to demonstrate value and less engagement in the early stages of the buying process, when the buyer is still exploring the problem and developing solutions, the seller doesn’t have an opportunity to differentiate themselves or present any unique value. Instead, they’re limited to addressing an already defined, narrow and possibly inadequate solution that the buyer has chosen.
  • In the next interaction, the salesperson again merely meets the buyer’s (lowered) expectations, so the loop repeats.

This buyer apathy loop is all too easy to fall into—and it’s a dangerous place for sellers to be trapped. Fortunately, sellers can take proactive steps to break the loop and enhance their sales performance.

How to Break the Buyer Apathy Loop

Look for opportunities for meaningful early engagement.

To break this cycle, sellers need to not just meet buyer expectations—they must knock them out of the park. That starts by finding the right opening that provides solutions for the buyer.

CSO Insights research shows that 90 percent of buyers would be willing to engage with sellers earlier in certain circumstances. Specifically, buyers are more willing to engage sellers early when a business challenge is new or perceived as risky for the organization or the individual buyer or when it involves a complex deal. These situations present an opportunity for you to get your foot in the door and start building a relationship as a trusted and helpful advisor.

Find decision-makers who are likely to welcome more seller interaction.

Not all buyers are the same; decision-making styles play a role in when buyers are willing to engage with sellers. Look for buyers who are Charismatics—they’re the risk-takers—rather than the risk-averse and brand-driven Skeptics or Followers. Charismatics are more than twice as likely as Followers and five times as likely as Skeptics to welcome your early input.

Deliver the perspective.

To build stronger relationships with buyers, you have to be able to give them what they’re looking for: informed answers to the problems they’re experiencing. And that takes perspective.

Perspective helps sellers differentiate themselves and their solutions. When you share perspective with a buyer, you give them new knowledge that helps them see their problem in a different light and achieve their business goals. Perspective can take the form of suggesting an alternative solution, finding a competitive advantage or introducing an as-yet-unrecognized problem.

Seize the Opportunity to Share the Right Perspective

The stakes are high for those seeking to deliver perspective. When these opportunities arise, buyers need to receive informed, precise and valuable communication to see its value for effective selling. As consumers themselves, buyers are accustomed to logging on to the internet and finding ads for clothing in their style, music that suits their tastes and images from trips they’d like to take. These experiences condition all of us to expect sellers to know us, even before the first introduction.

Sellers can’t afford to show up and say, “Tell me about your business.” Buyers expect sellers to already have a deep level of understanding of their business—and they expect every interaction to be worth their time. When sellers hit those targets and exceed buyer expectations, their win rates jump by 12 percent over those of sellers who merely meet expectations.

Providing this perspective is the hardest skill for sellers to master, but it’s the key. If you, as a seller, merely show up and meet buyer expectations, you’ll find yourself trapped in the self-fulfilling prophecy of the buyer apathy loop. By lending perspective, skilled sellers help their customers attain success in a new way. Offering perspective builds sellers’ credibility with customers, elevating them from biased vendors to trusted resources and enabling both buyers and sellers to work—together—toward win-win solutions.

Contact us to learn more about how Miller Heiman Group can help by giving your organization a sales effectiveness framework that helps sellers bring perspective to their buyers’ needs.

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