In our last post, we explored data from the CSO Insights 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, which confirms that buyers are engaging salespeople later and later in the sales process. Thankfully, our data also shows that buyers don’t actually want to cut salespeople out of the buying cycle.

However, due to new technology and the abundance of readily available information, salespeople are becoming less relevant in the early stages of the buying process. This is a critical time for sales because it is in these initial phases that buyers form their concepts of a solution. Customers and prospects see no need to stay engaged when they can gather insights from other sources, and the seller loses a valuable opportunity to influence the buyer.

In this post, we’ll explore the Buyer Apathy Loop that we introduced last time in greater detail. Breaking through this loop can transform your sales team’s performance, so we will also provide guidance from our 2018 research on how you can make it happen.

What is the Buyer Apathy Loop?

The Buyer Apathy Loop stems from the modern buyer’s decision-making preferences and their perception of salespeople. The five stages of the loop are:

  1. Salespeople are viewed as meeting but not exceeding expectations. Therefore …
  2. Buyers see salespeople as representatives of products, not solvers of business problems. Which leads to …
  3. Buyers waiting until they want to learn about a specific solution before engaging a salesperson. This means that …
  4. Salespeople have fewer opportunities to sell and demonstrate value, so buyers see little differentiation between salespeople. And with that …
  5. Salespeople meet but do not exceed the buyer’s expectations, and the loop repeats.

3 Steps to Breaking Out of the Apathy Loop

What salespeople and leadership need are a prescription for breaking out of the Buyer Apathy Loop. Here again, the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study provides some useful guidance.

1. Focus on opportunities where buyers want to engage early.

An overwhelming 90 percent of buyers who responded to our study said they would be open to engaging with salespeople earlier in the buying process. Specifically, there was more interest in early engagement when a business challenge was:

  • New for the buyer
  • Perceived as risky for the organization
  • Perceived as personally risky for the buyer
  • Complex, e.g., the decision impacted several departments

2. Seek out buyer types that value early engagement.

In our study, we asked respondents to categorize themselves according to the buyer type that best fits their decision-making style:

  • Analytical (fact-based, detail-oriented)
  • Risk-averse, brand-focused
  • Risk-taking, innovation-oriented
  • Skeptical (need proof)
  • Value-driven/process-oriented (concerned about the how)

Buyers who judge themselves to be risk-takers are most likely to prefer to engage sales professionals earlier in the sales cycle. In fact, they are more than twice as likely as the risk-adverse and five times as likely as skeptics.

With the average number of buyers increasing, there’s a good chance that there’s at least one risk-taker on the team, even in an opportunity that might not normally be perceived as risky. However, identifying and gaining access to all decision-makers is a skill which 59 percent of respondents to the CSO Insights 2017 World-Class Sales Practices Study said they need to improve.

3. Give buyers what they want.

To better understand what buyers want from salespeople, we asked a series of questions about the attributes that influence decisions, what makes them more likely to buy, what makes them less likely to buy, and what one thing they wish salespeople would do differently or more consistently. Four items appeared at the top of all of these lists.

  • Understand my business. Know me.
  • Demonstrate excellent communication skills.
  • Focus on post-sale.
  • Give me insights and perspective.

These should all sound familiar, but the additional findings we share in the study provide new insights into just what buyers are looking for in each of these areas.

Meeting Expectations Isn’t Enough

Most respondents (62 percent) to this year’s Buyer Preferences Study said their sellers meet expectations, yet less than a quarter (23 percent) of respondents selected vendor salespeople as a top three resource to solve business problems. This seems to indicate that buyers’ expectations of salespeople are fairly low.

When we combine low expectations with findings from our 2017 World-Class Sales Practices Study, it also becomes clear that simply meeting expectations isn’t enough. In that study, only 8 percent of respondents said they see sellers as trusted partners, and only an additional 15 percent see sellers as strategic contributors to their businesses.  

 Breaking through the Buyer Apathy Loop requires sellers to approach the sales funnel a little differently and spend more time getting to know customers. But this extra effort can mean the difference between being “just another salesperson” and creating the kinds of relationships that set your organization apart.

For more insights, download the full 2018 Buyer Preferences Study.

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