Customers are in control of the buying process

In December 2012, we published the 12 Sales Trends Report for 2013 and released a brief summary of each trend. This month we are focusing on the sales trend: customers in control of the buying process.

It is good practice for salespeople to control the sales process. At least that is the conventional wisdom driving the way salespeople behave. Salespeople see themselves as experts, educators and advisors. They see their customers as ignorant and anxious recipients, waiting for their wisdom. The reality however is vastly different!

Customers aren’t waiting for salespeople to call on them. In fact, recent studies show that most if not all buyers actually resent salespeople assuming that they understand their needs and expectations. In addition, buyers are making it harder for salespeople to meet them because they don’t want to be treated as ignorant, nor do they want to meet salespeople who are trained to feign interest in their customers.

More and more buyers are doing the pre-purchase work themselves. In both B2B and B2C sectors more buyers are turning to their networks or the web for as much as 70% of the purchase decision before calling on salespeople. And one cannot blame them. Most salespeople do little more than regurgitate the company’s story. They meet with buyers and pretend to be interested in understanding the customers challenges, but they neither ask enough questions to gain a deep enough understanding, nor do they have the well-rounded business acumen needed to understand the implications of the issues and construct a meaningful solution. Worse, beyond their limited product knowledge they aren’t really in a position to advise customers.

Interestingly, when salespeople do show an interest in their customers; when they take the time to ask quality questions and then listen to the answers, they get all the time they need to understand the buyer and then to make a pitch for the customer’s business. Genuine solutions providers find it easy to get an initial appointment and get the responsiveness they expect after having made a pitch.

Instead of fighting the inevitable shift, organisations should be looking at how they can change, before they lose even more control. Buyers today put more importance on the genuine interest salespeople show when they explain how customers can extract value from a purchase than an explanation of how to make a purchase. They expect salespeople to learn where they are on the purchase journey and then adapt their style – from educator to facilitator – to the buyer’s position on that continuum. These days, selling is about the journey rather than merely the purchase.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments.

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