John O' Gorman

Selling To The New Buyers

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When it comes to major buying decisions, managers are pulling rank. Senior managers are not just rubber-stamping buying decisions. They are taking an active role to ensure all major purchases underpin organizational goals, priorities and strategies.

Selling to the New Buyers

When Buyers Pull Rank

All this means the job titles of those involved in making today’s major buying decisions are impressive. So too are their CVs. These increasingly grey-haired managers are more qualified and more experienced than ever before. To compound the problem, they are busier and carry greater levels of responsibility.

The implication is that salespeople must climb higher in the organization in order to get the sale. However, that can present challenges as starting a conversation with C-Level management is not easy.

Getting past the PA is only one aspect of the challenge. For example, at this higher altitude the air is thinner and the salesperson’s features and benefits message may struggle to survive. A new level of confidence and skill is required to be able to relate to the senior manager.

Naturally enough senior managers make different purchases than their lower-level colleagues. From their offices on the top floor they can see the ‘bigger picture’. They have a clearer understanding of key business drivers, priorities and strategies that comes from being closer to the boardroom.

Rather than reading the technical manual or detailed specification, senior managers want to talk results and discuss strategy. As others have put it, the challenge in selling at this level requires more than just a salesperson, but rather a ‘business person who sells’.

New Buyer Attitudes

As the locus of buying control has changed, the very character of buying has been transformed. Much of the frustration felt by the traditional salesperson results because today’s buyers are more sophisticated, skeptical and self-contained than ever before. Indeed, there is a new manifesto among today’s buyers:

Buying Manifesto

Let’s examine the attitudes of today’s new buyers:

Buyers Are More Sophisticated

The day when the salesperson knew more than the buyer is over. Indeed, the situation is often reversed. That is especially true given the increasingly grey-haired nature of those making today’s buying decisions.

Buyers often know more than the seller, although they can be coy about showing it. They may know the answers, but that does not stop them asking the questions and as a result putting the seller to the test.

In addition, buyers are no longer dependent on the salesperson as a source of information. Buyers now have greater access to a wide variety of sources, including analysts, buying forums and the web. This often means the buyer may know more than the salesperson about the products or solutions available.

As a result buyers are more confident about what they want, as well as what they don’t. They no longer go ‘cap in hand’ to vendors looking for a solution, nor do they accept vendor information on face value.

Buyers Are More Skeptical

Those involved in today’s buying decisions have seen it all before — the presentations and promises, as well as the all too frequent disappointments. These past experiences have given rise to a certain weariness of sellers.

For every good salesperson buyers have dealt with there have been several bad ones. Unfortunately, it is the bad ones that have shaped buyer opinions of the profession. The sins of past salespeople are carried forward and those in the profession today must make amends.

What Buyers Think Of Salespeople

We asked hundreds of managers to describe the typical salesperson. Here are their most frequent words used:

Talks too much
Doesn’t listen
Rude/Bad Manners
Lacks product/industry knowledge
Not trustworthy

The reality is that buyers have learned not to trust ‘the typical salesperson’. This also applies to seller propaganda, in the form of value statements, sales pitches and marketing brochures. For example, buyers regularly complain that:

  • Salespeople are too careless with their promises — making more of them than they can keep. For example, when the buyer asks, ‘Can your solution do X?’ or ‘Does it do Y?’ and ‘What about Z?’ the answer is a surprising ‘YES’ to everything. Not surprisingly the buyer is wary.
  • Sellers are making the same universal claims — that leads buyers to respond ‘everybody says that’. Just visit the websites of any three vendors in the same industry to see how confusingly similar seller claims can be.
  • The speed at which a seller arrives at a solution often results in question marks about the level of understanding of or empathy for the buyer’s needs.
  • Salespeople continue to use crude and manipulative sales techniques from the ‘standing room only’ close to the ‘good cop, bad cop’ negotiating ploy.

The result is that taking the salesperson’s ‘word for it’ is something buyers are reluctant to do. They are less interested in what the salesperson claims and more interested in what customers who have used the solution have to say. They want case studies and credible whitepapers, as opposed to marketing speak and glossy brochures.

Buyers Are More Self-Contained

The new buyer is more independent and this means seller marketing is struggling to make an impact. It is only the very special salesperson that will get through. That is because buyers have learned to use the tools of the unwitting salesperson in their own defense. For example:

  • Keeping a salesperson at bay by requesting further information, documentation or even a proposal.
  • Stalling an over-enthusiastic tele-salesperson by requesting a brochure in the post.

The various attitudinal changes on the part of buyers (as listed above) mean the seller must move beyond traditional features and benefits selling. They must demonstrate the ability to input in a meaningful way to the buyer’s product requirements and, more importantly, to the business case. Doing this effectively requires a metamorphosis on the part of the salesperson. It means ‘bye-bye salesperson, hello trusted advisor’.

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