3 Imperatives for Engaging Today’s B2B Buyer
B2B buying has changed, possibly forever. Are you ready for today’s new buyer?
If you’re skeptical about whether you need to prepare for a new era, consider the story of Michael. Michael exemplified a veteran B2B salesperson. As a perennial top performer for twenty-five years in the pre-pandemic, in-person selling era, Michael was skeptical about whether he should embrace the concept of virtual selling when his company announced a work- from-home policy in March 2020.
Although he was fluent with technology, he was not a “digital native” and had seen many of management’s “flavors of the week” come and go. He was glad he had not jumped on every new trend that had come down the line, many of which turned out to be unimportant in the long run.
However, one offhand comment from his longtime customer Tim caused him to rethink the significance of this profound change in the world of selling.
In May 2020, Michael said to Tim, “I’m really sorry I can’t be there in person to help you with the presentation to the larger team,” regarding a deal they had collaborated on for seven months. He recounted how they had done this “dog-and-pony show” multiple times together, and they both actually enjoyed it as well as their pre-meeting dinner to get caught up.
Tim paused and said quietly, “Michael, you are helping me. I am going to introduce you to the team, but I need to do everything you would have done in person with less time. In fact, I need you to do a short video for the team to watch before the live virtual meeting because we only have twenty minutes with the full management team, not an hour.”
In that moment it occurred to Michael that, other than the dinner he missed, he could actually do everything he was going to do in person and more. The management team was a group of busy executives who had many other issues to handle, and they wanted to quickly make a decision about the value of investing in Michael’s enterprise software platform during a pandemic.
Michael realized he could make it a great experience for them. He and Tim completed the presentation, and Tim texted Michael later that day to say, “We just got the green light on this project. Let’s get started.”
Michael had completed this transaction to help his customer buy software they needed to adapt to the virtual selling world, and he had done it all without leaving his house. After this deal closed, Michael decided to go all in on virtual selling, and he had the second best year in his sales career in 2020, despite a global pandemic.
What will it take for you to go all in?
Mastering the Art of Virtual Selling
Being a successful virtual seller demands new proficiencies. Mastering virtual selling starts with mastering the art of selling. You will not succeed in virtual selling if you are not good at selling—period! So what follows from this is you need to have a proper command of what good selling is before you can successfully make the transition.
Let’s look at a non-selling example to make the point. We can probably all agree that Al Pacino is recognized as a successful movie actor. What you may not know, however, is that Pacino was first a great live-stage actor.
Director Francis Ford Coppola saw him on stage and hired him to play Michael Corleone in The Godfather, for which he received an Oscar nomination. This shows how someone who excelled in the live, in-person format of the stage went on to become a master in the virtual format of movies.
It’s the same with sales. If you have worked hard to master the domain of face-to-face selling, you can transition to virtual selling by leveraging your existing skills and learning new ones.
Balancing Selling and Buying Cycles: What Good Selling Is
Good selling, of course, is grounded in creating an exceptional buying experience. But most salespeople put their emphasis in the wrong place. They tend to focus on the selling cycle versus the buying cycle.
But the selling cycle, of course, is all about you and your timeline. The focus is on moving your customer through the steps in your funnel from start to close, which likely includes typical elements such as:
- Generating initial interest
- Demonstrating value
- Differentiating your product or service
- Closing the deal
Notice anything missing? These elements focus only on your needs. They don’t address solving your buyer’s problem. Today’s buyers don’t want to be sold; they want to buy.
B2B buyers today are concerned about their needs, not your process. Successful sellers think about selling as a service to the buyer. They have a problem that needs a solution, and they want to make an informed decision—which includes understanding their options and making the right choice while reducing their risk.
Today’s buyers control their journey through the buying cycle much more than vendors control the selling cycle. In a recent Forrester survey, 74% of buyers told us they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.
A buyer’s journey includes things like:
- Gaining awareness
- Identifying problems
- Finding options for solutions
- Creating a list of possible providers
- Buying and implementing the solution
Successful sellers fuse the selling cycle with the buying cycle so they are two sides of the same coin. So what does an appropriate cycle look like?
3 Imperatives for Virtual Selling
At the highest level, the goal is to create a harmonious balance between the selling and buying cycles, whether we are talking about in-person sales or virtual sales, and it involves three imperatives:
- Researching and Building Rapport
Step 1 is discovering all you can about your buyer and your buyer’s organization and building a relationship with them based on trust and genuine interest. Curiosity is one of the most valuable traits a person in sales can have.
The more curious you are about the buyer and the buyer’s company, the more effective research you will do. And the more research you do, the more impressed your buyer will be, as it shows you have a genuine interest in solving the problem at hand.
- Understanding and Solving B2B Buyer’s Problems
Step 2 is listening to your buyers to clearly understand their wants and needs and providing solutions to those needs. The ability to understand the buyer’s problem is fundamental to mastery. It’s easy to think you know what is most important to a buyer from a first impression or a snippet of a conversation.
However, we’ve seen time and again in the selling realm the power of active listening—both in identifying the actual problem and in helping prospects more clearly articulate what their “ideal state” looks like. Listening is a key piece to understanding a buyer’s unmet needs.
- Leveraging Success
Step 3 is creating a win-win outcome for both the buyer and you, and leveraging this experience for future work together. Master sellers don’t end their engagement after the signature; they protect their reputation by making sure they deliver value to their customers.
In fact, the worst thing a seller can do is to move on after the sale is completed. Become a partner to your B2B buyers by ensuring their success, as you promised. Then celebrate their success with them, which will remind them of your value. This will create customers for life, not just one-time customers, which is especially important in B2B sales.
Once you learn to create a harmonious balance between the selling and buying cycles by embracing these key selling imperatives, you will be able to master the art of selling.
This post is an excerpt from our new book, Mastering Virtual Selling: Orchestrating Sales Success. To learn more or to order a copy, visit MasteringVirtualSelling.com.