Whether it’s checking a review on Amazon, Yelp, CNET or Zagat or posting a question on Facebook or Twitter – consumers can do comparative shopping as long as they have a keyboard within reach. They can learn about a product’s functionality, quality, and pricing before they even go to your web site, let alone talk to a salesperson.As reported in a strategy+business article – in 2012, 70% of consumers surveyed by Nielsen indicated that they trusted online reviews—which represented an increase of 15% in four years. We doubt the number has decreased in the last two years.
But consumers are not alone. This is not just a B2C market trend. Corporate buyers are also increasingly seeking information and insights from online sources. Just look at LinkedIn group discussions and you’ll find recommendations about products, as well as, insights about solving particular business problems.
Since buyers now are able to easily gather in-depth information about you and your competitors, they’re more knowledgeable about your company and its products than ever before.
So what does this mean for B2B sales reps? Well, one thing we know for sure is when buyers change how they buy; it’s a good idea for salespeople to rethink how they sell. Let’s take a look.
You are no longer the sole purveyor of information. The salesperson isn’t the only one introducing prospects to your products and services. Customers are finding information, collecting product reviews, and pricing information before talking to a single salesperson. This means that buyers have already formed impressions about your product and your competitors which salespeople must address, manage, and in some cases counter – when inaccurate data was obtained and assimilated. Remember – there’s no filter on much of the information appearing online!
A lot of data isn’t always a good thing. It can end up generating a tremendous amount of clutter that makes decision making harder. Buyers can easily find themselves immobilized sifting through a mountain of data, and that’s where salespeople can play an important role. The salesperson needs to help the buyer identify the criteria that are important to them in making a buying decision and how their solution meets those criteria. It is all about helping translate data into useful information.
Customers demand personalized interactions for addressing their business challenges. Generic sales pitches are not needed or acceptable. Nor can the salesperson any longer walk into the sales call and ask “basic” questions about a customer’s business – the old “discovery your pain” discussion. Buyers assume salespeople have done their homework through websites and other online sources. There are great apps for making this search both easy and comprehensive. Customers expect that sales people will bring fresh ideas for framing their problems and generating insights for solving them.
The salesperson will enter later in the game. Given the information they’ve accumulated, customers decide when, where, and how they want to talk to salespeople. This is very different than days of yore when salespeople were brought into the buying process at the beginning when customers were initially planning to make a purchase. Now it’s more likely that the buying process will be farther along when customers start to talk with salespeople. This means winning suppliers must find ways for Marketing to impact the information companies get early on and develop stronger Sales Enablement functions to provide sales reps with the information that customers expect.