How B2B Social Sellers Align With Their Buyers

March 11, 2013 at 7:00 AM

In B2B corporate environments, Social Selling gets a Sales Rep’s foot in the door. But the transition from a virtual conversation to a real opportunity is complex.  During this transition, Reps are met with a wall of bureaucratic process and resistance. 

This article is for B2B Sales Reps who work in complex sales environments.  I discuss how these Reps align themselves with the Buyer’s process to be successful.  Then I provide a Buyer Alignment Tool to enable success in these environments.

The Problem with Misalignment

The idea of Social Selling cannot lose sight of the objective: make the number. Online activities must lead to offline results. A good place to start is by aligning yourself with the Buyer’s process.

But alignment can be difficult. Frequently, Sales Reps are busy pitching their products without listening to their Buyers.  They sometimes sell while the Buyer is still defining their problem.  This is “misalignment” with the Buyer’s process (See Figure 1).  This is how a Sales Rep will lose the deal to the competition. Especially if the competition is listening to what the Buyer needs.

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“Ride Alongs” with Sales Reps on live sales calls can provide tremendous insights. We have conducted hundreds of them. Recently, one of my colleagues shared this Ride Along story that illustrates misalignment. (For confidentiality, I will call the Sales Rep "Bill")

After Bill nurtured the lead through LinkedIn, he secured this initial sales call. So he prepared a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the details of his products. He brought case studies, a company history, and press releases as back-up. Bill assumed this first meeting was also the first step of the Buyer’s process.

Turns out, the prospect included Bill late in the process.  Competitive proposals were already submitted.  Bill’s company was added as a last minute option.  Bill was not prepared to discuss the problem and solution.  He was completely misaligned with the Buyer. Needless to say, it was an unsuccessful meeting.

The Benefits of Alignment

Reps that follow a Sales Process aligned with the Buyer's process are more successful. Based on our research, B2B companies and their Sales Reps see the following benefits:

  • Close 1/3 more deals
  • Reduce sales cycle time by 50%
  • Increase average deal size by 2X

5 Best Practices to Align with the Buyer

Top performing Sales Reps punch through the walls of resistance.  They gain a deep understanding of the Buyer’s decision-making process. Then they precisely align themselves with the Buyer.  Synchronizing their message with the exact questions the Buyer is asking.

Buyers don’t care about your product.  They care about solving their problems. Follow these 5 best practices to assure you are aligned with the Buyer.

1. Understand the Buyer’s Journey.  Typically there are 8 steps an individual takes when they make a buying decision.  This can vary depending upon size and complexity of the purchase. It is critical you understand the steps your prospects take.  Know what questions they ask themselves all along the way.  Anticipate the pieces of information they need.

2. Listen to the Buyer. The Buyer will tell you exactly what’s on their mind. They will give you verbal and non-verbal cues. They will exhibit observable behaviors. These cues and behaviors point to where they are in their decision-making process. Top performer Sales Reps listen and observe.

3. Align with the Buyer.  When you listen and observe, you can tailor your message.  So if the Buyer needs help defining their problem, don’t rush to close.  Focus on the needs of the Buyer, not your quota. This Buyer-centered approach assures you speak in terms relevant to real problems. Not only will you earn the Buyer’s trust, you will provide a better solution.  You will demonstrate the value of your product and maintain or improve your margin.

4. Achieve the Exit Criteria. This is a BUYING process, not a SHOPPING process. Buyers have a problem that needs a solution.  They are not browsing for a new pair of shoes. So lead the process.  Establish critical milestones, or “Exit Criteria” to make progress.  As illustrated in the download, each step in the process has unique Exit Criteria. Hold yourself accountable to achieve these milestones and lead the sale through to close.

5. Provide Thought Leadership. Throughout the process you need to continually add value. You must provide “free gifts of knowledge” to the Buyer.  Your insights should be specifically relevant to the Buyer’s situation. Challenge conventional wisdom and offer ideas that are new and innovative.  Lead the Buyer to a purchase of YOUR solution over that of your competition.

Download the Tool

We gathered data from Buyers and your peers through research and actual client engagements. Among the many insights we gathered, the value of the Buyer’s process was foundational.  This is true regardless of industry.  Big company, B2B Reps are consistently successful when they align with the Buyer’s process. Download the Buyer Alignment Tool to get started.

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Topics: Social Selling, Sales Process, buyer journey, Sales Rep Resources, buyer-based selling

Posted by Dan Bernoske

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