What do buyers want to hear from your sales reps? What do they expect from them in an age when customers supposedly have all the information they need at their fingertips — before they even see a rep? How is this changing the role of the sales representative, and how well are they adjusting to selling under new rules?
These are important questions, and the answers have a lot to do with choosing and training new reps. They also have an enormous impact on the kind of content you prepare and deliver to your people in the field.
In today’s world, some say a customer covers a lot of buying-decision ground before a rep ever darkens his door. For example, according to CEB, 57% of the purchase decision has been made before suppliers are summoned.
However, blogger Tim Riesterer says customers who claim to have made much of their buying decision before seeing a sales rep are saying one thing and doing another. He points out that 60% of the customers considered to be “mostly decided” end up making no decision at all.
So perhaps many of the customers who are proudly navigating the sales process without the guidance of a rep really don’t have what it takes to make a decision on their own in the end. Clearly, in this age of the well-informed buyer, selling is not what it used to be. But don’t count the sales rep out just yet.
Sales reps are alive and well, but the most successful among them are learning that the key to selling in today’s competitive and highly charged environment is learning what kind of information the buyer is looking for. Since it is different than what most have been providing in the past, it will likely require a retooling of techniques. This is where comfort zones will come in for some serious stretching.
For example, in his blog post "What Your Buyers Really Want From Your Sales Reps", Matt Dixon, co-author of “The Challenger Sale,” offers some hints on how the expectations of today’s smarter buyers are requiring changes in selling approaches.
According to Dixon, when asked about their loyalty to the suppliers they had chosen to do business with, respondents answered in a way that many reps may regard as a good news-bad news scenario. The good news is that more than half the ingredients of the recipe for loyalty include elements of the sale process.
While it may not actually be bad, the other news is, at the very least, challenging. Why? Because the factors of the selling process most valued by savvy buyers are probably the same ones reps are least prepared to deliver.
Well-informed buyers actually want reps to rise above the selling process and get beyond the traditional shareables—reputation in the marketplace, product quality, service and pricing. Let’s face it: Those are easy to share, and they’re easy to find so buyers have likely already covered that ground in their pre-rep preparation.
Dixon suggests that today’s buyers don’t want a salesperson as much as they need a partner—an insider who can teach them, give them valuable insights into their market, help them anticipate and avoid obstacles and barriers, objectively weigh options and keep them abreast of new trends and issues.
The benefits to buyers include savings, reduced risk, and (potentially) a bigger slice of the market — to name a few. Customers are ready, willing and able to learn a lot on their own, and they do. But they still want the inside track, the big idea they can’t find on their own. This is both the opportunity and the reward for the astute sales rep.
So if buyers are really looking for sales people who can provide them nontraditional information and insights into their markets, is that reflected in the success rates for reps? In other words, are the reps who are currently selling this way leading the pack? To answer that, Dixon took a look at five kinds of reps and how they performed.
1. Hard worker.
This rep has his shoulder to the wheel, is tenacious and not afraid to log an extra mile or two. He wants and values feedback and is a reliable self-starter.
Mr. or Ms. Challenger comes with a unique slant on the world, loves to debate and is eager to learn the customer’s business. Confident and not afraid of challenging buyers. Welcomes pushback.
3. Relationship builder.
This rep networks to build strong advocates, is cordial and a friend to all. Is accommodating and gives freely of time and talent to help others.
4. Lone wolf.
Confidently blazes own path. Depends on nothing but instincts.
5. Problem solver.
This is Mr. or Ms. On-Top-of-it-All. Responds quickly and reliably. Has a remedy for every issue and never loosens the grasp on details.
And the winner is...?
Dixon found that the Challenger reps outsell their counterparts by bringing new information to the customer, tailoring messages to individual buyers and taking control of the sales conversation.
For the Challenger, it’s all about giving customers a new way to think about the situation. And if skepticism or pushback come with that fresh view, so much the better. They offer opportunities to build a case, offer new information or engage a prospect in a way that builds trust.
Yesteryear may have been the era of the working man’s rep. Today, the thinking man’s rep will likely get the nod and win the sale. Equipping reps with the kind of tools and content to meet the needs and demands of today’s savvy customers would seem to be the secret to both sales and customer loyalty.
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