• Buyers Tell Sellers to Rethink Their Agendas

    In a recent discussion group on value selling, one of the participants indicated that they had just launched a new set of value-focused sales tools, and that the use of this approach was “old hat”.

    The good news is that many marketers and sales enablement groups have realized the change in buyers over the past decade. Frugalnomics is in full effect, with buyers more empowered, skeptical and frugal than ever before. This presents a substantial challenge for sales and marketing to prove that “doing nothing” has a cost, and that the proposed return on investment is worth the change risk.

    At the same time the purchase process has become more complex; buyers have more stakeholders than ever to deal with (more than 6 in large organizations), extreme resource constraints, and less time than ever to evaluate opportunities, select and justify solutions and drive an ever-more complex purchase process. Forced to “do more with less”, these buyers need more consultative advice and help from vendors. Buyers are actively seeking solution partners with a sales & marketing approach focused not on the transaction, but on the outcome.

    Sales and marketing has realized this opportunity, leading to a worthy evolution from a traditional product approach, focused on features, function and price, to a more solution oriented approach, focusing on buyer pain points and solution recommendations, through to today’s expected value/outcome approach, helping to prove and improve the bottom-line impact and business benefits of solutions.

    This evolution has driven increased investments in value-focused content marketing, interactive diagnostic assessment and economic justification tools, consultative sales engagement methodologies and value selling training.

    So challenge met and opportunity seized, right? Not so fast.

    The Bad News – Buyers Not Seeing a Change

    The bad news is that even with the increased awareness and investments, buyers consistently indicate that sales is not adding enough value to engagements. The majority of engagements are perceived as transactional versus value-add.

    This is clearly evidenced in a study by Forrester, presented at their annual Sales Enablement Forum, where buyers easily categorized salespeople, with some unflattering feedback.

    When asked how they would characterize the agenda of a typical meeting with a salesperson:

    • 27% of buyers indicated that sales only wanted to tell me about their products/services (a transactional focus without care as to the buyers issues and unique needs),
    • 41% said sales listened for a keyword or two, and then launched into a prepared pitch.

    From these results, less than 1 in 3 (32%) of sales professionals are perceived as adding any value to the sales process.

    Of the salespersons that were perceived as more value-add:

    • 20% take a true solutions approach, legitimately interested in trying to help us understand how their solutions can help,
    • 6% take an even more consultative approach, trying to understand challenges and offering suggestions, even if they don’t sell the product / solution,
    • Only 6% take the expected outcome-focused approach, genuinely interested in partnering with us to make sure our initiative is successful.

    Surprisingl,y in light of the value focus of sales enablement and marketing, less than 1 in 10 of sales engagements are perceived committed to customer’s outcomes, realized value and success.

    These results are NOT isolated. IDC research indicates, from their 2011 Buyer Survey, that 56% of sales professionals are not prepared for customer engagements.

    The Bottom-Line

    Marketers and sales enablement understand that buyers have changed, requiring consultative assistance to quantify and realize anticipated outcomes from each and every solution investment. With this realization, investments in value-focused content, tools and training has increased. But buyers indicate that although there has been an investment, change where the “rubber meets the road” has been slow. Sales people are still perceived as transactional versus value–add.

    Investing in the right content marketing and tools is important, but has not been perceived as enough by buyers. Sales professionals continue to receive low scores from buyers on the value they add to the engagement process.

    Are sales professionals leveraging the investment in outcome/ value-focused content? In many instances no, and although many have changed to meet the buyer challenge, adoption and usage across the sales teams remains low.

    When used, are sales professionals engaging in a consultative fashion? Again, challenges remain. Old product or basic solution approaches remain the predominant engagement form.

    To meet this challenge, marketers and sales enablement must focus beyond just content and tools to fundamentally help influence and change the approach.

    Tom Pisello founded Alinean, Inc., in 2001 where he coined the term, “Frugalnomics.”  You can read his daily blog at Tom Pisello: The ROI Guy.

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