Over the last two years, there has been a growing awareness in the business press that B2B selling has evolved from general concepts of solution selling to the ‘buyers journey’ a customer journey driven by the large amount of information available online. A new sales and marketing reality is rapidly emerging as the internet plays an increasing role in buyer research. Too many B2B CEOs are ignoring this new reality as just a social media phenomenon about Facebook and that is has nothing to do with their businesses. But I’ve seen the impact of this in my own sales and marketing work, and I and the industry at large, now strongly believe we are experiencing important changes to the conventional marketing and sales wisdom of the past. CEOs and their businesses can no longer ignore this reality.
Studies are consistently showing that B2B customer buying habits are shifting, and most agree that buyers are now 60-70% of the way through the buying cycle before they initially reach out to your company for a sales representative. By the time your sales representatives are called in to talk with a buyer, there is less of a requirement to follow traditional solution selling techniques. In the new ‘buyer’s journey’, the buyers believe that based on their own research (the buyers journey), they have figured out what they need. Thus, when they decide to contact your sales team, they have most likely decided you are one of their top three choices (you are 1 of 3 as I call it).
Maybe this sounds like good news to you. But studies show that most often the buyer views all three choices as equally acceptable, and the final decision comes down to features and functions, support—and price, price, price. Exceptional sales representatives might be able to overcome this ‘1 of 3’ syndrome, but this is the antithesis of where you want to be for your business.
In this new selling environment your biggest hurdles aren’t your competitors; they are (1) the ability of buyers to learn on their own, and (2) how your company participates in that learning process. Think back to recent history. Buyers had few options other than to approach you directly as a potential vendor early on in the purchase process. In addition to learning through sales presentations, they attended trade shows, spoke to industry analysts and read industry print publications so that they could gather as much information as possible about solutions to their problems. In this traditional process of gathering information, marketing and sales could establish credibility, position solutions around specific pain points, and create brand differentiation and value in the mind of the buyer around their pain points. Today, with the explosion of the information on the internet and the advent of social media, that is no longer the case.
So where do B2B buyers learn in your market space? Is it the internet and online communities or other sources? Do you know? If you’re going to win this new marketing and sales war, you need to give buyers new and important information about your business that they might not learn on their own. If you're not prepared to challenge their thinking, you need to be prepared to accept their terms. If you’re experiencing this phenomenon and you have seen sales decrease or sales cycles increase, do you understand where your customers journey to your business?