Sales Process: “People Buy from People” and Other Lies

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We are conditioned now to avoid human interaction in the B2C world, and the fact is, we are moving in that direction in B2B.

We’ve all heard it many times. It comes up almost every time you discuss B2C versus B2B selling. Someone feels compelled to profoundly state that people don’t buy from companies; they buy from people. They will inevitably go on to state with great conviction that even in a B2B scenario, people are doing the selling and the buying.

Okay, I’m calling bull-pucky on this right now.

When is the last time you actually interacted with a human being during a sales transaction?

It doesn’t matter if you are buying groceries, guitars, insurance or airplane tickets, you are likely dealing with a self-operated POS scanner or an online e-commerce facility.

We are conditioned now to avoid human interaction in the B2C world, and the fact is, we are moving in that direction in B2B. And why not. I don’t need some pleasantry-spewing cashier to “have a nice day” me every time I buy a can of peas. Frost and Sullivan estimates the B2B e-commerce market to exceed 12 trillion dollars by 2020.

The fact is, retailers don’t know what to do with cashiers anyhow. Every once in a while I will go through the regular line at Kroger’s. Every time, the cashier will robotically ask me if I found everything I needed. Every time I will clearly respond, “No, I did not.” And every time, the cashier will pack up my purchases and wish for me a nice day.

If the grocer can’t take the time to train and equip the cashier to handle the answer to the question, why do they burden the poor kid with the requirement of asking it?

Not Just B2C Anymore

In the world of B2B, the role of Sales (the human component of the buying transaction) is dramatically changing. Customers don’t want to sort through piles of sales-oriented product collateral and listen to hours of features and benefit recitations from salespeople. They do their own research, they collect their own impartial comparative data and typically they have their decision mostly made when they pick up the phone and ask for a salesperson.

In the event they have a question, they want it answered concisely and unambiguously.

Customers like tools and systems that answer the questions, deliver impartial information and help them place an order and handle the payment details. They want back office system transparently integrated with online e-commerce portals.

How Do Companies Sell?

The first step is to acknowledge that for the most part, products are purchased not sold. The buyer drives the process, not the seller.

The next step is redefining the whole selling process into a buyer enablement process.

How is this done?

There are two parts to this process: strategy and technology. Strategy is aimed at being easy to buy from, and technology covers marketing automation, customer-facing business portals and CPQ.

Be Easy to Buy From

There are many things to be done, but start with your marketing strategy.

How easy is it for prospects to find you? Is your web presence easy to locate? Does it provide useful information about your solutions and products? Do you have customer stories posted?

SEO is obviously critical to increasing the findability of your site. But once there, what happens? Do you have marketing automation tools at work building visitor profiles? Who’s visiting, how long do they stay, what do they look at? What do they download?

Be careful about gating all of your website content and requiring the visitor to supply lots of information about themselves. People aren’t stupid; they know if you are asking for a phone number, someone will likely call.

Be sure to offer some content for “free” and only add identification gates for valuable content of interest to serious buyers.

Keep your content relevant, fresh and available.

Implementing a customer portal or e-commerce business storefront is a great way to turn a nice website into a useful e-commerce marketplace.

Customers and prospects like the notion that they have special status with special privileges that are available by being a registered user. The portal will serve as their access point for sales, service and support communications throughout their tenure as a customer.  Early on, collateral, white papers, videos and customer reference stories are searchable and accessible.

If you are offering products that are complex or subject to many pricing considerations, a CPQ tool will ensure that the customer’s problem is addressed by a properly configured and priced solution.

Usage requirements and other product specification needs can be gathered via a scripted, interactive interviewing process within the CPQ tool. This helps the customer and Sales to navigate the assorted options, configurations and models to ensure that the solution offered matches the needs of the customer. This process is far more reliable and consistent than relying on someone to ask all of the right questions.

Additionally, standard pricing and special pricing associated with customer-class, quantity-driven pricing and other pricing elements will ensure that the correct price is used for the specific configuration being purchased.

Customers needing to collect comparative pricing data will be provided with numbers that are final quote accurate and backed up with documentation related to the specifics driving the quote.

More and more businesses are realizing benefits with this selling strategy. Customers benefit because they get the information they need, and sellers benefit because the e-format eliminates the expensive human element from the transaction or at least the earlier stage transaction.

Customers don’t feel the pressure of having to interact with Sales before they are ready to, Sales doesn’t have to waste their time interacting with tire-kickers and curiosity seekers and Marketing is assured that the product information, pricing and quotations given.