Today’s post is by Katie Bullard, chief growth officer of DiscoverOrg.
How would you guess B2B buyers rate salespeople? Excellent, good, average, or poor? If you’re in sales, you may estimate that most of your buyers find you and your selling skills “good” to “excellent.”
Not so. According to a September 2017 DiscoverOrg study titled “30 Ways to Get Inside the Mind of Your Target Buyer,” of more than 230 B2B buyers from various industries (including manufacturing, retail, distribution, technology, banking, finance, insurance, advertising, and healthcare) 12 percent of salespeople are excellent, 23 percent good, 38 percent average, and 27 percent poor. Surprised?
The bad news: The study revealed that salespeople tend to make six critical errors during the sales process. The good news? Buyers provided solid ideas on how salespeople can improve their relationships with prospective buyers, which will increase their chances of making the sale.
Critical Selling Errors Salespeople Make
The study shows underperforming salespeople lack the self-awareness to know that buyers don’t value them – nor do they understand why. They don’t take the time to figure out why they lost a deal or long-time client. They either don’t know why they weren’t selected or they reflexively blame it on factors out of their control.
Error #1: Salespeople fail to establish trust or respect. Customers view salespeople in typically one of four categories:
- Someone who is trying to sell something
- A supplier with whom they do business
- A strategic partner who is important to their business
- A trusted adviser whose advice is followed
Just 18 percent of the salespeople buyers met over the past year would be classified as trusted advisers whom they respect.
Error #2: Salespeople can’t converse effectively with senior executives. The rare conversations salespeople have with C-level decision makers determine whether they win or lose the deal, so it’s critical they understand how C-level executives think – and to communicate with them in their language. Unfortunately, buyers say fewer than one out of three salespeople can hold an effective conversation with senior executives.
Error #3: Salespeople are too self-centered. Study participants were asked the primary reason they don’t like meeting with salespeople. Their answers reveal that they feel pressured by self-centered salespeople:
- 44 percent believed salespeople are only serving their own agenda
- 25 percent indicated salespeople only care about making the sale
- 23 percent were uncomfortable because it is difficult to say no to them
- 8 percent said salespeople are not the type of person they typically associate with
Error #4: Salespeople use the wrong close strategy. Of different closing techniques presented to buyers, hard close techniques such as “This is the last time we’ll be able to extend this offer and we need an answer now” were rated least effective. A hard close creates a “yes or no” response from the buyer and is associated with a “take it or leave it” mentality. Soft close techniques were rated most effective.
Error #5: Salespeople don’t alleviate the risk of buying their solution. B2B buyers fixate on risk mitigation because past experiences have made them skeptical. So they make vendors respond to complex requests for proposals, complete laborious evaluation spreadsheets, and document each product feature. Still, if the salesperson hasn’t alleviated the risk of buying, the sale won’t happen.
Error #6: Salespeople can’t establish a personal connection. There is an equilibrium point where the buyer respects the salesperson’s conviction and is not offended by their persistence, which enables the relationship to develop. Buyers cited five key reasons there isn’t “chemistry” with a particular salesperson:
- The salesperson was too pushy
- There was a difference in communication styles
- The salesperson’s personality was much different from mine
- The salesperson was too eager to befriend me
- There was a difference in age
Most salespeople are comfortable selling to certain types of people, but they’re far less likely to establish rapport with someone wired far differently than themselves. As a result, they tend to come across as too pushy – or overcompensate by being overly friendly.
What Buyers Want to See from Salespeople
The good news from the study is that buyers want mutually beneficial relationships with salespeople, and offered their thoughts on how salespeople can improve their selling skills and become trusted advisors.
Step #1: Clearly explain how your solution helps the buyer’s business. A product’s strategic value comprises the reasons buyers provide to senior management about why they should purchase: increasing revenues, decreasing costs, gaining a competitive advantage, and standardizing operations in order to reduce risk. Instead of focusing solely on revenue, salespeople should concentrate more on helping buyers accomplish their goals.
Step #2: Change your closing strategy. A soft close is based on a suggestion that leads buyers to believe they’re acting of their own free will, when in fact they’ve been directed to follow an action. Buyers respond much more to a close such as “If you spend another $100,000, you’ll get an additional 10 percent off the entire order.”
Step #3: Understand why buyers are risk-averse. Tolerance for risk fluctuates by function and by industry. IT and accounting have less risk tolerance than marketing; creative fields such as fashion and media have more risk tolerance than government or health care. Salespeople should understand these dynamics as they seek to assuage buyers’ concerns about risk.
Step #4: Be like the buyer. Unsurprisingly, 81 percent of buyers indicated they would rather talk with someone who shares their same mannerisms. As a result, buyers will choose the salesperson who develops rapport over those who don’t. Ultimately, a salesperson needs to become a communication chameleon: speak the buyer’s language (industry, technical, and job function) in order to change a skeptic into a believer.
Clearly, salespeople have a distance to go before they land in the “good” to “excellent” category among B2B buyers. By paying closer attention to the buyers’ needs and changing their behaviors, salespeople have the power to change the relationship, improve selling skills, and close the deal.