Today’s post is by Ben Taylor, content marketing manager at Richardson. He has an MBA in finance from LaSalle University and more than a decade of business and writing experience. He has covered content for brands such as Nasdaq, Barclaycard, and Business Insider.
Today, more customers are leveraging their resources to build business solutions without the involvement of salespeople. Meanwhile, those who do engage a seller are pushing this step to later in the process – when most decisions are fully formed.
These trends have caused everyone to call into question the real value of salespeople.
In fact, today’s buying environment is quickly separating great B2B sellers from those who are merely adequate. To remain competitive, sellers must bring a renewed focus on collaboration in the sales process.
A collaborative approach drives results unseen elsewhere because it keeps the focus on solving challenges specific to the customer. There are three actions sellers can take to become more collaborative in selling.
- They must leverage insights through questioning
- They must avoid seller-centric behaviors
- They must work from facts rather than assumptions
Let’s look at each of these actions in more detail.
Action #1: Ask Smarter Questions
Incisive questions get to the core of the customer’s needs fast. This kind of interplay creates a cooperative environment by revealing challenges unseen by even the customer. However, to elicit detailed responses, sellers must demonstrate their preparation by asking smarter questions.
This consultative selling strategy is particularly important today because customers feel more rushed than ever before. Sellers should expect that customers will have only so much willingness to detail their challenges. Therefore, it’s critical that sellers front-load their most pressing inquiries to get to the essence of the problem fast.
Anticipate resistance at first. The questioning process requires both sides to acknowledge the stature of the business challenges, which can be uncomfortable. However, this strategy avoids the false positivity that can lead to short-sighted solutions.
The net result is an openness that gives the seller an edge over the competition. Additionally, questioning affords the opportunity to float ideas. Buyers may be more willing to entertain new ideas when the seller frames concepts as questions. Effective questioning is at the core of collaboration, which develops to a sense of shared commitment. This step is important because there can be no closing without collaboration.
Action #2: Avoid Seller-centric Behaviors
Seller-centric behaviors are difficult to avoid. Amid pressing deadlines and quarterly quotas, sellers are under immense pressure to close. Too often this burden leads to impulsive behavior – like jumping to the sale – that compromises trust. However, strong sellers keep the customer at the fore of their thinking.
One effective way to do this is to elicit periodic feedback from the customer. This practice helps gauge how connected the customer is to the conversation, while determining if the seller is on the right track. Moreover, checking in with the customer reveals if the seller has offered any ideas that are incongruous to the customer’s perspective. These details become important in seeking gradual buy-in that culminates in a successful closing.
A consistent customer focus is critical because, in the dialogue stage, the customer is “trying on” the relationship with the seller. The customer is not only seeking the seller’s insights, but also the seller’s dependability. When buyers see sellers’ actions as customer focused, they establish knowledge-based trust: the tendency to build trust based on prior actions.
Make sure every outreach to the customer offers value. Why? Customers need more reasons to act than ever before. A 2017 Richardson survey shows that 26 percent of sellers believe “combating the status quo” is the biggest challenge buyers face when making a purchasing decision.
Action #3: Work from Facts, Not Assumptions
We need to make assumptions in life; we would never move forward without them. However, we need to periodically check them – or even change them – because unquestioned assumptions can appear as facts. Simply put: assumptions must remain flexible.
Too often, sellers enter meetings with preconceived notions that rest on a foundation of outdated information or conventional opinions. Sellers, however, can move beyond this tendency. They must acknowledge the anchoring bias, which occurs when we rely too heavily on the first piece of information we receive.
Sellers can overcome this problem by seeking facts through a customer dialogue. These discussions help uncover valuable information and move the sale forward. Avoid the anchoring bias by practicing mindful listening. This strategy of “tuning in” helps sellers dig deeper and re-examine long-held assumptions about positioning a solution.
There’s no question that selling has gotten tougher. However, sellers who take a collaborative approach will discover they can close more sales with solutions that focus on solving challenges specific to the customer. Making this work means asking smarter questions focused on the nuances of the customer to help move beyond assumptions.