As previously noted in this blog and in many other places, the B2B sales landscape has changed dramatically in the information age. Thanks to the plentiful information available online, some 70 percent of a buyer’s decision is made before ever speaking with a member of a sales force. It means that sales reps must be sharper than ever, ready to provide enough insight to a buyer to hopefully sway them in the direction of the salesperson’s product.
But as noted by Mike Schultz, founder and publisher of the Rain Group and author of Insight Selling: What Sales Winners Do Differently, there is another very important factor involved here: if a corporate buyer is going to listen to such insight from a salesperson, the buyer must trust that sales rep. Otherwise insight as clever as that of the Dalai Lama could very well fall on deaf—or at least mistrusting—ears. In a recent interview with The Trust Matters Blog, Schultz said, “The more a buyer trusts you the more willing they are to listen to your ideas and to implement them. Without trust, insight selling is very difficult to do.”
It is obvious that all the plentiful information available online doesn’t do the whole trick in a B2B sale; otherwise web sites would close sales all by themselves and salespeople would never be required. There comes a point when all the information is not helping: a buyer’s (and therefore a company’s) decision might be narrowed down to 4 or 5 possibilities, and based on available information each one of them is very appropriate as a solution.
There is also another aspect: all that information can be quite overwhelming. It becomes difficult to say which of the available solutions will be best, and it is now time for the buyer to turn to someone he or she trusts. If you do your job well as a salesperson, that someone will be you.
Many sales experts say this, but even so it can never be said too many times or be understood fully enough by sales forces: the basic key to a sale is through help. When a prospect feels more sales pressure than help, it’s a turn-off. But if a prospect is actually being listened to and heard in relation to company issues, and if the rep is offering genuinely helpful insight, it’s a whole different story.
The first stage is for the rep to listen and fully understand what the prospect company is going through. While the rep is listening, careful notes should be made of how the rep’s product or service can address as many of these issues as possible. But a rep should get the whole story before launching into a pitch. Not only is this a matter of manners (and it certainly is), it’s also a matter of not missing vital data.
The second stage is then providing that company with the precise insight that will address those needs. If this insight selling is done right, it means the deal is yours.
It’s an age-old sales tactic for a sales rep to socialize and even make friends with important sales contacts completely outside the corporate environment, especially in the arena of big-ticket sales. This can include playing golf, or taking a prospect out to lunch or dinner, or taking a prospect to a sporting event or a concert. If the rep can engage in enough social interaction, there’s a chance the prospect will look to the salesperson as a friend and possibly trust him or her when it comes time to get serious about a purchase.
But all the cozying up in the world won’t replace that help factor. You’re still going to have to solve a company’s problems with your product or service before they’ll lay out the big bucks. And that’s where the real trust will come in.
Social media can most definitely play a role in gaining trust. Befriending and following key decision-makers through social media, a member of the sales force can gain understanding about them and what they’re trying to accomplish even before the initial contact is made. Such information can arm a salesperson well with information that could be crucial to the sale—at the beginning and throughout the sales cycle.
For the sales force, it’s probably the most important thing to keep in mind: it’s the age of trust.
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