Why sales is finally putting the buyer first
The shift to remote selling is driving a profound change in how sellers think about their role
September 22, 2020
What’s the biggest change to hit sales this year? It seems like an easy question to answer. The shift to remote selling reshaped our profession in a matter of weeks. Activities that we once assumed had to take place in person are suddenly digital by default: video meetings, virtual conferences, socially distanced catch-ups over coffee. According to the software review platform TrustRadius, interest in web conferencing is up 445% since the start of the pandemic.
The fact that conversations with buyers now take place remotely is certainly a big change. However, it’s the agenda of those conversations that’s the most significant change of all. Sales organisations have realised they need to get serious about putting the buyer first. That’s empowering sellers to start redefining the role they play.
Why we needed a new approach to building relationships
The race to adapt to remote selling has created plenty of challenges. Prior to the pandemic, 55% of sellers surveyed by LinkedIn said they relied on face-to-face interactions to build relationships. That’s one of the reasons that 60% expect to close fewer deals this year, 55% expect their pipeline to decrease and 44% anticipate a decrease in buyer responsiveness.
Why have salespeople been so concerned about their chances of engaging prospects remotely? We know that remote-working buyers are guarding their time – and are selective about whom they invite into their personal space via video call. And as business leaders and decision-makers, those buyers are busy wrestling with their own challenges. They’re grappling with financial pressures, the health and safety of employees, and the transition to remote work. Many are working longer hours than ever as they try to keep remote working teams empowered and engaged. Speculative calls don’t make it onto their agenda.
We also know, though, that traditional cold outreach rarely delivers much value to buyers. At best, it starts off with a veneer of personalised detail before a jump into a standard selling agenda. There’s a reason why 90% of C-suite executives say they don’t respond to impersonal sales approaches. If we keep selling cold we can’t expect that many people making time for a video call.
Salespeople don’t want more of the same
Cold outreach is a numbers game – a numbers game where it hasn’t added up to invest time in understanding the needs of buyers who aren’t likely to respond anyway.
When business pipelines come under pressure the traditional response of sales has been to scale up outreach and prioritise the quantity of contacts over quality. When sales tech and automation first arrived on the scene, this is exactly how we used them. Surface-level insight and personal details helped us to reach out more widely, but without the depth of understanding that can identify and signal real value. It didn’t add up to a great experience for buyers – but it didn’t add up to all that great an experience for salespeople either. Recent research in conjunction with Miller Heiman group (now Korn Ferry), 60% of B2B buyers described the sellers they dealt with as faceless and interchangeable. There’s little satisfaction in being seen that way.
Cold outreach was never a very fulfilling strategy – and in the era of remote selling, it’s an even less productive one. There’s no longer any doubt that the ability to build enduring relationships is the most important asset in sales. It secures customer relationships and revenue, but it also keeps on giving through reputation and recommendations. The only way to start building these types of relationships is to demonstrably put the buyer first – from the first moment of reaching out to them, and far beyond the moment a deal closes.
Taking a lead from top performers
Since the arrival of the pandemic, adoption of sales intelligence tools has skyrocketed across Europe. LinkedIn Learning data shows that sales professionals in EMEA spent 41% more time learning about LinkedIn Sales Navigator in March than in February – and 54% more time in April than in March. The average number of accounts saved on Sales Navigator, a key indicator of sellers researching their buyers’ needs in depth, is up 145% year-on-year. TrustRadius data shows interest in Sales Navigator has risen 352%.
Top sellers who exceed their quotas by 25% or more are significantly more likely to use sales intelligence tools that help surface meaningful information on prospects’ needs. They’re also significantly more likely to list the Return on Investment (ROI) that they can secure for a customer as the most important factor in closing deals. They’re about delivering ongoing value, not just hitting that month’s quota. In fact, 81% of top performing sellers say they always put the buyer first
Investing time in understanding buyer needs, and designing a sales process around them, fits with the agenda of buyers themselves. Nine out of 10 UK buyers say they’re more likely to respond to sellers who understand their needs and share helpful, relevant content. LinkedIn data shows that, between March and May this year, the average Sales Navigator user was five times more successful at establishing connections with decision-makers than those using LinkedIn.com alone.
A new view of sales performance means a new buyer experience
It’s not just sales intelligence tools that are enabling sales to adopt a genuinely buyer first approach. Just as significant are improvements in the quality of CRM data – and the influence this has on how sales performance is measured.
Sellers’ incentives are aligning to think beyond simply closing their next deal, and are focussing instead on finding opportunities where buyers can gain the most value. In turn, sellers earn buyers’ trust and open the door to return business. In LinkedIn’s State of Sales report 2020 - Europe Edition, 93% of buyers say they’re more likely to consider salespeople who have a clear understanding of their business needs and 36% say “Active Listening” is the most valuable quality in a salesperson (more than any other characteristic).
This shift isn’t just connecting sales strategies with what buyers want – it’s also connecting them to how sales professionals want to sell. In a recent LinkedIn survey, 82% say they identify with a buyer-first approach, and 81% are more likely to choose to work for a buyer-first organisation.
The types of sellers that buyers respond to – and recommend – don’t disappear after a deal closes. Putting buyers first isn’t just a prospecting tactic. It’s an ongoing value engagement methodology. It represents a genuine shift in how organisations think about selling that’s focused on creating partnerships for the long term. And it’s arriving not a moment too soon.