How to Sell in the Era of the Educated Buyer
February 7, 2019
Editor's Note: As we start the second half of 2019, we're looking back at some of the year's most popular posts on the LinkedIn Sales Blog. This guest post, which was contributed by Ed Calnan, Founder and President of Seismic, ranked No. 6.
So how do you sell in this era of the educated buyer?
You create a team of smarter sellers.
When I speak with other B2B sales leaders, I am most concerned with how they feel completely caught off guard in this era of the educated buyer. I do admit that the change has been swift: In August Forrester found that 68 percent of B2B buyers prefer to do research on their own as opposed to speaking with a sales person, up 15 percent from only two years ago.
I’ve been selling software for almost 25 years and there was a time when we were keepers of the information. We controlled the process and we dictated the sales cycles.
Guess what? The buyers do now. Buyers are more empowered than ever before, and we can either change…
Here’s the tough truth: You can either do something about it, or you can let your competitors do something about it. The fact remains that the role of the sales person in a B2B setting remains invaluable. LinkedIn’s October 2018 State of Sales report found that the average buyer’s circle now consists of almost seven people. That is seven different human beings that need to know that their unique professional needs are being met. That is seven different people that need to be coordinated around a common cause having to do with their unique business problems. This has changed what buyers look for in sellers. Linkedin's State of Sales Report also found that being well informed about the buyer’s industry (91% of buyers), being consultative (91%), being well informed about the buyer’s company (90%) and being trusted advisors (88%) were among the qualities that mean the most when evaluating the salesperson with which a buyer does business.
No, the role of the sales person isn’t becoming obsolete or antiquated. It’s simply changed. The era of the educated buyer necessitates the era of the smarter seller. And here are three characteristics sales leaders must instill among their sales reps to succeed in this new age.
1. Preparation, research, and more preparation
It’s not as if the buyers are the only ones that now have access to more information. Sales teams must learn how to make use of the abundance of publicly available data as well. Company quarterly earnings reports and 10-Q Forms can provide valuable information about both the current state of the company and their goals and strategies moving forward. LinkedIn is the equivalent of gold for any smart salesperson trying to figure out who the executive buyer is and who else is on their team. Company press releases and changes to the buyer’s website or other marketing materials can help decipher what among their services and offerings is working and what needs to be changed.
Sellers now often complain that buyers come to the table knowing more about their product or service than the seller does. I regularly challenge each person on my team to turn the table: You should go into your first meeting with a group of buyers knowing more about their company, their team, and the problems they need to solve than they know about themselves. This requires an incredible amount of research and preparation, but the result pays off. Ultimately, the comment “Wow, you know more about our company than we do” is the surest indicator of a successful deal coming around the corner.
2. Learning to write with data in mind
The need to craft a well-honed written message has only increased in importance in recent years. Whereas ten years ago email was the primary (and often only) written form of communication between a seller and buyer, today channels like text messages and LinkedIn have becomes equally important. And each channel necessitates its own style of writing.
Again, take advantage of the abundance of available data to help your sales team master these different writing styles. First, there is nothing I like to see more than my sales teams sharing emails with each other, helping each other with messaging or what has worked for them in the past. And they don’t just work off of hunches. They are looking at the data and correlating what specific messages actually result in the buyer opening their email, or looking at the content they received. This type of engagement data helps inform writing in a truly smart way. Every sales rep should learn how to wield it, and every sales organization should distill key learnings from it and share it wide.
Data is the key to a great LinkedIn post as well. There’s no shortage of sales and marketing professionals who have successfully learned how to use LinkedIn to both build relationships with buyers and their own personal brand. (Here’s a great list of them.)
And key to learning how to write effectively on LinkedIn? The data. It’s right there front and center, on every single post.
3. Developing the new sales skills sets: creativity and situational intelligence
Strict sales playbooks are good for training and preparation. But they can also be restrictive. The consumer buying experience, courtesy of technology firms like Amazon and Netflix, has become so highly personalized that people now expect similar levels of customization in their B2B buying experiences.
Sellers, therefore, cannot make deals based on their ability to stringently adhere to a playbook, nor through their ability to simply “push a deal through.” Instead, the qualities of creativity and social intelligence have gone from being a nice-to-have among some sales people on your team to a need-to-have for everyone.
Sellers must be able to read a room the moment they enter an in-person meeting and call an audible if need be. For example, we were recently in a situation where, unbeknownst to us, the CIO of a firm we were working with was invited to join our first in-person meeting minutes before it began. Ten years ago having an unfamiliar c-level executive all of a sudden show up in the middle of the buying process would have shaken us. However, for this meeting our team knew who he was, and through prior preparation done on LinkedIn we also knew that he had only been with the firm for five weeks. The sales rep on the account immediately went into action, switching the crux of part of his pitch to focus on how our tool can assist in technology consolidation, which he correctly assumed was a major goal of the CIO in his first six months. The rep also quickly brought up a couple slides designed specifically for CIOs. To the rest of the buyer’s circle in the room, we were seen as being incredibly knowledgeable, consultative, and a great partner for their entire company going forward.
Once sales teams start to learn how to use the abundance of information available to them in the same way buyers are now, the result is a net positive for both parties. Conversations become more productive and personalized. The buyer ultimately get the solution that is a best fit for their particular needs. And perhaps most important when it comes to one of the main reasons we have all gotten into sales, true relationships are built.
The sales naysayers crying the death of the B2B salesperson are simply misinformed. The future of B2B selling is incredibly bright. As with everything else in this world, it just comes down to data.
Take a closer look at LinkedIn's State of Sales 2018 report today.