Trending This Week: B2B Buyers Want a New Sales Prescription

If you think your B2B buyers want to take the lead, think again. They want sales reps to help ease the path to purchase. Here’s how you can do just that.

March 3, 2017

  • Doctor in Lab Coat Holds Out Prescription Pad

For some time now, sales reps have been told they need to accept a new reality: buyers don’t want or need your assistance until they are far along in the process. After all, empowered B2B buyers can access all the information they need without the assistance of a sales rep. But, according to an article authored by CEB and appearing in the March-April 2017 Harvard Business Review, many B2B buyers are actually desperate for your guidance. As CEB says, buyers “are increasingly overwhelmed and often more paralyzed than empowered.”

Prospects are spinning their wheels

Whether we are buying something in our personal or professional lives, part of our decision hinges on the experience with the brand or vendor. A process marked by friction and frustration is less likely to end in a purchase. Unfortunately, many B2B buyers are feeling pained by their purchase process. According to CEB, 65% of buyers said they spent as much time as they’d expected to spend on the entire purchase just preparing to speak with a sales rep.

A few factors help explain this long time frame: the involvement of a buying committee, more vendor and solution choices, and access to an overwhelming amount of information.

Sales needs to retake the lead

Many sales reps have been coached to be responsive to a prospect’s requests, allowing them to take the lead. This includes everything from sending them all the information they request to helping them consider all possible options and alternatives. It turns out that’s not helpful. In its survey of more than 600 B2B buyers, CEB found that this approach decreases purchase ease by 18%.

Instead, CEB advises sales reps to prescriptively guide potential customers; its research found that this approach increased purchase ease by 86%.

So what does this look like? Instead of simply sending whatever information and content a buyer requests, prescriptive sales reps take the lead by doing these three things:

  • Make a clear recommendation for action backed by a specific rationale
  • Present a concise offering and a stable view of their capabilities
  • Explain complex aspects of the purchase process clearly

Anticipate and eliminate obstacles

To bring this to life, CEB shares this example of a prescription:

“One of the things we’ve learned from working with customers like you is that purchasing folks are going to get involved, and probably late in the process. And when they come in late, things tend to blow up. So you’ll want to bring them in earlier. When you do that, they will have two main questions: X and Y. Here’s how to answer them.”

As this shows, the prescriptive approach helps the buyer identify and overcome potential barriers to purchase. It’s easy to see why a prospective customer would greatly appreciate this type of assistance.

Follow a four-point plan

To get your organization started down the right path toward prescriptive selling, CEB outlines four best practices:

1. Map the buyer journey. Many organizations will need to recast the purchase journey they’ve already created so that they reflect a more prospect-centric perspective. The goal is to understand the process from the buyer’s point of view.

2. Identify barriers. The next step is to identify the top common pains that prospects experience during their purchase process, regardless of whether they’re buying from your organization or another.

3. Design prescriptions. With the buyer journey mapped and barriers identified, the organization needs to come up with relevant prescriptions.  While these can take many forms – content, live interactions, self-service diagnostics, etc. – they should reflect three key principles:

  • Be unbiased and credible
  • Reduce indecision and compel action
  • Move buyer down the path to purchase, leading to your organization’s solution without being overtly promotional

4. Track buyer progress. To know which obstacles buyers may be up against, it’s essential to understand where they are in the purchase process. CEB says organizations can determine this by calling upon “customer verifiers.” And it says effective verifiers:

  • Require the buyer to actively participate in order to show progress
  • Are binary and objective
  • Signal the prospect’s increasing commitment to move away from the status quo

To learn more about this new sales imperative and to read more examples of prescriptive sales approaches, check out the HBR article. And to keep pace with sales trends and insights, subscribe to our blog.