Trending This Week: What Buyers Really Want

Research shows the conventional thinking about what B2B buyers want from sales reps may not align with today’s market. Here’s how to adjust your sales pitch.

October 13, 2017

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In the 2000 film What Women Want, Mel Gibson stars as Nick Marshall, a hotshot advertising exec who thinks he’s got everything figured out, until he shocks himself with a hairdryer in the shower and awakens with a newfound ability to hear the innermost thoughts of the opposite sex.

Suddenly, he comes to realize that his perceptions were all misguided. Turns out Nick wasn’t viewed as the suave ladies’ man he believed himself to be, but rather an unlikable sleazeball. The revelation forced some serious reevaluation.

In late September, during The Drum’s annual Pitch Perfect event, Robin Bonn noticed a revelatory opportunity for sales pros who are still following their own misguided perceptions. If we had the power to read the minds of today’s buyers, we might be pressed to reevaluate the conventions driving our selling approaches.

A Damaging Cliché

When agencies spoke during the Pitch Perfect conference, Bonn kept hearing the same familiar adage: ‘people buy from people.’ On the surface, it’s a harmless -- if not helpful -- mindset; any sales professional should be working to develop a strong relationship and genuine rapport with their prospect or customer.

But to believe that this is the primary differentiator, Bonn suggests, is folly. In fact, he calls it “the last refuge of the commoditised.”

To illustrate his point, he poses an example where a patient must choose a medical professional to visit. If they have no special needs, they might just go with whichever general practitioner is closest, or most friendly. But if they need a brain surgeon, they’ll travel farther, pay more, and deprioritize considerations like bedside manner.

Expertise is the decisive factor. And that’s a critical lesson for salespeople.

The Challenger Sale

Bonn is hardly the first to make these assertions. In his piece, he calls out The Challenger Sale, a 2013 book by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson that paints a similar picture based on extensive research.

In their paradigm-shifting work, Dixon and Adamson posit that there are five distinct profiles for sales reps and only one consistently outperforms the others: The Challenger, who takes an assertive stance and -- as the label suggests -- challenges a prospect by offering unique insights and asking tough questions.

As the authors explain in The Challenger Sale: “Surveys of customers consistently show that they put the highest value on salespeople who make them think, who bring new ideas, who find creative and innovative ways to help the customer’s business.”

And the Relationship Builders? They “feel the need to establish credibility up front by throwing around company size and factoids and engaging in some high-profile customer name-dropping. They are uncomfortable leading with insight and letting their insights establish credibility for them.”

Dixon, Adamson and Bonn would all argue that the latter approach is ineffective in today’s B2B market. And they’re not basing this viewpoint on their opinions, but on data and discussions with actual buyers in the field.

How can sales managers adapt in light of this information? By challenging their own reps to put their expertise front-and-center. Dig deep and learn about a prospect’s company and industry, then make a specific case for change that speaks for itself. Relationship-building is still important, and always will be in sales, but virtually every rep is trained to do so.

The Challengers set themselves apart and win business, because they know what buyers want.

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