This Week’s Big Deal: Engaging Buyers Earlier in Their Journeys

July 15, 2019

This Week’s Big Deal: Engaging Buyers Earlier in Their Journeys

The new conventional wisdom tells us buyers don’t want to engage with B2B salespeople until late in their purchase journeys. Committees are now more self-driven than ever in their research, which ostensibly means they prefer not to hear from reps until they’re almost ready to make a decision.

However, new research contradicts this school of thought, illuminating real opportunity for sales to make a pivotal impact in the early stages of consideration. Understandably, these insights are generating a lot of buzz in the modern selling community. Let’s unpack the data and see how you might use it to your advantage.

Buyers Are Engaging Sellers Earlier in the Process

According to the 2019 B2B Buyers Survey from Demand Gen Report, we’re witnessing a changing of the tides. Here are a few key developments uncovered in the study, which surveyed more than 250 senior-level B2B executives:

  • 42% said they engaged a rep from the vendor they ultimately selected within the first month of researching (up from 33% in 2018)

  • 33% said they accepted outreach from vendors for calls and demos in the first month (up from 23% in 2018)

  • 25% said they sought RFPs, competitive bids, and/or pricing info from vendors in the first month (up from 20% in 2018)

This is sweet music to the ears of sales teams everywhere. Not only do these stats suggest we can assert our presence in the first few weeks of the buyer journey, but also that we might be able to accelerate sales cycles, which can be notoriously lengthy and drawn-out (especially for large enterprise organizations).

On that note, I was also intrigued by a recent report from Aberdeen, Why Do B2B Buyers Struggle? The Answer is in the Data. This survey of nearly 350 B2B buyers revealed similar findings to those above, with a surprising 73% of respondents saying they reach out to vendors early in the process:

However, the study by Aberdeen also found 53% of buyers saying they halt or postpone decisions at least half the time. Why? Respondents point to a lack of differentiation, or an absence of suitable solutions:

How can we, as sellers, help decision makers overcome these hold-ups and stave off the plague of inertia? Below, we’ll sample guidance from some of the web’s top trending sales content.

Key Opportunities to Impact the Buyer Journey

It goes without saying that engaging and swaying buyers early provides a critical competitive advantage. These four techniques can help you do just that.  

Listen and Learn (Don’t Push)

Just because buyers are open to conversations with sellers early on doesn’t mean they want a barrage of salesy promotion. It’s important to keep in mind that at this point, prospects are still trying to get their arms around the decision at hand, and they value assistance with this above all.

In her interview for our Insight Track series, published last week, sales expert Nancy Nardin argues that listening and asking good questions are the two most overlooked tactics for today’s pros. 

“Salespeople often listen just long enough to start talking,” Nancy says. “They’re not really listening or responding to what the buyer says. In that vein, they often ask a question and use the answer as a jumping off point to pitch. Step back and really hear your prospects. Comment on their answers and ask another question.”

This ties back to the insight above about decisions stalling because the buyer didn’t see differentiation, or didn’t find the right fit. Oftentimes, this happens because the rep wasn’t attentive enough to truly understand the organization’s unique situation, and tailor the position of their solution accordingly. Listening and asking good questions are both crucial practices for making this connection.

Prioritize Your Prospecting

Sometimes, a prospect simply isn’t the right match for what you’re offering. Salespeople can waste a lot of time and resources trying to pursue these fruitless leads. So one vital step is to properly identify the opportunities that make sense, and focus your efforts there. 

In his recent post at Business 2 Community, Howard J. Sewell calls out lead scoring as an essential practice for expediting the sales cycle

“How well does your current lead scoring program identify prospects exhibiting signs of buyer intent?” he asks. “Are you capturing Web behavior such as visits to high-value pages? Are you integrating third-party intent data? A highly tuned lead scoring program will help ensure that motivated buyers receive the appropriate attention and don’t fall through the proverbial cracks.”

Leveraging quality data and pursuing the highest-value prospects will help you ensure those early engagements are productive for both sides. Sewell also adds that prioritizing high-intent sales alerts can help teams become more efficient.

Be Uber-Responsive

The title for this section is a bit of a play on words. In the age of Uber and on-demand everything, people want — nay, expect — instant service on their terms. Candace Lun Plotkin of McKinsey & Company recently published an article about B2B customers’ desire for rapid response times on LinkedIn.

“Customers want speed right through their buying journey. They may deliberate over their choices, but as soon as they interact with a supplier they want answers fast,” she writes.

Obviously no human being is going to be available 24/7 at the whim of curious buyers, but it’s worth thinking about ways your sales team can optimize for these shifting preferences. As Lun Plotkin notes, digital tools like web chat applications are gaining popularity for this purpose.

Step Up Your Sales Content

Delivering the right content to match a buyer’s mindset is of the utmost importance. Demographica CEO Warren Moss recently shared an insightful first-hand story of his own journey to find a particular service, and the obstacles he encountered in his search.

The entire piece is a worthwhile read for B2B salespeople and their marketing counterparts, but I was especially struck by his recounting of an instance where a company rep shared a brochure and seemed more concerned with its design than its actual content.

“This is something we come across time and again in the B2B space, where businesses don’t put enough strategic thought into sales collateral, from brochures to folders and articles to explainer videos,” Moss explains. “[The rep’s] primary concern was that his brochure was going to be made to look ‘better’, whereas it actually should have been strategically redesigned to not only help me make a decision — but to swing the decision his way.”

It’s worth noting that Moss was engaging these companies deeper into his journey, which is why he felt more persuasive content was warranted. For those engagements taking place earlier in the process, buyers tend to value more general, objective information that helps them fully understand their options. Work with marketing to ensure you have content aligning with each stage of the journey.

Early Bird Gets the Worm

In the final example, Moss says that he “completed over 80% of the purchase journey before [he] spoke to a human representative of the company.” Naturally, there are still plenty of decision makers who want to handle the bulk of research on their own before welcoming outreach. But the aforementioned research makes it clear that an increasing number of buyers are willing — if not eager — to consult with reps early on. Capitalizing on these opportunities is a big deal.  

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