Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Yo Sales People - Get in the Game Early!

If you're in the world of sales these days, you will soon come across a stat that's used to highlight the massive change occurring in the buying world, especially for B2B sales. The stat not only highlights this change, but is used to frighten you, challenge you, and convince you that somehow you're doing the wrong thing. It will beat like a loud drum in your mind because it's everywhere.

What's the stat? It's that a customer is 57% into their buying journey before they ever connect with a sales professional.

First, what's funny is that no one can truly agree on the actual percentage. I'm at a conference in San Francisco this week and I heard 57%. I've read elsewhere it's 68%. As Abraham Lincoln said famously, "you can't trust 90% of statistics people tell you." But the point is still made.

Back in the day, people used to depend on sales people much earlier in the buying cycle to get information and learn more about their purchase. This process gave more control and power into the hands of sales. Now, because Internet, customers can do hordes of research before they ever reach out to a sales person. They come armed as experts and they now have control over the buying cycle. The stat is meant to reflect that major shift in the last 15 years.

What is the market's response to this shift? Well, it's this concept called "We're watching you." Of course no one would call it that outright, so there's a cool businessy term called web activity monitoring or something like that. The idea is that we will use technology to track your activity on our website, learn what pages you've visited, track any papers you've downloaded, etc. Since you're unwilling to call us and ask for our help, we'll at least watch you so we can be better informed when you do. This is all marketing's role and then there is a handoff to sales when the time seems right (I'm oversimplifying this part).

On the one hand, this is brilliant. I have nothing against it and I utilize the information we've gathered whenever I'm starting to engage with someone for the first time because it's helpful to understand areas of interest and it can make the person feel heard. I'm all about that experience.

But on the other hand, I hate this idea that the sales person needs to wait until marketing passes it off. If the concept of the "power shift" is true, and it definitely is regardless of the percentage, why should I wait until someone gets to that point to reach out or wait for that collected information?

What if sales folk get in the game and engage early? Now I know what you might be thinking: "I don't want to be sold to that early, especially if I'm just starting." I totally agree. This is where sales people need to shift their thinking from selling something to providing value. Concede the power (which I'm sure might be hard for you) and actually help people in their journey. What if we go where the research is being done and provide early value without trying to sell anything? There's no clear ROI here and if you consider staring a sales cycle from this place it may be a looooong time before you ever see a close.

But, and this is why people like Gary Vaynerchuk are thriving in this new world of buying, you are showing that you are willing to give before making an ask, you are establishing yourself as an authority in a space where people are looking for one, and you are building credibility and trust at the time it is most crucial. This all ties back into value and if you're willing to engage early with this, there will be much less resistance when that value is tied to a dollar amount.

It requires hustle and may feel like there's no real payoff because it doesn't fit in the conventional pipeline, but all it takes is one.

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