The Death of Salesmen is Overstated

By Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Corporate Visions, Inc.

Did you know that the majority of buyers believe they are at least 60 percent done with their buying process before they seek out a salesperson? At least, that’s according to a slew of recent research from top-tier industry analysts. But beware — if you buy into these results, you could be misled regarding the messaging and training support that marketing and others need to provide salespeople.

The picture painted by this research is that salespeople are relegated to the last one-third of the buying process (see Graphic 1). This would mean that the enablement required for salespeople should focus on the conversations and activities bringing up the rear of the sales cycle, those mostly focused on competitive differentiation and negotiations, right?

Wrong! You are at risk of playing right into the commodity trap so many companies are trying desperately to avoid. Consider these contradictory findings:

•  Sales Help Wanted
In another recent survey, the IT Sales and Marketing Association (ITSMA) published findings stating that 70 percent of buyers want to engage with sales reps before they identify their shortlist — suggesting earlier research may be exaggerated at best, and misleading at worst. Instead of being relegated to the very last moments of a purchase decision and abdicating the majority of the buying cycle to marketing, ITSMA’s research indicates salespeople are becoming even more crucial when it comes to helping buyers make a decision.

•  Business Knowledge Desired
Research from SiriusDecisions identified that executive decision makers prefer salespeople who provide business and industry expertise versus those who deliver primarily product knowledge. In fact, they prefer these insight-driven conversations four times more than product presentations. Executive buyers believe that you and your reps see more people who look like them than they do, and you have experiences they want you to share.

•  No Decision Contradiction
At the same time buyers say they’re waiting to contact a salesperson, there is documented evidence that 60 percent of qualified leads end the sales cycle in “no decision,” sticking with their status quo and buying nothing. The key takeaway for you as a marketer and sales enablement professional is that the majority of buyers who say they are almost done with their purchase decision are not even ready
to change, let alone choose a specific company.

Support Both the “Why Change?” and “Why You?” Conversations

Based on these three examples, arguably, the majority of your prospects and customers still need the help of a salesperson to make the decision to change, and to choose you. As a result, it’s still your job to equip and enable your field representatives to conduct both the “Why Change?” and “Why You?” conversations (see Graphic 2).

Unfortunately, most companies invest the majority of their sales enablement dollars and time in the late-stage, product-centered conversations and negotiations to the right in this graphic. With that in mind, here are some quick ideas for balancing your sales enablement strategy to fill the content gap and make your salespeople more effective in the early stage dialogues.

•  “Why Change” Campaigns
You need to develop campaigns based on prospects’ problems or missed opportunities they may not even realize they have. In the hands of your salespeople, these campaigns will help them with their hardest job — breaking through to get a meeting. Most prospects won’t take a meeting just because you have a new product, yet most campaigns are based on new product launches. However, prospects do want to know if they or their objectives are at risk due to unconsidered needs, problems, challenges or market issues. Helping your salespeople loosen the status quo to capture that all-important first meeting is an often overlooked marketing step.

•  “Why Change” Conversations
Once they get the meeting, your salespeople need to nail it. This doesn’t happen by accident. Winning companies are developing conversation aids such as whiteboard stories to drive these early stage, executive dialogues when the buying vision is being created. Most executive buyers prefer conversations — not presentations —
so be sure to provide your salespeople with provocative stories that can be told with simple, concrete visuals. This is a great way to position them as consultative sellers with relevant, valuable insight to share.

More than showing up

It’s not just about where you show up — it’s about what you say when you get there. In addition to missing the early stage conversation sales enablement opportunities, many marketers believe their top responsibility when it comes to sales enablement is to provide leads through demand generation programs.

However, in most B2B companies, salespeople often have well-defined territories with named accounts — they know where to show up and they aren’t waiting for marketing leads to make a call on these targets. Their bigger concern and need is what to say to get a meeting, and what to say when they get there. Make sure you are providing the right sales enablement support across the entire buying process to ensure the success of your sales team’s performance — both before and after the “big meeting.”  

With more than 20 years of marketing and sales experience, Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Corporate Visions, Inc., is a recognized thought-leader, practitioner and author. You can find out more about Corporate Visions at CorporateVisions .com.