Power to the Buyers

Frank Visgatis

As people who believe selling can and should be an honorable profession, it is discouraging to realize that the perceptions of salespeople haven’t improved much over the last 50 years. Perhaps this explains why recent changes in the selling landscape are in response to new buying behaviors. This presents a challenge to sales organizations. Those that can better align with these new buying approaches will enjoy a sustainable, competitive advantage.

The primary reason the perception of salespeople has not improved is because B2B vendors have refused or failed to abandon their traditional beliefs – the belief that selling involves convincing and persuading buyers. As early as children can talk, they resist being convinced, and even resent being persuaded about almost anything. What makes vendors believe adult buyers will be receptive to this approach? This traditional view of selling lays the foundation for confrontation, rather than collaboration when buyers and sellers interact.

Traditional sales training reinforces the negative stereotype by teaching sellers the approach to manipulate buyers. Salespeople see posters and hear phrases that support this notion:

  • Selling begins when the buyer says no.
  • Every buyer objection is a selling opportunity.
  • Overcome or handle buyer objections.
  • Assume the buyer is going to buy.

The ABCs of selling
Always Be Closing sellers are led to believe they can talk buyers into (or out of) almost anything. That summarizes the essence of what is wrong with the traditional view of selling.

This attitude directly conflicts with the fact that human beings prefer to buy. Buyers view selling as something that is done to them, rather than done with or for them. In fact, most salespeople approach their initial meeting or meetings with the buyer with a focus on “what I want to tell them” rather than “what do I want to learn about them.” Salespeople who offer opinions by showing up with and delivering canned presentations create an immediate disconnect, establishing a one-way street to the relationship, which may never go away.

Everyone has had unpleasant interactions with salespeople when they felt oversold, felt pressured into making decisions, or experienced buyer’s remorse after the sale was made. It is almost in a buyer’s DNA to be distrustful of a salesperson they meet for the first time, unless or until sellers can avoid conducting themselves in a way that reinforces the negative stereotype.

As with any need, like air, water, food, and shelter, humans have an innate need for control. When buying, people are in control. They set a budget, decide what their needs are, and take action to satisfy them. Buying feels good! Being sold means a financially motivated salesperson is attempting to convince, persuade, or influence your decision. Buyers who have been taken advantage of, manipulated, and pressured in the past don’t want the seller to be in control.

In the late 1990s the Internet evolved from a scientific resource linking universities and research labs into a commercial communication platform populated by vendor Web sites that made a tremendous volume of information available electronically and, nearly as importantly, anonymously. Increasing Internet speeds allowed downloading of material and, in some cases, full working “trial” versions of their offering that could be reviewed at the buyer’s convenience.

Blogs and social networking sites have become the electronic equivalent of a B2B Consumer

Reports, and our experience at CustomerCentric Selling illustrates how they can be leveraged. In 2008, CustomerCentric Selling needed to hire an adult-learning specialist for a project. Rather than use a search engine and then visit multiple websites where every consulting group was trying to put their best foot forward, we took a different approach. We described our situation, the scope of the engagement, and the type of consultant we were looking for, and we electronically polled our social networks of trusted people for suggestions and recommendations. We used tools such as LinkedIn and searched public profiles of candidates that may have met our criteria and had the experience we were looking for. We were able to cross-reference their backgrounds with other searches to verify the credibility of their claims. Within a week, three candidates emerged that seemed to have the background and skills that we required. We had developed our short list of vendors without talking to any of the consultants.

We, the buyers, were in complete control the entire time. The consultants who weren’t selected, those who lost, never even knew they were in the game.

Imagine the implications for B2B vendors today. Knowledge is power. It has shifted from sellers and into the hands of savvy buyers. Prospects can visit your website, gain insight into your offerings and reputation by leveraging media, including social networking, and even get an idea of how you price your offerings. At that point, the following things can happen:

  • You don’t make the short list based upon the buyer’s perception of your offering, reputation, pricing, support, and so on.
  • You are invited to compete, but there is a clear “Column A” that owns the requirements list. Unless your seller can alter the list of buyers’ needs, you are merely being brought in for pricing leverage with the vendor of choice.
  • You are invited to compete along with some other competitors, where there is no favored vendor.

As buying behaviors change, enlightened vendors will take measures to react by adjusting their sales processes. The major difference now as opposed to the mid- to late 1990s is that empowered buyers are now able to define their requirements by utilizing technology and most importantly, without speaking with salespeople. It is necessary to rethink the salesperson’s mission during initial meetings, so that they are better aligned with buyers. Because seller involvement comes later in the buying process (no selling has yet taken place), buyers are no longer the blank canvases that they once were with respect to determining their needs or requirements. Failing to align with these buyers can compromise the buying experience.

The reality today is that the buying experience begins for a particular vendor when a potential buyer accesses that company’s website or logs into a webinar hosted by the vendor. The buyer can readily get a ballpark figure of what an offering will cost. Now more than ever, it is important for sellers to engage initial interactions by doing interest qualification to uncover a buyer’s self-generated requirements. This validates and respects the research about the vendor that the buyer has already done. Failing to extend the courtesy of learning buyers’ self-discovered requirement trivializes their research and reinforces all the negative stereotypes of traditional selling.

Frank Visgatis is the co-founder, president and chief operating officer of CustomerCentric Systems®, LLC and co-author of the CustomerCentric Selling® sales methodology. This article is excerpted from that book. His vision has propelled CustomerCentric Systems®, LLC as one of the industry's top providers of sales process consulting, sales training and Sales Ready Messaging®.