05 May 2017 Category: Insider Perspective
If you Google ‘Customer in Control’ you are faced with a lengthy list of articles describing how in the digital age, the customer is firmly in control of each stage of their purchase journey, with a wealth of choice and information at their fingertips. This view of the buyer in control has become accepted amongst sellers. Increasingly focused on nurturing inbound leads through their digital programs, they deliver a constant flow of content and information, until the buyer is ‘ready’ to engage with a sales rep – typically, ‘60 percent’ through the process, according to commonly quoted statistics.
It might, therefore, come as a shock to the system, to learn that the customer feels far from in control, and in fact, quite the opposite.
Research by CEB amongst 600 B2B buyers tells a different story. Buyers are ‘overwhelmed and often more paralysed than empowered’. A recent study by IBM paints a similar picture, describing how most people are disappointed with digital brand experiences – in fact, 70% aren’t impressed with ‘The Experience Revolution’.
Too much information and too many options make customers feel less in control
The CEB Research throws light on why the B2B buying process, in particular, might be more rather than less painful, despite the wealth of information and choices available to today’s buyer.
- The buying group is more complex and diverse; according to CEB, the average is now 6.8 people strong, versus 5.4 two years ago.
- The buying process is more protracted - it takes longer to evaluate the wealth of information available and get buy-in from a bigger group of decision makers.
- Given the amount of choice, customers feel less secure in the decisions they make and, as a result, are more likely to feel post-purchase remorse.
- Sales reps may compound the issue, with 68% believing that more information helps customers make better decisions.
Easing the route to purchase - the role of the sales rep
Interestingly, The CEB research shows that the majority (86%) of sales professionals agree that ‘helping the customer consider all options and alternatives is important’. However, is presenting the customer with ‘all options’ the same as easing the route to purchase? Shouldn’t suppliers be aiming to offer the customer ‘the right option’ instead of simply demonstrating ‘all available’ options?
Equally, an effective sales rep should make the customer feel secure, guiding them through the purchase process, helping them navigate the overwhelming choice of options to find the product or service that is the ‘right fit’.
Understanding your customer and finding the right fit
In order to guide the customer to the right solution, both sales and marketing need to understand the customer’s needs, their definition of success, and the barriers they face. They need a deep understanding of the buying group; who is involved, what challenges do they face and what is the purchasing motivation for each buying team member? Only with this level of insight, can they communicate a relevant message and a proposition tailored to the customer’s individual needs.
Take a proactive approach – engage early
Rather than waiting until 60% into the buying process, it is in the interests of both buyer and seller to have an early conversation that qualifies interests and builds a solid base of understanding so that neither party wastes time further down the line. A proactive approach where the supplier engages at an early stage ensures that the customer’s needs are at the heart of the process, allowing the seller to present a targeted, compelling offer from the start. This facilitates a more relevant customer experience and helps nurture a relationship built on trust and rapport, making the customer feel secure with a credible partner who truly understands their viewpoint and addresses their needs.
Putting your customer back in control
As discussed, the sales rep’s role is key to easing the customer through the buying process but, given timescales required and the need to engage a complex buying group, sales resource in many organisations is already stretched. Where resource is limited, it is worth considering an outsource option, which can be applied at almost any stage of the buying cycle, generating leads at the top of the funnel, qualifying and converting inbound leads and nurturing them until they are ‘sales ready’, or taking them right through to close of sale. If, due to limited resource, you are leaving your buyers to navigate through 60% of the buying process, not only does this risk leaving them feeling overwhelmed and lost, but it creates an opportunity for your competitors to step in and take them by the hand, potentially losing a sale for you.