Changes in buyer behaviour mean that organisations today need to engage departments other than sales in business development activities.
Did the hard sell ever really work? We’ve all heard the stories of people unable to leave meetings until they signed up to buy a time share – or new double glazing. But did that sort of relentless pursuit ever really lead to happy customers and lasting customer loyalty?
Now that customers are able to access information on competing products and services within seconds using only their fingertips and a smart phone – its days really are numbered.
You would be hard pressed today to find a business who is not being impacted by an ever-changing marketplace. Tens of thousands of companies are finding themselves in a situation where they are either having to deliver the same service for less and make less profits, re-engineer their service, involving significant investment or organisational change, or find more new customers who are wanting to buy a high value traditional service.
The traditional response when faced with a challenging market place is for a CEO to unleash the sales team, set a big incentive, set more challenging KPI's, whilst the organisation sits back and hope the rain makers deliver. In many sectors this no longer works.
Business-to-business buyers are increasingly 'consumer' orientated in how they buy products and services. As a consumer I imagine you research potential product options before you even call a company or visit a shop. You will have read reviews, looked at competitor products, compared prices and asked your network for their own suggestions.
What this means for B2B sales is that by the time you are contacted by a potential customer they are likely to be 50%+ through the sales process. They know what they want to buy, they know how you are different from your competitor and have a good gauge on what they will be paying. In this instance sales professionals become little more than order takers. Where companies are contacted earlier in the decision-making process, a sales professional is likely to be entering a prolonged process involving multiple stakeholders.
The opportunity is that companies can engage a wider range of teams in the business development process.
The sales process has evolved from being a 'commitment' focused process where the sales person’s job is to close the deal quickly. To a 'marketing-centric' process where the organisation competes to be front of mind when the client has a need to buy an external service.
Sales efforts have therefore switched from finding people to sell to, to finding people who want to buy. And in the absence of buyers, the goal is to build trust and credibility with future buyers.
This change in buying behaviour creates an opportunity and a threat for organisations.
The threat is when you are relying on someone wanting to buy rather than be sold, they are totally in charge of the decision-making process. Where in the past a salesperson would handle objections, match product features to customers' needs and cajole them through a process until they commit.
Today, businesses need an operating methodology that enables potential buyers to feel good about buying your product or service with no interaction from the sales team.
The opportunity here is that companies can engage a wider range of teams in the business development process.
- Customer service teams have a pivotal role in making sure existing customers feel good about their purchase and reduce the likelihood of unhappy customers going 'social' with their frustrations.
- Operations teams who spend time on site with clients (engineers, auditors, lawyers, consultants) have a key role in affecting the perception of value and spotting additional upsell opportunities.
- Marketing are increasingly pivotal in bringing together branding, reputational work with the relationship nurturing process of current and future clients.
The list goes on.
If an organisation wants to focus on helping customers buy, then collaboration between the whole organisation in the business development process is a critical key to success.
The challenge for every leader looking to engage non-sales people in business development activity is that they need to first build belief, second confidence and lastly the desire to go the extra mile and assist with business development.
The problem is that according to a recent Gallup poll, in many organisations over half of the workforce are not engaged to do their own jobs let alone stretch themselves to assist with business development!
So what steps can an organisation take to engage more people in business development activities?
Do you live your values?
I imagine that somewhere in your organisational values you talk about how important your customers are and that your people are your most important asset. But do you live those values? If not, your push for everyone to help with business development will likely fail.
- When push comes to shove at month end are you happy to let a deal slide in to next month or do you push the client for a decision?
- When a customer complains do you think of doing right by the customer or how to minimise the cost of resolving the issue?
- When someone is under performing, what is your approach?
- Do people feel they are treated fairly?
The key for leaders is to remember the answers to these questions can only come from your staff. If the answers are overwhelmingly negative, then its unlikely you have a workforce that is sufficiently engaged to go the extra mile.
Talking and engaging
When business evolved at a slower pace it was possible for leaders to know best. In today's world many executives are managing businesses that run in a way far removed from the one they joined in their early career and in many organisations the employees at ground level know the customers and the issues affecting sales performance better than their executive team.
Many organisations still operate on a 'bosses know best' approach despite the fact that it is sales teams, customer service staff, operations workers who are speaking to customers every day, competing against the competition, feeling the effects of changing buyer behaviour, who often hold the answers to sales growth challenges.
Organisations like Tesla, Google, Nike have all built in feedback loops where every level of the organisation can feedback their product, customer and business observations to ensure the executive team were aware of what the business needed to do to grow.
Our fast-changing world requires organisations to change not only the products and services they make and deliver but also change how they approach hitting their sales targets.
There will always be a role for traditional sales professionals, but the world is changing, and the truly effective sales team will be part of an organisation that focusses on making sure their product or service is what people want to buy rather than need to be sold. The days of the hard sell really are long gone.
Alex Moyle is a business development, sales expert and author of Business Development Culture – taking sales culture beyond the sales team, published by Kogan Page and available on Amazon. Find out more: https://alexmoyle.co.uk/