When was the last time you bought a completely unfamiliar, but very important product? Let’s use a brake for your bike as an example. Unless you have a friend who tells you everything you need to know about bike brakes ahead of time, your purchasing process will likely go one of two ways:
1. You Google “top bike brakes”, read reviews and advice columns to learn which type you should buy and how to install it. Then you purchase the brake and put it on your bike yourself.
2. You go directly to a bike shop, ask the mechanics what type of brake your bike needs, purchase the brakes they recommend, and have them install it for you.
The major difference in these two cases is that the first is the path that a more proactive, independent buyer would take, whereas the second one trusts in the expertise of the seller.
The challenge in B2B sales today is that most buyers follow the first model of making purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, the information that buyers gather independently is often incomplete or inaccurate.
Buyers today don’t trust sales reps, so they only bring them in to the purchasing conversation after they have done most of their research independently. That severely limits the salesperson’s ability to influence the prospect’s decision.
Prospects are more likely to engage sale reps if they trust them to provide valid information about their product. The challenge that salespeople have to overcome is gaining a prospect’s trust early enough in the decision making process to influence their purchasing decision in the first place.
Top salespeople do this by challenging their prospects’ assumptions and positioning themselves as experts who can deliver timely, relevant advice at each stage of the buying process.
Here are the steps that will help you to convert your position as a sales rep from “order taker” to “trusted advisor” in the eyes of your prospects.
1. Know Who You Are Talking To
One of the challenges of leveraging information to make a sale is that it is interpreted differently by different people. For example, content that may be relevant for frontline producers may feel like a waste of time to executives, and you lose credibility if you try to persuade one persona with information that is meant to be consumed by another.
On average, more people are involved in the purchasing process now than at any time in the past, which means you have to be able to navigate accounts to be successful. You aren’t likely to win many deals if you only engage a single decision maker each time.
The trick to avoiding that pitfall is to get into your buyers’ heads. Figure out where they live (online), read the articles that they are reading, ask the questions they are asking, and gather information that positions you as an expert to answer their every question.
By understanding the process your typical buyer follows and identifying the questions they are likely to ask of you and of your product, you can address them proactively and position yourself as a knowledgeable resource and an ally, rather than a self-serving order taker.
2. Guide Your Buyers
Even though buyers have access to all the information they need to make a purchasing decision on their own, they often become overloaded and overwhelmed by it.
In fact, one of the reasons that more and more companies are hiring sales operations teams is to enable their reps with the ability to predict the questions their buyers need to address.
The rise of the sales ops function is indicative of the need to equip reps with resources that make them more agile, knowledgeable, and capable of adding value to the decision making at each stage of the buying process.
Dan Pink summarized this idea effectively in a recent interview on The Lede, explaining that the role of sales ops is, in large part, to arm reps with content and information that enables them to be empathetic to the buyers needs. With the right preparation, they can add value to the buying process by providing relevant information at the right time.
By creating a structured process matched to your buyers’ needs, you can consistently empathize with prospects and deliver valuable information at the right moment in their buying process to help sway their purchasing decision.
3. Be Objective
The challenge with swaying prospects as a salesperson is that your opinion is inherently biased, and they know it. Your intent is to get them to buy your product, and they have to take your advice with a grain of salt, as a result.
This fact doesn’t have to undermine your position as a subject matter expert, however. The key is to compile information from third parties and other experts in your field that will be useful for your prospect — even if it doesn’t directly support your sales messaging.
Examples of this would be:
- Providing advice about vendors who fulfill needs outside the scope of your own product
- Directing prospects towards resources that help them to develop their own knowledge base
- Offering to connect them with similar companies who have overcome the same obstacles that they are trying to overcome
By willingly moving away from your sales pitch, you show that you really do have the prospect’s interests at heart, and are not engaging them purely to earn your commission.
Fundamentally, sales has always been about establishing trust with your prospects. Before, trust was built by establishing personal relationships. For better or for worse, that is no longer the case.
Top earning sales reps gain trust because they are a valuable source of information for prospects. In order to have an impact on your buyers decisions, you have to be the most trusted source of information available.