By Adrian Blake • @adrianblake
While the culture has changed profoundly, many business functions are still catching up. In the 1990s, sales went through the “Solution Selling” revolution. Sellers of the era positioned the sales rep as an advocate who helped solve your problems, not a merchant to haggle with.
Much of this new relationship was based on providing information to clients that was hard to get.
Is any information hard to get any more? I hate quoting Sting, but we have Too Much Information.
Your clients have always known more about their businesses than you, and more about their businesses’ problems than you. With the ubiquity of product information available online, your client possibly knows more about your products than you do. (He certainly knows more about your competition than you do.) So why are you trying to hold his hand through the sales process?
In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision — researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on — before even having a conversation with a supplier.
The implications of this statistic for selling are significant. If you are selling anything even a little complex, your prospects already should know a lot about it. And should you spend a lot of time leading them down a linear path of diagnosis? I know I find it irritating when I know the answer but someone insists on taking me down the path anyway.
Look at the Consumer Decision Journey from McKinsey or Steps of the Buy from Verde Martin. In either case, they break down what the buyer knows and when he knows it. Don’t try to tell people solutions they already know.
- Figure out how much your target market knows. How do you do this? In the words of startup guru Steve Blank, "Get out of the damn building.” Take prospects to lunch. Ask what information would actually make a difference. Don’t ask your friends or other people at the office. Go to the trouble of asking a stupid question of your target market. You will be forgiven as long as you ask for the right reasons.
- Create information that makes a difference. Marketing material that does not help deserves a special place in hell. Create blog posts and white papers that are valuable, not just more pixels in a world full of them.
- Build a community that cares about what you have to say. Invest the time to find people who need what you sell. Those people are usually called “prospects,” and capturing them on social media can be a lot cheaper than conventional means.
- Give them the information they need. Anybody can be on Twitter, but you should be the company on Twitter that actually gives people useful things, not just best wishes for the holidays.
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