It’s old news that today’s B2B buyers engage salespeople later in the sales process. We recently surveyed veteran salespeople and found that 67 percent of them expected to be brought into the decision process when their buyers were already well on their way to considering a solution, or even later in the buyer’s journey.

(Please note: Read the previous sentence carefully before tweeting this stat; we are NOT saying that the sales process is 67 percent over by the time reps are brought in).

This shift has a significant impact on B2B marketers, as they are now responsible for the early interactions that sales used to handle. Generic, broad messaging won’t cut it any more. Marketing content needs to connect to the stakeholders that play a part in the decision process.

To meet these content needs, marketers (with the help of sales) are creating personas – complete with roles, responsibilities, objectives and challenges – to produce messaging that they hope will resonate with each persona’s unique point of value. Personas are a best practice for managing the brave new world of the enabled buyer.

While sales reps may be engaging later, they are still engaging – and their time to influence and persuade is being accelerated. Regardless of when they engage in the decision process, one truth remains: Personas are rational – but people often aren’t.

Personas are not in a bad mood because they were stuck in traffic that morning and decided to take it out on that sales rep waiting in the lobby. Personas don’t have it in for the guy in the next office in order to get the next promotion. Personas don’t tell you they are seriously considering your product when, in actuality, you’re just price fodder so they can negotiate down your competitor.

You get the idea. While we may market to personas, we sell to people.

When folks talk about the art of selling, they often mean a salesperson’s ability to manage the human side of a decision process (e.g. internal politics, relationships dynamics, personalities, the buyer’s corporate culture).

Buyers often make buying decisions for very irrational reasons. I’ve won deals simply because the client said my closing presentation was better than my competitor’s. I’ve lost deals simply because I failed to personally connect with one or two of the key players – even though I knew I had a solution that was a better fit for their needs than my competition.

Part of the art of selling is assessing and understanding a buyer’s personal drivers. Call it reading the person or empathy – it’s a rep’s ability to adapt his or her selling style based on the following buyer drivers:

  • Control. Control-minded buyers set the agenda before you can. They have the power and want you to know it. The rep’s strategy needs to be give-and-take. Give control at some points in the call and take control at others. Buyers with this driver will test you – challenging and provoking them may be a good strategy.
  • Goals. These buyers care about one thing: results. Be as quantitative as possible and show how your solution will meet their requirements and help them get their job done.
  • Recognition. When you visit buyers with high recognition needs, you see trophies, awards and photos with prominent folks displayed at the office. They like to share their opinions and be seen as subject matter experts. Sales should make these buyers look good and give ample recognition.  (Author’s note: I have ridiculously high recognition needs, so be sure to share this blog post via social channels.)
  • Affiliation. Being part of a team is important to buyers with high affiliation needs; they like to be around people and tend to not work at home in isolation. Your reps must accept that these buyers will likely bring others in on the decision. Relationships tend to be important to them, and reps will need to develop one to earn their trust.
  • Logic. These buyers want to get into the details of a solution and are comfortable when an established process is defined and followed. Reps who try to skip steps or accelerate the decision process with a logic-focused buyer will face resistance. Call this “selling to Dr. Spock.”
  • Security. Security-driven buyers are not risk-takers. If you are selling a new-concept or new-paradigm solution, a buyer with high security needs may not be the right place to start. They look for the risks in bringing in a solution from a vendor and need proof that a vendor can back up its claims and processes.
  • Ultimately, buying and selling is about a series of human-to-human interactions. It is often unpredicable and rarely linear (which is why forecasting can be so tough –we are trying to predict human behavior). As B2B buyers and the decision process continue to evolve, with more reliance on online interactions, offline interactions with a rep will still make the difference between a closed deal and a lost deal. After all, buyers are people, too.