At our recent Summit, we shared data that confirmed what many of our clients have been telling – that their reps are invited into the buying process later and later as buyers become better educated by doing more research before ever calling on a rep. This is particularly true in the case of today’s senior-level decisionmakers. In our study of senior-level buying habits, we wanted to know where the typical CXO (e.g. CEO, CFO, CIO) goes to get educated during a purchasing decision he/she is involved in. Here are the primary sources:

  • 25 percent use the Internet
  • 22 percent leverage an external peer
  • 22 percent rely on internal colleagues
  • 20 percent utilize an industry analyst
  • 11 percent join social media communities
  • Bottom line: By the time salespeople are knocking on the door at “mahogany row,” that CXO they are calling on has done a good deal of research online; in fact, these leaders have probably already begun to build not only a vision of what their needs are, but also what the possible solution looks like.

    There is an apt analogy to what is happening in the world of B2B marketing/sales and the medical profession. Some 10 to 15 years ago, a patient would see a doctor when symptoms reached a point where a problem might be perceived, but the patient had no idea what the actual ailment could be. They walked into the doctor’s office aware of the symptoms, but relied on the doctor for the diagnosis.

    Fast-forward to today’s more informed patient. Watching a commercial about a new pharmaceutical drug may alert a patient that symptoms thought harmless may possibly indicate a more serious ailment. The patient might hop onto sites like WebMD and MedicineNet to confirm symptoms, gather more information on the sickness and explore potential cures. The patient may also join discussion groups and review blog posts. By the time the patient is sitting in the doctor’s office, he or she is already convinced about what condition they have, and also what the treatment should be. Doctors have needed to learn how to use the research a patient has done as part of the diagnostic process. By discounting this research, a physician would risk alienating a patient as well as possibly missing some vital information (e.g. if the information and insights the patient has developed are useful). The smart physician leverages the patient’s research to help understand what the true problem may be – which may or may not match the patient’s diagnosis.

    Much like today’s typical patient, B2B buyers are doing more and more researching online and self-diagnosing. By the time a rep is invited into their decision process, there may exist a preordained need in the mind of the buyer and a preordained solution. Sales and marketing need to work together to engage this new type of buyer:

    • Marketing becomes the proxy for the early sales call. It used to be reps were involved earlier in the buying process, positioned to influence both the perceived needs and the solutions a buyer might consider. Without the ability for sales to engage buyers early, it becomes increasingly important for marketing to do its homework on the buyer – using research and analysis to determine the tactics most likely to resonate with the prospect. Marketing’s effectiveness will then become evident by how often buyers, when eventually meeting with reps, articulate their needs and desired solutions in terms of your offerings. 
    • Sales needs to re-engineer their dialogues. Classic consultative selling skills have taught reps to develop buyer needs through the use of effective questioning, listening and the ability to connect needs with relevant product/solution features and benefits. While these skills are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago, the focus on early sales calls must move from needs creation to needs forensics. Salespeople must use the skills of questioning and listening to understand what the preordained need and preconceived solution look like, the process used to arrive at those conclusions and how committed the buyer is to that vision. If there’s a match between need and solution, it may make sense to move forward; if not, the rep must make the call whether a match can still be found through further dialogue, or be prepared to move on. 
    • Ultimately, in the pursuit of today’s more informed buyers, marketing and sales must always be ready to self-diagnose what’s working and what’s not; after all, there’s no better cure for what ails your bottom line than those five magic words: “You have got a deal.”