A recent spate of research from big industry analysts found that buyers believe they are at least 60 percent done with their buying process before they seek out a salesperson. At the same time, ironically, there is documented evidence that 60 percent of qualified leads end the sales cycle in “no decision,” sticking with their status quo and buying nothing.
So if your prospects are 60 percent set in their decisions before they talk to salespeople, yet 60 percent of the time they choose to do nothing, are they really that close to making a decision?
Before you discard this research as irrelevant, let’s take a closer look at how the outlined issue impacts the content of your marketing messages, how you view your content marketing programs, and the way you decide to enable your salespeople.
Declared Preference vs. Revealed Preference
First, we need to sort out the reality from the rhetoric. What’s going on here is a classic case of what economists call “declared preference” versus “revealed preference.” They’ve known for years that people will say one thing when nothing is on the line, and then behave completely opposite when money and personal reputation is at stake.
This explains why buyers can be so confident that they don’t need salespeople--that they are guiding themselves through the buying process--yet become confused, concerned, and get cold feet when they actually have to make the decision.
The key takeaway for you as a marketer is this: The majority of buyers who think they are almost done with their purchase decisions are not even ready to change, let alone choose a specific company.
Marketing And Sales As Meaning Makers
Futurist George Dyson said that the most important people in our lives will be the “meaning makers.” They are the ones who can make sense of all the raw information and apply it to help facilitate good and proper decision making.
Your salespeople with their lips moving are your company’s greatest agents of meaning-making. And your ability as a marketer to help them create a buying vision for your prospects--to arm them with the best stories and skills to help potential customers see the need to change and view your offering as a valuable solution--is what will separate you from your competitors.
But these types of value-added sales conversations happen only if you develop the right content that inspires prospects to consider leaving their status quo, gives them the sense of urgency to do something different, and enables your sales reps to deliver that message in a compelling and differentiated dialogue.
For example, you need to develop campaigns based on problems or missed opportunities your prospect may not even realize they have. In the hands of your salespeople, these campaigns will help them with their hardest job--breaking through to get a meeting. Most prospects won’t take a meeting just because you have a new product. But they do want to know whether their objectives are at risk due to unconsidered needs. Helping your salespeople loosen the status quo to help capture that all-important first meeting is an often overlooked marketing step.
Once they get the meeting, your salespeople need to nail it. This doesn’t happen by accident. The winning companies are developing conversation aids, such as whiteboard stories, to drive these dialogues. Most executive buyers prefer conversations, not presentations, so providing your salespeople with provocative stories told with simple, concrete visuals is a great way to position them as consultative sellers with relevant, valuable insight to share. Not to mention that executives tend to participate in the earlier stage, vision-creation meetings, which are much better delivered as a whiteboarding session versus a PowerPoint show.
Death Of The Salesman?
The research mentioned earlier tries to convince marketers that the role of a salesperson might be slowly dying. Yet there’s even more recent research that contradicts these findings. The IT Sales and Marketing Association (ITSMA) just published findings stating that 70 percent of buyers want to engage with sales reps before they identify their shortlist--suggesting that the earlier research may be exaggerated at best, misleading at worst.
Instead of being relegated to the very last moments of a purchase decision and abdicating the majority of the buying cycle to marketing, ITSMA’s research reveals that salespeople are becoming even more crucial to helping buyers make a decision.
With such conflicting studies, I’ll once again refer you to the actual behavior of the buyers. The majority still need the help of a salesperson to make the decision to change--and make the decision to choose you. And it’s still your job to equip and enable your No. 2 communications channel--which is the spoken words taking place between a buyer and your company’s representative: the salesperson.