How far has a potential prospect progressed through their buying process before they engage with a seller for the first time? This seems to have become the most burning question of the season in the sales blogosphere.
Somehow this whole issue about a prospect’s level of investment in their own buying process before they initially interact with a salesperson has mushroomed into a major “argument” between various factions of sales and marketing “experts.”
My response is: who cares? It just doesn’t matter.
Is a potential prospect 0%, 50% or 75% of the way through their buying process when they first interact with a seller? First of all, is there a way to really pinpoint this number? No. And, secondly, does it really matter what the number is? Nope.
There’s research, and arguments of all sorts, being thrown about by each side in this pseudo-debate that attempt to delineate just how educated and empowered potential prospects truly are before they first engage with a seller in the course of their buying process. And, you know what? It really doesn’t matter.
If you want to believe that your prospects had absolutely no knowledge or interest in your product or service until you talked with them, great. But, that’s beside the point. It just doesn’t matter.
The point is that there is no single path a prospect follows that leads them to the point where they intersect with you, the seller. Whether they were dug up by a proactive prospecting call or were a true inbound sales lead, it just doesn’t matter.
The only thing that does matter are the steps you, the sales rep, take to quickly qualify and deliver value to these prospects to help them make faster, favorable decisions once you’ve been given the chance to participate in their buyer’s journey.
No one can dispute that the processes buyers use to gather information and evaluate products and services for purchase have changed. The Internet opened up that door years ago and your prospects have raced through it. The toothpaste has been squeezed from that tube and there’s no putting it back.
While it is true that there have been entire market segments in which the sales rep has been disintermediated from the sales equation (I love that word. It means to eliminate the middleman. In other words, you), that only occurred because sales reps added no value to the customer above and beyond that they found on the sellers’ websites. Who needs a sales person to help them buy pencils, copying machines, cameras, PCs, routers, servers, cars, clothes, shoes, books and so on? Even complex products with high price tags increasingly are being sold online with minimal sales intervention.
The bottom line is that your prospects don’t have an unlimited store of time to invest in buying your product or service. Rather than let you be the pacing item in their buyer’s journey, they will invest their own time to utilize the online resources available to them to help them reach a decision point faster.
However, does this mean that the salesperson is less important or less relevant to the prospect? Only if you let it be that way. Salespeople must be able to add value to the journey the buyer is on, irrespective of how, or when, that journey begins. As a sales person, you can’t control a prospect’s buying process. But, you can control the steps you take to become a value-providing partner to your buyers to accelerate their decision making process.
This means that you must continuously invest in your own development to ensure that you are always a source of the essential sales value your prospects need to make good decisions quickly. In other words, this sales value is information in the form of data, questions, insights and context, that your prospects can’t otherwise find for themselves online.
This is the minimum standard for sales relevance: you have to be a better source of value to your prospects than what’s available to them on the Internet. It’s this knowledge, experience and expertise that keeps you relevant to your prospects. If you don’t work hard to maintain that relevance, then you’ll disappear. Just like the pencil salesperson.
You may be the seller that triggered a prospect to start their buying journey. Or, perhaps the buyer initiated their buying process on their own and connected with you via an inquiry they submitted through your website. It just doesn’t matter.
Because, from that point on, the only relevant question is whether the you can quickly deliver the value your prospect requires in order to make a good decision with the least investment of their time possible. Do that and, more often than not, you’ll win the order.