Have you noticed like us that the world of selling has fundamentally changed?
Why? Well we put it down to heightened competition and the internet, which have resulted in a profound change in buying behaviour.
Crowded markets and huge budgetary pressure mean customers are demanding more return for their money than ever. Meanwhile, the internet has all the information they need to make an informed buying decision, so they simply don’t need sales at the ‘awareness’ stage of the buying process like they used to – something many of us have failed to realise.
Then there’s social media, which provides a forum for discussion about the problems, issues and challenges customers are facing, helping them create their own ‘buying vision’ – the products and services they need to make their businesses more successful.
We’ve found that all this has put customers at least two steps ahead of the traditional sales approach – our chart mapping the Sales Process explains this.
So how can you get ahead? Well, the key is to influence the customer’s buying vision. With 65% of customers preferring to buy from a company that first helps them establish their buying vision, according to Forrester Research, it’s no longer enough to react to the demands of your customers – you need to shape them.
We’ve found that the best way to do this is to begin the sales process much earlier.
Shaping demand by helping to create the buying vision for your customers sits right at the top of the sales pipeline, way above where sales journeys traditionally start. From our experience, this is not the time to make direct contact, but rather to listen. This can be a major step change, which can take your salespeople right out of their comfort zone. But like us, you and your whole team will find it’s worth it.
So what do we mean by listening? Well, just like customers use the internet to inform their buying decisions, we’ve found it’s also a great place to start helping them to create their buying vision. By listening to your market, you can begin to understand the risks and opportunities that will eventually shape what they need.
This could be through LinkedIn, which has discussion groups dedicated to most sectors, where you can monitor key market topics. We’ve also noticed that many sectors have dedicated online networking forums run by industry bodies. In fact, according to Genius, 48% of internet users follow industry conversations on their specific topic, while 37% post questions on social networking sites looking for suggestions.
Often industry bodies and companies also run webinars on important topics relating to their sector, addressing key challenges and issues. These are also great for getting under the skin of your market.
Beyond the internet, trade shows and conferences provide a good way to listen to your customers. One of our clients has also found that getting involved in CPD – continued professional development – for their sector works well.
So what are you listening for?
You’re looking for insight into the state of the market – how healthy and active it is. This allows you to evaluate its readiness to do business. You’re also tapping into the problems people are experiencing, as these could be areas where you could deliver solutions through your own offer, and in doing so help them overcome critical barriers to their business’ success.
Having researched the key touch points and taken the temperature of the market, as well as clarifying the issues it faces, you can start to get involved and gain access. Perhaps not through direct contact with individual customers quite yet, but rather by joining the industry debate through sharing key insights.
We always look for key triggers:
– Has the market experienced growth and why?
– Is there a revolutionary product about to be launched?
– Have you noticed on social media that someone has changed their job?
And we use these triggers as a basis for engagement.
We ask if people are experiencing the issues we’ve come across. We contribute to discussions on key topics. We engage with the community.
More importantly, we’ve found it’s vital to challenge people’s thinking with innovative ideas and disruptive insights, while exploring possible solutions. This builds your profile and gives you a uniqueness to set you apart from your competitors.
By doing this you’re also showing your expertise, proving your commitment to the sector and adding value to its members – all of which builds trust, while sparking potentially key business relationships.
More importantly you’re becoming an influencer and helping create people’s buying vision.
We’ve found that once you’ve identified an issue your customers are facing and have shown them solutions you have seen work in practice, they have a better idea of their needs and a clearer buying vision, which could well be your product or service. Suddenly, you are shaping demand.
This will also put you in sync with your customers and enable you to work with them to deliver what they want when they want it – while your competitors are still waiting for sales enquiries.
So get ahead of your competition and your customers by dragging yourself out of your comfort zone and shaping demand. The challenge starts here…
For more on shaping demand and improving your sales process contact Cathy on 0118 952 6993 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org