Many buyers no longer seek as much education from company reps as they did before. They can execute much of their research and product discovery online well before talking to a salesperson. Because of the wealth of information available to prospects, salespeople have been pushed much further back in the buying process.
Corporate sales training still needs to catch up to this state of affairs. The concept of a buyer moving neatly along some imaginary sales funnel doesn’t quite jibe with reality. The buyer’s journey looks more like spaghetti than a straight line, with certain steps in the traditional funnel revisited multiple times or skipped altogether.
There is something salespeople can do to become more relevant to potential customers at earlier stages in their buying process. Become one of the sources of online information buyers are looking at when they first start researching – a subject matter expert (SME).
However, just putting out large streams of content isn’t the answer. Good corporate sales training programs have caught onto content marketing, and that only goes so far. It’s been said that information quality is no longer the problem (lots of great content out there!), the problem is information quantity. There is simply too much content out there to digest!
So, the sweet spot in the equation is to become so proficient in your industry that buyers turn to you to make sense of it all.
Start making sense
In Gartner’s The Sense Making Seller, they describe three types of information sharing approaches sellers take with buyers. These are:
• Giving the buyer information for them to peruse on their own (least effective, as extraneous information may enter which overwhelms buyers)
• Telling buyers the information (more effective because less information is given, reducing chances of “analysis paralysis”)
• Making sense of the information buyers have and need to make decisions (most effective as it most relates data to buyer’s needs)
Based on their surveys, the “sense-making” approach was the most highly rated quality transaction by buyers (eight out of 10) compared to the other two. High quality is defined as one where buyers did not express regret after the transaction.
Each time sellers gave more information, without explaining why it mattered or how it fit into the grand scheme of things, buyers then became less confident and wanted to verify the data – hindering the buying decision. Internal corporate sales training programs should instruct trainees on how to deliver the essentials and filter out superfluous information.
SMEs reach buyers earlier
As illuminated above, corporate sales training should teach sellers they should not only become subject matter experts regarding their industry and product/service, but also masters at distilling the most pertinent information for their prospects. And even before prospective buyers contact you, you can use these principles in online marketing and not only reach buyers as they search online, but preemptively summarize key points so they make more sense.
Here are a few ways this can be accomplished with content marketing platforms most salespeople and sales departments already employ.
• Blogs: Summarize industry news, trends, and solutions in easily digestible forms.
• Social Media Posts: Curate the most helpful content from around the Web and add your own spin as to why each matters.
• Podcasts: Explain how the subject of the podcast directly relates to your ideal customers’ pain points.
• Video Content: Emphasize why this content makes sense to watch for businesses seeking to solve X.
It helps to subscribe to the top content providers in your industry yourself so you can stay abreast of trends and help gather the best information out there for potential buyers.
The goal is to be visible in search engines and social media with succinct answers to the most common questions prospects will search for in Google, Bing, or other search engines. If buyers come across your brand repeatedly across multiple platforms, and you help them make sense of all the data out there, you will establish SME status. This increases the likelihood of a contact early in the information gathering stage.
Here are some tips on applying the SME “sense-making” approach to your selling efforts in the future.
• While you can focus on the most obvious buyer issues in creating and curating content from a marketing standpoint, when dealing with a buyer one-on-one, don’t assume they fit into some kind of box. Instead, delve deep into their individual pain points and use your expertise to explain how your proposed solution makes sense – backed up with outside data if needed.
• If you listen more than you speak, your buyers will usually reveal exactly what doesn’t make sense to them. If you speak more than you listen, you will likely explain things they have no interest in.
• Keep in mind that becoming an SME is just the first step – knowing how to distill your hard-won knowledge so the person in front of you understands the most relevant points is where the money is made.
Corporate sales training which covers sense-making as an approach, as opposed to simply giving or telling buyers information, will make better salespeople. The key is to listen and, in the words of Earl Nightingale, “Keep It Simple, Stupid” so your buyers can make easier decisions.