Today, business buyers can exert greater control over the sales process than at any time in the past. They have their choice of vendors and make decisions on their terms. These business-to-business (B2B) decision-makers are used to personalized and frictionless buying experiences; they book vacations through Airbnb and use one-click shopping on Amazon. Their expectations as consumers inform how they discover, research and buy products across the board.
While leading consumer brands have adapted to a buyer-first world, many B2B companies may struggle to make the transition. According to 2017 Accenture research, 90% of B2B leaders surveyed say customer experience is very important to achieving their strategic priorities, but just 20% of companies excel at it. It’s no wonder that the sales process still involves cold calls, generic emails and opaque pricing.
Sales pros should take inspiration from brands that have nailed the customer experience. Among the best examples I’ve seen are direct-to-consumer (D2C) players — brands like Rent the Runway, Glossier and Casper that popped up in the last decade and are now valued at $1 billion or more. To meet modern buyer expectations, I believe it’s imperative that sales leaders take cues from direct-to-consumer (D2C), buyer-first strategies. Here’s how.
1. Make the digital experience feel human.
D2C companies make digital touchpoints feel personal. Take the clothing subscription service Rent the Runway, which uses data to recommend items that fit an individual’s style and body type, as well as photos and reviews from similar customers. The mattress startup Casper, meanwhile, offers a self-service buying process with the option to text, call or chat witha “sleep specialist” for advice.
For buyers today, conventional sales approaches can feel cold and impersonal in comparison to these tailored experiences. In our 2018 State of Sales report, my company found that B2B decision makers are more likely to consider a product or service when the buying process is tailored to them — for instance, 93% of those surveyed said they’re more likely to consider a brand if a sales professional provides personalized communications.
Instead of sending hundreds of automated emails, the most effective sellers can take the time to offer useful advice that meets their buyer’s specific needs. Every point of contact should add real value; otherwise, it probably won’t compete in a buyer’s flooded inbox. For example, if a prospect mentions on social media that they are kicking off an evaluation process, a salesperson might be better served by suggesting effective ways to approach the process than by trying to immediately push for a demo.
2. Understand sources of credibility.
Ratings and reviews matter more than ever, and many successful D2C players have grown from obscure startups to beloved brands by tapping into the power of peer-to-peer marketing. The makeup and skincare company Glossier, for example, seems to understand that its target customers are heavily influenced by their peers and by social media. Glossier engages its customers as influencers by sharing their content on Instagram; even its showrooms are designed to encourage selfie-taking. By tapping into its user base for advocates, Glossier builds buzz and a trusted brand.
Trust is even more critical when it comes to complex and expensive B2B purchases. My company’s State of Sales survey found that 51% of decision-makers rank trust as the No. 1 quality they value in a salesperson. The sad reality is that customers may not perceive salespeople as credible because they have a vested interest in closing the deal.
Sellers should aim to build trust over time while identifying other sources of credibility. Who else influences buyers’ decisions? What commentary do they offer, whether it’s positive or negative? B2B sellers can foster a community for users or engage industry leaders who believe in the product and are willing to share their experience. Hosting dinners or other networking events is a great way for salespeople to strengthen relationships with advocates and create mutual value.
3. Remove friction from the buying process.
While the B2B sales cycle takes time and requires a series of conversations, the process should be seamless from the first point of contact through the close of the deal. Casper offers a great example — the company has turned the chore of mattress shopping into something simple and fun. Customers can easily evaluate different products through customer reviews and mattress comparisons, which include clear pricing and features. If they want to try out a mattress, they can book a 20-minute “sleep trial” at a brick-and-mortar store, which looks more like a home than a showroom.
Imagine if the B2B sales cycle was built around a similar approach. Instead of pushing for a sale or a meeting, sales pros could focus on saving time and eliminating points of friction for the buyer and then be available at key decision making moments. I’d be delighted if a salesperson identified my needs and then sent me relevant information in a digestible format — for example, a short video explaining the value proposition and an auto-scheduler to find the most convenient time for a demo. In this scenario, my needs as a buyer are front and center, while the actual selling is nearly invisible.
It’s time to embrace this buyer-first model. As sales leaders look to the future, they should consider lessons from the direct-to-consumer world. The organizations that create human, trusted and frictionless experiences can both improve their bottom lines and build relationships that last long after the deal closes.
This article first appeared in www.forbes.com
Guest Author: Justin Shriber is Vice President of Marketing, LinkedIn Sales and Marketing Solutions.