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Is Your Sales Experience Valuable to Buyers?

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A recent study from McKinsey on the basics of B2B sales success notes that “B2B customers say they care most about product + price, but what they really want is a great sales experience.” Hmmm …

Are buyers getting valuable sales experiences? I wonder. As firms have moved to squeeze more revenues from sales teams, they’ve created activity-based accountabilities; sales cultures in which if what you’re doing isn’t working, ‘try harder’. Do more with less. The result: sales people are often too busy to be helpful to buyers. As a consequence, the hardest thing for buyers to find, these days? Help.

It’s created a stark disconnect between what sales teams do + what buyers seek. Sales teams are communicating value. Content distribution + consumption metrics are king. Lead scores emerge. Sales calls get made. Activities get recorded. Everyone on the sales team is really busy. Often so busy they haven’t the time to be exceptionally helpful. They’re spending half their time NOT selling. Perhaps being busy is counter-productive.

Buyer’s confirm it in McKinsey’s findings. Of the many habits that undermine the sales experience, over 1/3 involved contacting customers too frequently.

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Their findings suggest customers want fewer, more meaningful interactions with sales people. This aligns with what sales experts like Neil Rackham, Jill Konrath, + John Monoky have been saying. Sales teams should shift from being busy to being productive; from communicating value to creating value. Give buyers help that’s so helpful, they’d pay for it if asked. To the helpful will go the rewards. The gold in this conclusion? McKinsey estimates hi performing sales teams can boost their share of their customers’ business by 8-15%.

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9 Responses to Is Your Sales Experience Valuable to Buyers?

  1. Andy says:

    John: You've asked some great questions. There are trade-offs in the helpful/valuable equation. It's helpful to buyers if I discount 40% or if I include one year of unlimited support. Valuable, even. But what gets lost in the equation is that a vendor needs to put what they do to help buyers in context. A vendor has scarce resources to be helpful, and they must be parsed in a way that isn't arbitrary.

    If I give buyers help that's so valuable they'd pay for it if asked, will I leave money on the table? (Anyone reading this offered a "free pilot" installation to a prospect without getting something needed or valuable from the buyer in return?)

    I agree that vendors can boost sales productivity in some measure by simply reallocating low-productivity activities to ones that buyers value. That requires thinking from the outside-in. When buyers buy, what do they do? What do they value? In what timeframe? In what order? What's a "deal breaker" if it's not available? These questions are not easy to answer, and it often takes research to uncover the answers.

  2. John Cousineau, CEO, innovativeinfo says:

    Andy: Thxs for your feedback. Mine on yours:

    >> … put what they do to help buyers in context …
    Agreed. When contexts are lacking, value of help offered is questionable.

    >> … takes research to uncover the answers …
    Yep. I favor a model in which such research is an on-going part of sales operations, fed by real-time metrics on Return on Effort, based on buyer journeys. If we want processes that are higher performing, we need proof that in the 'trying' we're actually getting somewhere (or not). Faster we can research/detect these things, faster the fixes will come.

  3. Ardath says:

    Hi John,

    Interesting post. To be helpful would indicate that salespeople "know" their buyers, as well as the buyer journey, as you state. But they don't. This is where the frequency of contact becomes undesirable. Calling just to "check in" is not helpful. Calling with a business reason, offering something valuable in return for the buyer's attention is.

    A few stats to add to the discussion from a recent report from Scott Santucci at Forrester:

    Of the IT executives interviewed for the April 2010 study, only 15% of executives believe that their meetings with salespeople are valuable and live up to their expectations.
    Reasons given according to the report:
    • Business leaders (24%) don’t believe salespeople are knowledgeable about their specific business.
    • Only 34% of buying executives said salespeople understand their roles and responsibilities.
    • And across the board, only 38% feel that reps are prepared to answer their questions.

    That pretty much sums up where buyers find salespeople lacking. We have to get our foundations correct in order to build valuable conversations.

    Thanks for getting me thinking!

  4. John Cousineau, CEO, innovativeinfo says:

    Ardath: Thxs for your feedback. Mine on yours:

    >> … only 15% of [IT] executives believe that their meetings with salespeople are valuable …
    Interesting. A related number, from Neil Rackham: 80% of buyers say they've had a conversation with a sales person that was so valuable they'd have paid for it. The flip of this? They report that it happens *very* rarely.

    >> … have to get our foundations correct …
    Agreed. IMO, starts with giving Reps feedback on how many of their conversations are triggering buyers to advance + re-engage in further conversations. When it's clearer to Reps which of their practices are creating buyer value (proven by what buyers go on to do, rather than what they say), we'll be part way to having the foundations needed with which to improve our buyers' Return-on-Effort from conversing with our Reps.

    Thanks for getting *me* thinking, again. - John

  5. gary says:

    The great question is, “What is a great customer experience?” My answer will cut across the grain. Throw out the stats, because they have nothing to do with the personal experience. Long after the product or service are gone only one thing remains, the memory. What story did you leave for the buyer to remember and recant?

    Twenty plus years of selling precision machine tools in the five and six-figure price range netted me a couple of thousand sales. In my possession are the folders for most of those deals. Inside the folders are a couple of thousand stories, one for each sale. Those stories, those memories, are the customer experience.

    There’s much more to the customer experience than cost, value, fulfillment, and service. There’s much more to breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings than a nice meal and a few jokes. Creating a great customer experience begins with giving of yourself. And a great personal experience trumps all of the measurable metrics.

    Bob Costas interviewed Willie Mays while Barry Bonds was chasing Aaron’s home run record. Willie, Bond’s godfather, said,” Barry has a big mouth and doesn’t know how to entertain the crowd. People come to the ballpark to be entertained.” Willie was famous for losing and catching his hat while running the bases. He admitted to Bob that he intentionally wore his hat one size to large just to entertain the fans. He loved creating a great experience; it showed and that is remembered beyond his amazing stats.

    Whether it’s baseball, politics, or sales, people want a Willie Mays. They want a story they can tell on the golf course, at the club, or to their sales team. There’s a lot of sales people like Barry Bonds and few like Willie Mays.

    Gary S. Hart

  6. mikewhitmore says:

    John, you've tapped onto something I've seen both as a sales executive and as a sales manager - sales people will make multiple and ineffective contacts with potential clients so the sales person can report back on "activity" rather than "productivity."

    Transactional selling combined with the sales management and reporting tools changed sales into a numbers game that spans the entire sales process. Clients do not appreciate being a statistic or contacted "when the manager is coming to town."

    Playing this numbers game is what sales people are "paid to do" rather than really taking the time to understand a client's business. They invest little time in understanding their client's role in supporting the business and how the sales person can help the client achieve their goals.

    Great piece John.

  7. John Cousineau, CEO, innovativeinfo says:

    Gary: Great points. I agree with your premise that there's great value in *great + memorable* sales experiences. My take: when sales people have measuable proof of whether or not they're creating such experiences, they go on to create more of them. They perfect their perfect practices.

  8. John Cousineau, CEO, innovativeinfo says:

    Mike: Thanks 4 your feedback. IMO, there's value in sales being a numbers game. Business, after all, involves a lot of math + sales is a key part of that math. What's needed is a different kind of numbers game. One that shifts away from activity-driven analyses of how we're going, to analyses of activity effectiveness, based on buyer journeys.

  9. lpscott says:

    John, your article and report from McKinsey are both very interesting. Also some very good comments above. I agree that adding value when speaking or meeting with a potential buyer is critical. There were several comment and mentions regarding getting to know the customer and the fine line with meeting with them to really get to know them. This is where IMO using the various social media channels come into play. By using social media as one of your research tools and connecting with the potential buyer (and their peers) you will have an opportunity to truly understand their business, needs, and issues. When I consult with my clients regarding how or where to start in social media, I always have them build this into their social media strategy. Focus on the WHO is your ideal client, then your specific WHAT issue or problem you can solve for them, and finally build your social media strategy around this information. Once you have that, then you can determine how to approach the various social media channels. If you spend 20-30 minutes each day “visiting” your potential buyers. Doing this enable you to “visit” 15-30 potential buyers each day (typically you can target 50 and almost visit each of them daily). Once you’ve done this for a short period, you will then be able to truly add value when physically speaking or meeting with them.

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