I heard it with my own ears. Right here in Nashville at SiriusDecisions’ annual summit. After surveying more than 1,000 B2B execs this year, the big brains at SiriusDecisions announced this morning that B2B buyers interact with sales reps during every phase of the buyer’s journey – yep, even during that famous first 67% of the journey that takes place digitally.
So, it turns out that digital buying behaviors are not squeezing out the role of the B2B sales professional. Far from it. What’s more, the sales presentation itself is one of the two biggest influences in the buying decision (tied for first place with the analyst report). This puts the impact of the sales presentation ahead of other content such as articles and publications, whitepapers, promotional videos, infographics, and the like.
This is huge. And here are the first three things I would do about it.
SiriusDecisions has done a great job on this one (thanks, Marisa Kopec and Jennifer Ross for an excellent presentation), and there are a ton of other insights coming out of their study. But let’s take the role of the sales reps and their sales presentations as a critical starting place. If I were a sales or marketing leader in any B2B organization right now, there are three things I would do immediately:
1. Stop looking for digital silver bullets.
Digital is vital. We all need to be there. But let’s stop kidding ourselves. No matter how much we interact with our prospects online, digital will never cut the sales rep out of the buyer’s journey. There isn’t a tool or technique in the world that can replace the essential human interaction with your sales reps. (The SiriusDecisions’ folks spoke about buyers needing trust, confidence, and validation.)
2. Put my “educational” sales presentations under the microscope.
Not only do buyers interact with sales reps at every phase of the buyer’s journey, but they interact the most during the first phase – the educational phase. Did you get that? The sales professional is a critical player in the earliest phase of the journey – the stage where buyers are deciding if there’s a reason to make a change. This is not when they’re evaluating solutions or choosing vendors. It’s when they’re doing the stuff that too many marketing leaders assumed only took place online.
Bottom line? When your prospects first start learning, your reps better be out there teaching. Don’t wait to engage them later in the buyer’s journey. If your reps aren’t educating the buyer, your competitors’ reps will be doing it for you.
3. Look harder at the sales deck. And then look behind it.
We now have proof of just how important the sales presentation is to the buyer. So, shouldn’t B2B marketers give that presentation as much attention as consumer marketers give their Super Bowl ads?
And more importantly … what about the presenters themselves? Ultimately, the sales presentation is the words coming out of the sales professional’s mouth. We know the sales rep is key (thanks, Sirius) and the sales presentation is key (thanks again, Sirius). So, marketing and sales now know they need to focus more efforts here – where they can make the most impact on the buying decision.
We continually hear of sales reps who are begging their sales and marketing leaders, “Just tell me what to say.” If you’re really going to equip your teams to win more business, you’ve got to give them more than slides. You’ve got to give them the words – the pitches and stories and differentiators that bring their sales presentation to life.
As I said, the findings from SiriusDecisions’ “2015 B-to-B Buying Study” just came out today. So, there will be a lot of other action items to add to this list once we’ve all had time to digest the research. But there’s no time like the present, and these are three things I would get started on immediately – if not sooner.