Bring your sales back from the dead

About five years ago, Daniel Pink penned a book called To sell is human, in which he talked about a shift from the era of ‘buyer beware’ to ‘seller beware’.

Daniel noted that in the past, researching a purchase took a lot of time and effort. That meant that many buyers didn’t bother with research and just took sales reps at their word.

Unfortunately, some got their fingers burnt. Buyer beware indeed.

Then the internet came along.

Today, buyers can get all the information they need online – from user reviews to comparison tools to check how one product stacks up against a rival’s.

This shift in power, from seller to buyer, has had a big impact on the role of sales and how it’s perceived.

According to Forrester, 68% of B2B buyers would rather access information online than interact with a salesperson, while 62% rely solely on digital content to set their selection criteria and finalise their vendor list .

And it gets worse: only 35% of buyers say they like salespeople.

Given those stats, you’d be forgiven for assuming the role of the sales rep is dead, it’s ceased to be – it’s B2B’s dead parrot.

And yet…76% of buyers still find speaking to a sales exec helpful.

Because the truth is, many buyers feel overwhelmed by the amount of information online (they’re sceptical about its integrity, too).

When it comes to more complex, higher-risk purchases, buyers still turn to salespeople to help them cut through the noise and get reassurance they’re making the right decisions.

Turns out we’re not witnessing the death of the salesman after all – we’re seeing the rebirth.

Helping is the new selling

Vendors that make buying easy are 62% more likely than other suppliers to win a high-quality sale – but easy doesn’t simply mean providing an option to buy online.

It means helping buyers navigate the marketplace by curating information, content and reviews.

It means playing the long game and focusing on building relationships, not pushing sales.

Ultimately, it means helping buyers make the decision that’s right for them, not the brand.

Sales execs questioning how they stand to benefit from this new reality might want to ponder this fact – buyers are five times more likely to engage with them if they offer insight about their industry.

5 things buyers want from sales reps

And if execs still need convincing, the CEB’s graphic below should help – it reveals the thing that customers value most in a commercial relationship is a clued-up rep.

Insight is the vehicle through which sales can influence and shape the customer’s perception of their own needs.

How reps deliver insight really matters

‘Helping not selling’ is all about reps becoming trusted advisors and changing their relationships with buyers – and that includes how they reach out.

This’ll come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever been cold-called, but according to LinkedIn:

  • Cold calls are the least effective way to get B2B buyers’ attention.
  • Only 4% of B2B buyers have a favourable impression of a salesperson who reached out cold.

Social, on the other hand, is a whole different story, according to the IDC:

  • 91% of B2B buyers are active on social media
  • 84% of senior execs use social media to support purchasing decisions
  • 75% of B2B buyers are significantly influenced by social media

75% of B2B buyers are significantly influenced by social media

Good marketing empowers sales

Clearly, sales needs to embrace a whole new way of operating. But for many reps, the help-don’t-sell mantra will feel counter-intuitive. They’re going to be looking to marketers for support – for content and tools that they can actually use. (Fact: 90% of marketing deliverables aren’t used by sales.)

90% of marketing deliverables aren't used by sales

Here’s how marketing can pull its weight.