New technology is changing the buying process. In the past, customers had little information about providers available to them and it was difficult to make direct product comparisons. Today, customers have multiple resources with which to identify, screen, and select vendors without contacting them and often reject sellers before the seller even knows they have been screened out. In fact, an American Marketing Association report indicates that 80% of customers find sellers before sellers find the customer. This is a significant change in how buyers buy and requires an equally significant change in how sellers sell.
In the past the sales process was the driver of the interaction between the customer and the seller. Salespeople prospected for new customers, led the identification of needs and requirements, proposed solutions, and “closed” the sale. Today, it is the buyers who are in charge of the sales process and they do not follow a linear process:
- They gather information independently on available solutions and options.
- Based on this initial scan, they define their basic requirements and often vet providers through their social networks.
- They screen potential providers, often without the providers’ knowledge, and then further refine their requirements.
- They use decision teams rather than a single decision maker so they can maximize the amount of information they extract from each potential provider and understand the impact on various functions.
- Only then does the formal purchasing process begin, and it often involves additional stakeholders such as procurement, executive buy-in, etc.
How does a sales force differentiate itself in an environment like this? Successful ones adapt their sales process to the buyer’s buying process and align with how the customer wants to buy.