The term "arms race" was initially used to describe the competition between two or more nations to establish the most powerful armed forces. Nowadays, the term is used to describe any situation where the goal is simply to stay ahead of the other party - and, as Joel York points out in a recent blog, it perfectly describes the current situation between IT buyers and sellers...
I very much enjoy Joel’s insights in his Chaotic Flow blog. In his most recent article he talks about the impact that increasingly well informed B2B buyers are having on the B2B marketing and sales process - and highlights the need to intelligently re-invent our approach to facilitating the B2B buying decision process.
Levelling the Knowledge Playing Field
Today’s information arms race - as it relates to the B2B buying decision process - is being fuelled by previously unthinkably easy access to information from a wide variety of sources at the click of a mouse. When I joined the IT industry it was easy for a sales person to come across as an expert. Now your prospect can quickly familiarise themselves with your products - and those of your competitors - with just a few minutes browsing.
The knowledge playing field has been levelled. Woe betide any sales person who knows less about their products or their markets than their prospect. There’s no point - and negative value - in telling the prospect what they already know. Now - more than ever - the sales person needs to contribute experience, insights and value the prospect could not easily uncover through their own research.
Provide Answers the Prospect Cannot Uncover for Themselves
As Joel points out, if they are to be of any value in the buying decision process, the sales person has to provide answers to questions the prospect cannot easily answer for themselves. But it goes beyond that - today’s sales people have to bring insights the prospect might not otherwise have considered, and ask provocative questions that cause the prospect to pause for thought.
I believe that if sales people are restore any semblance of balance to the information arms race, they have to think of themselves as problem solvers rather than product experts. Instead of sharing product information the prospect could easily have found out for themselves, they need to bring insights, user experiences, and a fresh perspective to the conversation.
A New Armoury for a New Generation of Sales People
We’re going to have to arm and equip our sales people in different ways. Giving them the same level of product information that an intelligent prospect could seek out for themselves is just the essential basic foundation for a customer conversation. We need to go far beyond that to prepare and equip them for the new realities.
We’re going to have to enable them to tell stories and anecdotes that share the experience of other customers who have faced similar situations to their current prospect. We’re going to have to equip them to bring a provocative point of view to the conversation - a perspective that encourages the prospect to think differently about what they are trying to achieve, and why.
Smarter Sales People, Smarter Questions
And we’re going to have to train them to ask intelligent questions that get to the heart of the issues the prospect is suffering from, to explore the consequences and impacts and to qualify the prospect’s interest and motivation to find an affordable, effective solution.
Some of our sales people won’t be able to master the transition - and we’ll be better off finding out sooner rather than later. Tomorrow’s successful sales people will have to exhibit a combination of cognitive skills and emotional intelligence far beyond that which would have sufficed to be a “good enough” performer in the past.
But there’s really no alternative. Today’s smarter, better informed buyers have upped the ante. If we’re to stay in the race, we have no alternative other than to up our own game.