Want to be a more effective seller? Meet buyers where they are to thrive amid a changing sales landscape.
If you’ve noticed that sales has become more difficult, you’re not alone. Among other reasons, the very nature of selling is undergoing a paradigm shift amid trends toward remote work and increased access to information online. This all means that sales representatives must adjust to change at lightning speed. But that’s easier said than done, right?
The first step to succeeding in this environment is to understand why it’s getting harder to sell. Here’s the thing: It’s not that buyers don’t need a relationship with salespeople. While it’s true the internet is a treasure trove of information, and most buyers research a multitude of options before even engaging a sales representative, that doesn’t mean they want to be ignored. In fact, 71% of buyers want to be contacted early in the sales process.
What’s Making Selling So Hard?
There’s no doubt that the art of selling is in the midst of a transformation. But understanding these changes can help you meet buyers where they are and experience greater success. Here are four reasons why selling is getting harder:
Sellers have fewer opportunities to influence buyers
The move toward self-service and autonomy is accelerating across industries, and it’s entering our daily lives. The vast majority of shoppers, for example, prefer self-service buying experiences, while about half of all American households order groceries online and use a delivery service. Preferences are similar for B2B buyers, who have an increasing desire for self-service. As a result, sales representatives have only about 5% of a customer’s time during the B2B buying process. The twin influences of a preference for self-service and lack of time with buyers means that the nature of sales is changing — and challenging.
Growing competition and shrinking budgets result in increasing scrutiny
Even before COVID-19, organizations were looking for ways to maximize profitability and get an edge over the competition. But the pandemic turned things upside down and created weaknesses in many companies’ financial planning. Both of these elements — the drive to beat the competition paired with damage done by the pandemic — have resulted in increased scrutiny around budgets.
Instead of settling on an annual budget and comparing forecasted spending to actual costs, many companies are now opting to review expenditures on a quarterly, or even monthly, basis. These “rolling forecasts” can also extend beyond the current fiscal year, allowing organizations to plan further ahead. Amid this kind of budget scrutiny, CFOs and other C-level executives may also require direct approval for many expenses. As a result, some may find closing deals can take more time, or upon executive review, have them canceled altogether.
Virtual meetings lack personal connection and are easier to ignore
Where sellers used to work toward sales by building credibility and relationships grounded in trust through in-person meetings, today those opportunities are rare. The personal connection that comes from a shared meal, or even a simple handshake, feels like a relic from the past. With fewer face-to-face meetings, these connections are more difficult to achieve, and it’s making selling harder.
Many business relationships have likely suffered due to the decrease in personal connection in recent years. Plus, we’ve all experienced a bit of Zoom fatigue, and it may be one of the reasons it’s more difficult to close a sale in a virtual meeting than face to face. The intensity of focus required for a video call can tire participants, and the nature of talking with someone across the digital divide makes it easier for participants to be distracted by email or other concerns. Plus, since we’ve learned that attention spans are shorter in virtual meetings, sales representatives must ensure that interactions are brief. The problem is, this can also result in video meetings being less substantive and focused, while also robbing sales reps of the opportunity to build trust and credibility in meaningful ways.
Sales timelines have compressed
The pace of sales has increased. Buyers tend to conduct research on their own when a business need is identified, which means sales representatives can be less involved than they used to be. Plus, B2B buyers prefer to dedicate less time to the buying process. They prefer speed, and this is driving quicker sales cycles in many industries.
While compressed sales timelines can offer opportunities for more deals, there are also drawbacks. If a prospect is hoping to move quickly, they may be less open to hearing from multiple sellers. So, you may only get one shot at making a good impression or articulating your value to buyers. Plus, the blistering pace can take a toll. One study found that 67% of salespeople are close to, or currently, experiencing burnout.
Selling Is Getting Harder — Here’s How You Can Succeed Anyway
Selling is getting harder — and that’s a problem. But this doesn’t mean that selling is now impossible. Let’s discuss some solutions that will help you more effectively connect with clients and close more deals.
Solution No. 1: Meet Buyers Where They Are
Since business is increasingly moving toward a digital and self-service model, it may sometimes feel like the personalized sales touch is no longer needed. But that’s not the case. When you meet prospects where they are, selling won’t feel so hard.
Provide a high-quality digital experience
Even before the pandemic, 50% of sales interactions were virtual. The truth is that virtual sales experiences can be much more efficient and cost-effective than face-to-face meetings. In fact, while the cost of self-service interactions is negligible, live-service interactions cost more than $13 apiece for B2B companies. It seems like a win-win, then, that Gartner predicts 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur over digital channels by 2025.
Since B2B buyers are seeking increased control over the buying experience, meet customers where they are by providing intuitive digital tools and a high-quality online buying experience.
Lean into email
Email has been around for decades, and for years experts have argued that it’s still one of the best ways to reach prospects. The same is true today as one study found that eight in 10 prospects prefer to be contacted via email.
The problem is that emails are often poorly crafted, leading with information about the seller’s product or service instead of highlighting the buyer’s needs. For sellers, it’s important to understand that email isn’t about you, it’s about the reader. When writing emails, your message must emphasize what the prospect has to gain from connecting with you. Give readers a compelling reason to get in touch with you, and it’s likely that they’ll do just that.
Just as organizations will be well served to meet prospects where they are with a high-quality digital buying experience, sales representatives should act on the same principle by utilizing email. Instead of the de facto preference for more face-to-face meetings or adding another Zoom call to a busy day, a well-crafted email can be used to initiate and maintain contact with prospects. Using email fits in with customer preferences, and using it well can set you apart from the competition.
Solution No. 2: Tell a Compelling Story
Prospects have more options than ever before, which means only the best messaging will break through the noise. When you tell a good story, you’ll be more likely to stand out and persuade buyers to work with you.
Like any good story, an email or other communication with prospects should rely on story structure to take the reader on a journey. Story structure is composed of three parts:
Start by providing readers with context such as the story’s setting and characters. It’s essential to keep in mind, though, that the message isn’t about you, it’s about the reader. Think about what’s going on in their worlds, what challenges they may be facing, and how you can help.
Understanding your audience will also allow you to establish the conflict: Clearly identify a problem that readers may wish to solve. Readers need this information early in the message, and it needs to be compelling enough to give them a reason to care and keep reading. Otherwise, you’ll wind up in their digital dustbin with the other 100 sales pitches they get throughout the day.
Next, describe your “big idea.” In other words, share the one thing that every fact or statistic you share will tie back to. The big idea is the thing that connects the WHY of your message — the context, such as setting, characters, and conflict — to the resolution. Be sure to emphasize that your big idea makes a strong business case for your product or service because it can help you get your foot in the door with buyers. In one study, 75% of C-level prospects said they will take a meeting if a sales representative can make an argument for ROI.
Finally, resolve the conflict presented at the beginning of the message, meeting, or other interaction by describing HOW your company can help. The best part is, talking about HOW you can help meets buyers where they are. They have a need, and you’re clearly showing them how you can meet it.
Always Take an Audience-centric Approach
When selling gets hard, it’s easy to double down and focus more heavily on what you offer and why your company offers a valuable solution. Although it’s important to make your value proposition clear, remember to always take an audience-centric approach, instead of making it all about you. This will help you provide a high-quality digital experience, tell a compelling story, and meet buyers where they are — allowing you to close more deals, despite today’s selling challenges.