*Originally published on CommercialIntegrator.com
It’s time to shift several paradigms. Let’s begin with looking at how people buy today versus the recent past from a marketing and sales perspective.
In our industry, the only people that don’t realize that we are experiencing a seismic shift in both marketing and sales are those that are not involved in marketing and sales… or with those buying AV systems. Back in the day buyers called a vendor, and then waited for a salesperson to darken their door and provide all the information they needed to make an informed decision.
Even in the early days of the internet, information online had not yet evolved to the level of sophistication and detail necessary to make decisions that could be called informed. The salesperson filled in the blanks. Knowing what we know today it is somewhat shocking that some salespeople still think their role is to simply fill in those blanks. The world that buyers reside in has become more complex as have the systems they purchase and manage.
As AV designers and integrators we need to understand their situation, what they face internally, problems, pain points and how to effectively address the world they live in from their perspectives. It begins with how they get information. Research done by Gartner speaks to “evolving buying dynamics” and that it has two independent but parallel themes they call “digital and difficulty.”
Digital Enablement & Differentiation
When they speak of digital enablement, they are referring to the amount and availability of information at the buyer’s disposal. Part of the problem is the sheer amount, but the biggest challenge is in finding differentiation.
In a recent survey it shows that 89% of buyers said the information they acquired online was of high quality but in comparison to other digital resources they tended to all look the same resulting in a “stalemate.” In many cases buyers encountered vendors who take the “we are better” path but they also found inconsistencies in those claims and comparisons with others. Once again this shows that many companies and their products simply look the same and the conundrum for the buyer is who to believe among those that look credible.
In simple terms, all the contradictory information results in a reduction of confidence on the part of the buyers. While the veritable mountain of digitally sourced information available to the buyer coupled with their inability to discern one from another is one part of the buyer’s challenge, there is another daunting obstacle in their way. It is easy (and erroneous) to think in terms of there being one buyer or a couple of people making the buying decisions.
Research shows that ten years ago the number of individual stakeholders involved in a complex buying decision was five but today that number has grown to “over 11 and occasionally flexing up to nearly 20.” Put yourself on pause for a moment. Stop and consider the complexity that is internal to a company and the difficulty in navigating through this maze.
Looking at this from a buyer’s perspective, research shows that 80% of those interviewed questioned their ability to navigate this with a high degree of certainty. This is not only an issue for them, but also for those wanting to sell to them. Let’s do a little mid-course review.
We know that the markets we are addressing are changing and we must adapt to those changes if we want to thrive and continue to serve our clients in a meaningful way. The buyers should be our focus. On their end they have a plethora of digital information at their disposal and do much of the work of a salesperson before that person comes knocking on their door.
We should know that much of what is seen online lacks differentiation and in a lot of cases is contradictory and confusing to the buyers. It begs the question of what they really know and believe after attempting their own due diligence up front.
We also know that the buyers have a set of internal issues to deal with that are more complex than ever before. The internal sales job and gaining consensus among an ever-expanding group of stakeholders is daunting to say the least. Now how do we address this from a marketing and sales perspective?
How People Buy from a Marketing & Sales perspective
The first hurdle that buyers face is all the digital information they receive. This information typically comes in the form of a vendor’s or provider’s website, but it can also include email and social media blasts. We can lump this discussion into the category of marketing writ large. Just as certainly as our sales approach needs to change, so does our marketing approach. Of course, marketing is a means to amplify a company’s message via advertising, but to be effective and of real value relative to what buyers need the information must resonate with them.
Marketing people need to not only understand the top layer of their intended audience but also the problems internal to a company. The message must be clear, concise, and show differentiation that is not contradictory and can be used by the buyers to help in their internal sales approach to the stakeholders. Marketing is only part of the equation.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is where the new sales model comes into play with a focus on providing and promoting buyers’ confidence in their decisions. But before I delve a little deeper into sales, let me state that marketing and sales need to be in closer collaboration on what buyers want and need.
All too often marketing and sales are separated departmentally and never the twain shall meet. These days are over – or should be. The digital message and the feet on the street need to be inexorably linked and must work in concert with one another. Marketing delivers the “right” message and sales makes it believable and closes the loop. The ever-evolving role of a salesperson is a bit contradictory to what has been traditionally done in the past.
The main role and value perceived by the buyer is no longer the dissemination of information and the “speeds and feeds” at the core of our technical jargon. Yes, salespeople need to be technically savvy, perhaps more than ever before, but brought forth at the proper time. Technology itself should not be the primary focus with clients today. Keep in mind that technology is a tool to use. It is ubiquitous and there is an undeniable and unavoidable level of parity and commoditization that exists.
When was the last time you saw a truly unique or disruptive technology? The holy grail then is for us is to provide differentiation and value in the eyes of the buyers. What is unique in a sales situation within commercial AV is the integrator of course, but more specifically the relationship between the salesperson and the buyer. It comes as no surprise that clients are increasingly doing some of their own digital homework.
As they sense a new requirement, they begin by conducting online research. Then they research options and in many cases pricing. Most will discuss this internally with stakeholders and then come up with a short list of vendors. Depending upon the complexity of the application, at this point as much as 90% of the decision making has taken place!
A New Era of Buying and Selling
As noted earlier the plethora of information can be confusing and problematic. It is said that “if you listen to the right voices, you will make the right choices.” The problem so many buyers face in their digital research is in knowing if they are listening to the right voices. The information that they received online may be incomplete, perhaps inaccurate, or inappropriate for their project, and, in comparison to others, even contradictory.
This is where a salesperson comes into the picture. This relationship is the link between digital information and the human factor of sales. It is based on building trust with the buyer and stakeholders and giving them confidence that they are listening to the right voices – namely that of the salesperson.
In the “World’s Fastest Sales Training” seminar we teach that the three ways to make a sale today are to solve a problem, improve a condition, and/or give someone an added capability they need and will value. The role of sales is one of being a problem understander, identifier, expander, and solver. This entails really understanding the client, their existing situation, and the implication of their problems on them and their companies. This is where trust is built and that cannot be done online. Solutions come after the fact.
I will note one of my favorite quotes from Professor Neil Rackham of SPIN Selling fame and a recognized pioneer of modern sales performance methodology. His exhaustive research shows that people don’t buy from someone because they understand the technology but rather because they understand them and their problems. No problems solved means no sale.
In commercial integration, we have work that needs to be done to break free of some of the constraints of the past. We need to recognize the importance of the digital world that so many buyers now rely on for their information. We need to make our information resonate and differentiate.
We need to collaborate and connect marketing with sales. On the sales side, it is a new era. Professor Rackham tells us that “The sales profession is in the midst of a radical change. Simple sales are inexorably moving to the internet. The selling that remains is sophisticated and demanding. The salesperson of the future will become a business equal of the customer, a creative problem-solver, and a value creator. These changes demand a high level of professionalism.”