What’s it like to buy from a great sales rep?
For the past decade, marketing and sales have been searching high and low to answer this question. We believe all this effort has been misguided. Yes, insights on your customer’s business matter. In fact, they’re absolutely necessary. But insights alone aren’t enough in today’s selling landscape. What’s most important is the overall ‘experience’.
How your reps engage a prospect along their deciding journey matters. It matters far more than any insight. Our research shows that winning deals in today’s environment don’t follow any one approach. The right sales strategy is highly situational. Sometimes it’s all about the insights. Sometimes it’s about making the transaction easy or frictionless. And sometimes it IS about leveraging relationships (Gasp!). We’re now dealing with a confusing and complex convergence of every major selling trend from the last 10 years:
- The emergence of B2C practices in the B2B environment, particularly the focus on speed, responsiveness, and customer access to information
- A cacophony of marketing and SDR noise coming from various digital platforms – LinkedIn, email, Twitter, etc.
- Consistent sales practices that lead reps to asking the same questions and bringing the same ‘insights’ to every customer
- Increasing frustration across buyers, who increasingly experience a sea of ‘sameness’ across vendors and capabilities
- Consensus buying trends that continue make organizational decision making increasingly difficult (fueling to the growth of ‘status-quo losses’)
In this new environment, winning sales teams are focusing on differentiating their sales experience, or SX. But what do we mean by ‘sales experience’? The sales experience is a subset of the overall customer experience (CX). It includes two things – the customer acquisition experience and the customer expansion experience.
The first part is the interaction between a buyer and various customer-facing teams of a seller. It’s what leads to the initial contracting. The second part is the experience the customer has with customer-facing resources who support product or service expansion.
We’ve excluded service delivery and support from our definition. These motions are certainly important, and there’s a mountain of research on this part of the journey (read any NPS research or voice of customer study out there). Our definitional focus also excludes the digital touchpoints that exist prior to an initial customer interaction. Our view of SX centers on what’s missing for most companies and customers and the interactions typically owned by sales. Too many sales teams have a poor understanding of what a winning SX should be for their solutions.
The elements of the sales experience include all the touchpoints that occur in the customer’s deciding journey, including things like:
- The outbound email sent by the SDR
- The LinkedIn connection request
- The first discovery call
- Subsequent discovery and solutioning meetings
- The pitch and business case
- The final proposal and negotiations
- The quarterly business reviews
- The renewal email or meeting
- The cross-sell or upsale conversations
- And so much more…
These interactions can take the form of conference calls, in-person meetings, online demos, trials, workshops, etc. And they can involve a variety of resources both from the sales organization and the customer.
Do these touchpoints sound familiar? Of course, they do! They’ve been a part of nearly every sales process since 1970. So, what’s different about an ‘experience’? How are these interactions more than just steps in a sales process?
An effective sales experience is more robust. It brings together many concepts often considered in isolation of selling skills. This includes things like messaging, visuals, content, and meeting formats. It also aligns the activities of multiple sales roles, all in an orchestrated way.
Let’s take the discovery call as an example of a critical moment within the sales experience. In a common scenario, you and four of your competitors are pursuing the same deal. You’ve all been granted one hour with the buyers. Here’s what the buyers probably see from their side:
- The products look alike.
- Everyone is focused on the same outcomes, using the same words.
- The promotional materials are equally slick.
- They all have great logos to brag about.
- The sales reps are equally liked.
- The pricing is generally the same.
So how can any one seller differentiate in that one hour? Do they ask better questions than the competition? Do they deliver different or better insights? Can the stories be more compelling? Maybe. Will those things truly differentiate? Probably not.
Buyers tell us that they spend five or more hours answering the same sets of questions, hearing the same types of stories, and seeing essentially the same demo. Ultimately, the winning team becomes the one who executed the same motions as everyone else, but marginally better.
The goal of a great sales experience is differentiation. This differentiation is what leads to better close rates, more favorable pricing, and faster deal velocity. We believe SX is the next frontier for B2B sales.
The good news is that sales isn’t starting from scratch. We can learn a lot from our B2C brethren: Amazon for their ease and speed. Apple for their innovation. Nordstrom for their service. Marriott for their consistency. These brands have established a differentiated experience, which has helped them sustain success.
Scaling differentiated sales experiences is different than in B2C markets. The challenge can feel especially daunting because a great SX is tailored to fit the selling situations. ‘Great’, after all, is defined by the buyer (and is also unique for each stakeholder in the buying team).
No one will tell you that the sales experience doesn’t matter. But in the mad dash to ‘hit the number’, the how is often overlooked. Too many organizations lack the mindset, skillset, and toolset to drive differentiation and customer value. The best sales leaders and sales organizations are investing in what it takes to deliver great SX. And they’re reaping the rewards, even in highly competitive markets.
Contact us to explore this topic in more detail. We’d love to share our latest research and best practices from winning companies.