OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit — but just a little bit. I’m interrupting my “Content Execution Excellence” series to present a late-breaking blog-flash that arrived on my desktop courtesy of the Harvard Business Review. In a post titled (very handsomely, I believe), “If the Customer is Always Right, You’re in Trouble,” authors Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman summarize their HBR article, “The End of Solution Sales” to poke gaping holes in our conventional sales wisdom.
You know all about solution sales, right? You don’t pitch the product, you ask probing questions…uncover customer needs…then paint a picture of a better world — a “solution” — built on the thingamabob you’re selling.
In theory, t’ain’t nothing wrong with this approach, except, say our HBR authors:
In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision—researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on—before even having a conversation with a supplier.
Uh-0h. Or hurray! depending on your perspective. It’s change-your-undies time if you rely on your sales force as your principle means of demonstrating value to prospects; by the time your team arrives, according to Adamson et al, prospects have already done their research and formed conclusions. They note:
It’s a story B2C sales professionals know all too well — just think how we buy cars today. By the time we walk into a dealership, we know not only which model, engine, and options we want, but how much we want to pay. These days, we don’t look to car dealers to “sell” us a car so much as to fulfill our order. Granted, many business purchases are far more complex, but the data tell us nonetheless that business customers are just as likely as consumers to come to the table more knowledgeable of their own needs than ever before.
Where does this knowledge come from and how is it formed? You know the answer, of course — from the Web. From self-initiated searches and purposeful inquiries made online.
Thus, the hurray! The content you provide becomes (or should become, if you’re doing this right) an integral part of your prospect’s search, your prospect’s engagement of the issue, your prospect’s understanding of the value you bring to the table.
Remember: 60% of the purchasing decision is formed before your sales reps can find the power button to the video projector. 60% of that decision is based on research made, and information found, on the prospect’s own initiative.
It’s this simple: if you’re not putting good content out there for buyers to find, you’re not going to make the sale.