Selling more a waiting game so think twice before that cold call
Business to business (B2B) sales is a dangerously reactive process in many organisations. Indeed, research suggests that the seller is the initiator of contact in only a minority of instances – most opportunities are the result of the customer making contact.
But the old saying that 'everything comes to he who waits' doesn't quite fit with modern business. Indeed, in selling you would expect the opposite to be true – 'everything comes to he who hustles while he waits'. Surprisingly, however, research suggests that there is a whole lot of waiting in sales.
Tick-tock, tick tock: that's the sound of another sales organisation waiting to be asked to tender or quote. It is a common sound, with some research suggesting that salespeople wait to be contacted by the buyer a whopping 97pc of the time. In other words, only 3pc of buyers in a survey by DemandGen had been contacted by a salesperson in advance of the buyer reaching out.
Sales is a waiting game – at least that is what the research suggests. Because the figure is so startling (and indeed alarming), we at ASG conducted our own research to validate it. We asked more than 100 participants on a Citrix-sponsored webinar whether they were called by the customer, or the other way around. The results show that waiting is a big part of the seller's job description.
According to the majority of sellers (77pc), no more than four out of 10 deals in the pipeline are originated by the salesperson.
Indeed, for almost half (46pc) of those polled, fewer than two out of 10 deals involve the salesperson originating contact.
The trend is towards longer waiting times in sales because most buyers are no longer content to be dependent on the salesperson. They have access to many sources of information and expertise other than the salesperson.
An organisation can be talking about buying many months in advance of calling a seller. Sellers who wait to be called often find that there is little to discuss other than price. In fact, they may simply be called to participate in a competitive tendering situation.
The challenge (and indeed opportunity) is to get involved earlier and stay involved for longer. It requires the sales organisation to:
* Breathe new life into account management – switching the focus from managing to developing accounts
* Invest in demand-generation, and in particular create and share useful resources for customers (especially those that are highly credible)
* Look beyond this quarter, with a nurturing process that nudges prospects towards a decision based on their stage in the buying decision
* Create a new synergy between sales and marketing – the above results suggesting that marketing (brand awareness and reputation) generates more opportunities than salespeople
* Look out for trigger events that identify a company as being in the market for a solution and use more sophisticated tools (eg ExactTarget, Marketo, OneSource or InsideView)
One thing for sure, simply turning up the volume of cold calling is not the answer.
Doing that in isolation of the above will pay little dividend. Could your team set a goal for increasing the proportion of opportunities where they engage in advance of the buyer making an inquiry?
John O'Gorman is a leading global figure on selling to professional buyers. He is a director of sales at the consulting and training company The ASG Group (www.theasggroup.com)