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  • Linda Pophal

The new rules of sales engagement

The 2022 buyer journey isn’t the same as the 2019 buyer journey. It presents, of course, some added challenges. It also, though, presents added opportunities to cast a wider net and interact with buyers in new ways. Enter the new rules of sales engagement.

The B2B sales process has changed pretty significantly during the pandemic. And so has sales engagement.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost two years now since salespeople have had to change their game. Rather than making connections at sales conferences, today buyer interaction has shifted to LinkedIn and video introductions via Zoom—an entirely different process. 

But this is the new reality. And to be successful, we adapt. 

An ancient Chinese proverb sums it up best: “A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.” To that end, in this post, we highlight how the rules for sales engagement have changed and what it means for sellers.  

“A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.”

Chinese proverb

Understanding sales engagement

If you’re not familiar with the term “sale engagement,” it refers to the ways sellers interact with buyers. Because the buyer journey is never linear, sales engagement isn’t either— there are many touchpoints, and each one should be focused on building an authentic buyer relationship and advancing the sales conversation. The best sales engagement tactics are also tailored to the unique needs of the buyer— because buyers want a personalized experience, and in today’s selling environment, buyers are in the driver’s seat.

The buyer controls the sales process

While it’s easy to say your sales process is already centered around your buyer, it might not be as buyer-centric as you think. LinkedIn’s State of Sales 2021 report defines five principles of a true buyer-first philosophy:

  1. Learn, then define, through active listening.
  2. Share readily—be transparent in providing buyers the information they need.
  3. Solve, don’t sell. Understand the problems and issues your prospects are facing and how what you have to offer meets their needs better than the competition can.
  4. Deliver value. The relationship doesn’t end once the sales is made. The top B2B sales pros understand that buyer relationships are ongoing and need to be nurtured, delivering value at every touchpoint, even after they’ve signed.
  5. Earn trust. Trust is the currency that long-term B2B relationships are built on. Make it clear that you are always acting in the best interests of your customers. 

If the above principles are important to buyers, then they should be important to sellers, too. Although how sellers go about accomplishing them looks a little different today.

Buyers have become very self-sufficient since the pandemic started, and they probably know more about your product than you might realize. Of course, you’re also knowledgeable about the products and services you sell— that’s your job. But that’s not enough. In today’s digital selling environment, prospects have likely already done research on you and your competitors before ever making contact, and you need to know what they know.

Our digital world means access to information is fairly easy. As such, sellers should be better educating themselves on prospects and their needs, digging deeper than job history or a basic website review. Did they just raise new funding? Are they hiring like crazy? You’d be surprised at the sales research you can do with LinkedIn jobs, although ZoomInfo and Leadfeeder are other helpful tools you might want to check into, too. 

Buying groups and interactions are increasing

If you’ve been in sales for any length of time, you probably remember the days of courting your buyer— wooing a single individual. But today, B2B sellers aren’t dealing with a buyer; you’re selling to buying groups, according to Forrester. As such, sellers need to be adept at navigating organizational structures, hierarchies, and building relationships with outside influencers— even the bean counter in finance. 

Forrester’s research indicates that 63% of B2B purchases involve more than four people—that’s up from 47% in 2017.  Additionally, in 10% of deals, a CFO may join a sales call uninvited and unannounced. As such, your sales materials need to be easy to share. (and sometimes on the fly!) 

If you’re still fumbling around with large files, like PowerPoint or PDF presentations that don’t email easily and require the recipient to download the file, you are adding unnecessary friction to the process. (Shameless plug: that’s one of the many advantages of Qwilr— all your proposals are web-based and accessible via an easy to share URL. Book a demo if you’d like to learn more.)

Not only does the sales process have more influencers, but has more buying interactions, too. According to Forrester, interactions jumped from 17 to 27 since the pandemic began, a 58% increase.

The expansion of buying groups and interactions has many other implications for sales, from managing multiple relationships to making sure touchpoints are consistent. Stakeholders might be perusing anything from your website, your company presence on LinkedIn and other social channels, your presence on LinkedIn, your brand’s presence in online or community groups, the coverage you’re receiving in trade journals, your blog, and of course, your sales collateral. You never know where your buyer might be lurking— your brand touchpoints all need to feel connected, with a similar look, feel, and tone. The more you can be visible—and consistent—across each of your touchpoints, the more you’ll stand out.

💡 Do your sales presentations and proposals look like your website? Qwilr can help create visually impressive and interactive collateral, consistent with your brand image. Book a demo to learn more.

Deal influencers can kill a deal

With the emergence of larger buying groups, sellers now have to consider the interests of the various stakeholders; you can’t count on your main point of contact selling effectively for you. You’ve got to take that initiative and get in front of the various deal influencers. 

Each member of the buying group represents a different role in the organization and of course, has different needs, interests, and concerns— how you sell to them will vary, too. For example, a marketing contact won’t have the same questions or concerns as a CFO. The CFO won’t have the same questions and concerns as the CEO. The IT department will have entirely different interests and pain points. 

When addressing each influencer, be sure to speak their language— for the CFO, talk about the ROI of your solution, quantifying the value. IT or Marketing Operations will want to know more about the tech integration details and performance reliability. If you’re not comfortable talking about the nitty-gritty tech specs, ask one of your product engineers to join your call. 

Any member of the buying group can potentially kill the deal, so it’s essential you understand what’s most important to each member and speak to those concerns specifically.

Seller visibility is more social

Of course, as we talk about more interactions and the multi-channel buyer experience, it’s always existed— it just looked a lot different.

Previously, sellers could stay in front of buyers in any number of ways— meeting up for coffee, delivering a pizza to a buyer’s office, or networking at events. Now, it’s all about being visible on social media. 

Social selling, or the process of using social tools (like LinkedIn) to find prospects, develop brand awareness, and begin to foster a relationship online with likely prospects, is the “casual” selling of today. And if “social selling” conjures up images of banner ads, sponsored posts, or sending a connection request to a prospect then immediately pitching them, you couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Social selling is not really “selling” at all but rather getting to know your prospect, understanding what they’re about, and getting an idea of their needs through their comments on posts and overall platform activity. And it’s working, too: 78% of salespeople engaged in social selling are outselling their peers who aren’t using it. But one caution: make sure you’re being authentic in the process, not just flattering prospects trying to get them to notice you.

You can also attract buyers to you through your own social presence. Add value to your network by sharing your expertise in a meaningful way. Of course, your LinkedIn posts shouldn’t blatantly attempt to set up sales calls— that won’t attract many “likes” or shares! But by sharing personal lessons learned, client success stories, or content from your blog, you can gain more visibility to potential buyers as your network engages with your posts. And in that process, you develop thought leadership and position yourself as a valuable resource to buyers.

Time is short; buyers need trusted advisors

non linear buyer journey

During the pandemic, another shift occurred on a more personal level— the pace of work and personal routines drastically changed. Hours of commuting and the professional hustle and bustle were replaced overnight with home offices and balancing work amidst real-life situations. 

As you’re selling, remember that making a purchase is time-consuming for buyers. They’re doing more self-discovery because often it’s easier to juggle with kids at home or between alternating work schedules with their partners; coordinating a meeting time with someone else can be a challenge in and of itself. So when a buyer does reach out, they’re not just expressing interest in what you have to offer— they need your help. The buyer wants you to be an educated advisor on the market, not just pitch your product. They came to you to solve a problem or accomplish a specific objective; evaluating your product is just part of the equation. Respect their time by adding value to your conversations and providing insight beyond the information on your sales sheet. 

I recently heard a great sales tip: begin your sales calls by asking the question, “What will make this call a valuable use of your time?” Your buyer (and any stakeholders also on the call) will most likely happily chime in with the answer, which gives you great insight and direction for the call, too. 

Sales engagement today

No, the 2022 buyer journey isn’t anywhere the same as the 2019 buyer journey. It presents, of course, some added challenges. It also, though, presents added opportunities to cast a wider net and interact with buyers in new ways. Sales engagement today is all about building relationships with your prospects on their turf (which, these days, tends to be increasingly online), understanding their needs and pain points, clearly understanding how what you have to offer stacks up against the competition, and then conveying your primary goal—to help them achieve their goals. 

For more information on how Qwilr’s proposal software improves the buyer’s experience, increases buyer engagement, and makes your brand memorable, schedule a demo with our team.

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