In a recent article we discussed the power of consultative value selling for jointly exploring and creating more relevant customer propositions that offer personalized value.
While this powerful technique is especially suited for complex offers and relies on direct interactions with prospective clients, it requires a sales force skilled in the practice of identifying and selling value to clients. More importantly, it is part of a larger, customer buying-decisions process that spans various distinct yet interrelated steps.
In order to help clients make the best decisions when buying, companies must provide a relevant, streamlined process anticipating the multiple demands and requirements of the various client stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.
Anything else will result in confused and frustrated prospects that may eventually turn to a savvier competitor when buying.
The buying decision process starts as a pressing client need emerges
Like consumers, a business will not usually purchase goods or services unless it has a well-defined business need or an important reason pushing it to so, especially in today’s market.
The buying process begins when a new need emerges. For example, with the rise of social networking sites like Facebook, many of today’s organizations are considering adopting some type of private, collaborative enterprise network to facilitate greater teamwork among employees.
In this case a company’s lead decision-maker may be the IT Director, who may start by research his/her emerging need to better understand the related issues, get a sense of the possible solutions and the corresponding vendors.
In general, today’s client stakeholders, both decision-maker and influencers alike, usually proceed by conducting Web research using a combination of online industry forums, vendor websites and other specialized sites. They will probably also use offline discussions with industry peers and other professional contacts. Where possible, they may also consult specialized buyer’s guides, speak with distributors and seek opinions from third-party analysts or other industry experts.
In each case the client stakeholders are looking to better understand the new investment as it applies to their own business context, the key purchasing considerations, while creating a long-list of possible solutions and the comparative advantages of choosing each one.
To generate confidence, suppliers must create client trust and reassurance
By the time our prospective client’s IT Director has realized he/she has a pressing need to enable better company-wide collaboration using an enterprise social network, they are usually committed to making a change.
At this point they have started looking for collaborative enterprise network experts, researching a range of workable solutions, leading them to a short-list of potential solutions providers.
For collaborative enterprise network providers this has various implications:
- Influence decisions with the right dose of relevant material – According to a recent study from the CMO Council, 86% of respondents say that online content plays a “major to moderate role in vendor selection”. While it can be tempting to supply large amounts of material to clients (e.g. product brochures, demos, tutorials, etc.), it can be difficult and overwhelming for them to evaluate everything.
For this reason the enterprise network provider should begin to establish trust by only offering a select amount of relevant, straightforward and objective material. This starts with targeting the right set of client stakeholders (e.g. the Director of IT as well as HR, Marketing and Finance) addressing their particular needs and challenges (e.g. examining the overall rationale for adopting a collaborative enterprise network, including its effects on organizational collaboration and knowledge sharing practices, how it can catalyze more client-driven behaviour, and the hard benefits it can deliver the business).
- Generate trust with original and comprehensive, up-to-date content – Content that is too technical, product-centric and self-serving, or that doesn’t adequately address current market challenges and customer needs should be avoided as it can negatively influence a buyer’s choice.
According to the same CMO Council study, the Top-4 characteristics valued in B2B content by clients are the breadth and depth of information, ease of access and understanding, originality of thinking, and the timeliness of content. With this in mind the enterprise network provider should invest in developing dedicated, high-quality material meeting such criteria.
- Focus on the unique customer value proposed – An effective commercial approach includes the use of new insights and innovative solutions and approaches to help clients enlarge their thinking in strategic ways, while demonstrating the distinct value of working with the firm. This should include a view on the possible risks and how the vendor’s solution can help to mitigate them.
For example, the enterprise network vendor can use a consultative value selling approach to explore and jointly design the right customer solution, offering distinct value. If there are two or more viable solutions, they should also provide a comparative analysis to clearly distinguish the merits and benefits of each one.
Addressing clients’ specific needs with comprehensive, trustworthy and easy to grasp arguments and tools will help the enterprise network vendor easily reassure its clients that its company not only understands the issues they are facing, but also has the capabilities, track record and willingness to successfully resolve their needs while delivering tangible value.
For most B2B companies there is an opportunity to improve the way they structure their clients’ buying-decision process by first understanding what really matters to them, and with these insights providing them the tools needed to decide while designing effective engagement practices, both on and offline, to help successfully guide them towards the right purchase decision.
Companies that do this right will benefit from a quicker and more relevant sales cycle, greater client trust, an increased customer conversion rate and incremental and repeat business.