Monday, March 02, 2009

Customers and Sellers: The knowledge divide

A recent newsletter from sales and marketing best practices analysts at SiriusDecisions (www.siriusdecisions.com February 2009; Knowledge Inflection Points) highlights that today’s buyers are more savvy, and gather more information than ever from public sources before they engage sales professionals. This means that marketing and sales efforts need to change in order to deliver what new customers demand – particularly, the newsletter highlighted some best practices we have been pressing for some time:

1) Marketing needs to deliver more personalized information and tools for customers that in the past were messages and presentations delivered by sales professionals, but now need to be directly provided via the web. These include personalized interactive tools to help customers understand best practice improvements that they should consider making (to engage strategically with the buyer), tools to help customers calculate their cost savings and benefits from proposed solutions (to make the project a priority), and tools to help customers understand the total cost advantages over competitive solutions.

2) Sales enablement needs to arm sales professionals with moe than the customer can get on their own from the provider’s or competitor web sites. This includes detailed tools to help them connect better with customers. The tools need to help drive sales to closure such as assessment tools, ROI analysis tools and TCO/ competitive advantage analyst tools – all more advanced than versions available on-line.

According to Tony Jaros from SiriusDecisions, “In the “good old days,” buyers had to rely on sales reps as their primary source for information about everything from business issues to market forces, from product capabilities to competitive positioning. Because sales reps walked in with a knowledge advantage, they had greater ability to influence a potential buyer’s decision, and to “steer” buyers through their own sales processes.”

But there has been a shift in the way customers research solutions and engage with solution providers. According to Jaros, “Today, with ready access to an ever-expanding network of analysts, peer networks, publications, public Web sites, blogs, forums and a plethora of other general information sources, the advantage has shifted. Faced with having to learn and adapt to the processes that buyers consume this information – processes which they define – salespeople are feeling the crunch. One of the major fundamental changes is the lack of need by a buyer for information from a rep until later in their process, a fact that is requiring reps to have a much deeper level of knowledge and broader understanding of the buyer if they hope to add value.”

Customers on their own research requirements, alternatives, functional capabilities, comparatives, cost and payback information. Over time, buyers follow a process of progressively acquiring and compounding disparate pieces of information into knowledge, knowledge that drives decisions to be made.

As Jaros indicates, “A quick pass of each potential seller’s Web site provides base product or service capabilities, in addition to easy access to white papers illuminating the business problem, case studies trumpeting customer successes, and self-service ROI/TCO calculators to verify potential cost and value.”

The first test for solution providers when helping to support economic buyers / decision makers: Does your web site contain the interactive information that customers need themselves in order to decide that the solution can save money, provide return on investment and deliver TCO advantages over competitive solutions? An investment in interactive tools / calculators is required to meet the growing knowledge demands of these savvy customers.

Jaros highlights that once marketing has done its job, sales professionals need to be able to deliver the goods when engaged: “What the sales rep must be prepared to provide during this “window of opportunity” is detailed information about the product or service the buyer is considering based on their specific set of requirements and customized to their environment, or there won’t be a second call.”

The second test for solution providers to enable sales professionals: Do the sales professionals have interactive tools to help them deliver specific and personalized analyses? Can the sales professionals tell customers where they are compared to competitors in best practices and benchmark? Can the sales professionals demonstrate specific savings and benefits that align with the customers unique goals? Can the sales reps quantify the total cost and value advantages versus competitive solutions? Like SiriusDecisions, we see a gap between the capabilities and wants of the new Customer 3.0, and Sales Rep 1.0. Arming the sales reps with tools, providing expert resources for them to tap to help communicate the messages / presentations, and providing training can help to close this gap.

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