SalesTech Star

What Executive Buyers Really Think about Salespeople

Five years ago, as product information became readily available and buyers increasingly expert, there were legitimate questions on whether B2B salespeople would become extinct. Could buyers get what they wanted from a different (aka less expensive) resource? Or, as AI goes deeper into both selling and buying motions, could B2B buying take place without human assistance at all?

We recently asked 424 executive-level buyers about their most recent, major tech purchase. In one out of five cases (22 percent), they reported that their chosen solution was a slam dunk—significantly better than other options. Most of the time (78 percent), the difference between first and second place was more nuanced,  with deciding factors that included partnership capabilities, more believable service commitments, creating value in the sales process, or being able to work within the buyer’s culture.

Highlighting those nuances is within the seller’s control. So while B2B online purchasing is growing, B2B remains a secure profession. In most product categories, buyers still prefer help in identifying and weighing the less tangible solution elements that make the difference. They want assistance sorting through the overabundance of information in the market. And they appreciate the value and insights that sellers bring beyond the features of what is being sold.

This became abundantly clear during the onset of the pandemic. Technology leaders finally got “a seat at the table,” the ear of the board, and the budget they had waited years for—along with heightened visibility and risk. The pandemic meant that technology didn’t just support the business, it was the business. Tech buyers needed more help than ever, and 60 percent of executives told us that, as a direct result of the pandemic, they had come to expect more from their sales partners.

Read More: CPM: Taking Corporate Strategy to Execution

Figure 1: B2B Tech Buyers’ Perception of Sales Relationships

Here’s where the story becomes less optimistic. Despite the desire for deeper relationships with sellers, only 30 percent of tech buyers felt like they had achieved that goal. Buyers remain disappointed as their expectations climb faster than their perceptions of sales competency.

Making the grade in the buyer’s eyes

Clearly change is needed. But what kind? Any good sales leader will tell you that the best feedback is behavioral. Telling a salesperson to “build deeper relationships” isn’t all that actionable without clarifying what “good” looks like. What, specifically, do buyers want sellers to say and do differently? With that in mind, we went back to the Emissary human intelligence network of executive buyers to get the details. We had buyers assess both positive and negative seller behaviors based on impact. The result was a list of four critical behaviors that, when done well, influence a sale—and, when done poorly, doom the deal:

  • Demonstrate deep account intelligence—It drives buyers to distraction when they waste their valuable time telling sellers about their business. Buyers already know this information—being interrogated about it in endless discovery calls creates zero value for them. Buyers expect that, before the first conversation, the seller already understands this context.

“Study my business and provide me with a value-added solution rather than just a piece of software.”—Global head of transformation, professional services firm

  • Configure messaging (all the time)—In the B2C world, the customer experience is increasingly personalized. Yet in the B2B space, where a buyer is making an investment which is a thousand times more costly, buyers are faced with boilerplate content and interactions. The result: Buyers perceive sellers as lacking in effort and insight.

“Don’t send me a message you send to hundreds. Have the message be tailored to my firm and potential needs I may have.”—CTO, financial services

  • Sell with insights—While previous declarations on the demise of B2B selling were overstatements, sellers who don’t provide clear value and insights during the sales process are at risk. It’s the one thing that justifies making time for a live conversation with another human. Anything less can be achieved asynchronously or without a person at all.

“Tell me something I don‘t know and surprise me.”—Senior Director, global auto OEM

  • Facilitate meaningful dialogue—For decades, sellers have been taught to use questioning and listening techniques to engage buyers. Yet the move into virtual selling caused many salespeople to over-rely on slides, reducing the number of questions they ask and slipping into monologue mode. Buyers have noticed the difference.

“Don’t push your solutions; diagnose problems instead.”—Global Director, energy  company

Mastering these practices and using them consistently in every interaction is a tall order.  But the payoff is immense. Technology spend continues to grow, with this year expected to be the second-biggest growth year on record. In fact, 76 percent of the buyers in our studies report an increased technology budget in 2022.

How revenue leaders can help

The most successful sales organizations have resources to help sellers master these practices. This support infrastructure—consisting of sales leadership, sales operations, and sales enablement—can work together to equip sellers with the coaching, content, and tools they need.

Figure 2: What the best do

Use account planning methodology to drive action.

Account planning has been around for decades. Yet most organizations haven’t deployed it effectively. World-class account planning requires that sellers are enabled with not just planning templates, but also the skills and methodology training to use those tools to make (and keep making) strategic decisions which drive action through the sales process.

Provide sellers with account intelligence.

While every organization’s account planning tool looks slightly different, they usually have one thing in common … they are incomplete or fueled with broad-reaching assumptions. Plans are only as good as the information you populate them with. Make sure sellers have access to not only traditional sales intelligence sources (researching websites, getting org charts from third-party providers) but also coaches, such as those in the Emissary human intelligence network, who have worked in your target account and have inside insights into pain points, strategies, and messaging.

Read More: How D2C Disrupts Industries: An In-Depth Look

Partner with marketing on value messaging and sales content.

Throughout the sales process, sellers are going to need to tailor content to personalize it to the specific situation, customer, and contact. This goes awry when sellers start from scratch. Your enablement team can partner with marketing to build a library of sales content and a content repository. This allows sellers to more quickly tailor compelling content. Additionally, consider what thought leadership and insights-based content you can create and enable sellers to deliver directly.

Formalize sales coaching.

Sales coaching is the subject of endless volumes of articles. We won’t belabor it here. But suffice it to say, it’s the best leverage point for performance. Create (or enhance) your sales practice to be formal. Provide specific coaching, tools, and expectations. Ensure sellers have access to a range of coaches—including front-line sales managers, field coaches, and outside coaches with account insights.

Conclusion

All told, executive-level B2B buyers aren’t ready to abandon their sales partners in favor of self-service. However, they are increasingly disappointed that their engagement with sellers remains too transactional. The silver lining is that, with an assist from leadership, sellers are in a good position to deliver on what buyers really want: highly informed, highly contextual, value-laden relationships.