Somewhere around 500BC, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as saying, "The only constant is change." The world changes, markets change, technologies change, and people change. Businesses must review and adjust their business plans and strategies to keep up.
Today, one of the biggest changes businesses must pay attention to is the power shift from seller to buyer. 57-70% of the B2B buying journey now takes place long before a buyer engages with a sales team.
But how are you supposed to employ your long-trusted sales techniques when your sales team aren't even getting a look in?
For contract manufacturers, the implications are stark. Opportunities in the contract manufacturing industry continue to grow. By the end of 2023, the global economy will be worth $2.7 trillion a year (source: BCC). But if you're not showing up online, you will miss out.
In this post, we explore how buying habits have changed, their impact on the effectiveness of traditional sales techniques, and how contract manufacturers can respond.
Buyers changing habits
The most common driver for change is technology. It affects everything. And it is technology that is at the heart of this change in buyers' behaviour.
There was a time when a buyer's only source of information was trade shows and brochures. And of course, a salesperson's call or visit.
Today, it is easy for the modern buyer to research companies and solutions from companies' websites and independent industry sites. And to seek the advice of peers via social media and to read customer reviews on the web.
According to research by Forrester:
- 68% of B2B buyers prefer to research online on their own
- 75% of B2B buyers use social networks to learn about different vendors
- 62% of B2B buyers select vendors based on digital content alone
Typically, B2B buyers now research their options online and only approach a vendor once they are pretty clear about what they want and, crucially, who they want to provide it. They are well-informed but may still have specific questions when they get in touch. At this stage, they will likely be looking at a small handful of vendors with a critical eye.
There also tends to be multiple people involved in the decision-making process. For an OEM, this could mean the CEO, CFO, salespeople, marketers, procurement teams and engineers all have a say. This inevitably leads to the process being long and complex. And when they do narrow down a shortlist, they will need to gather quotes - a process which in itself can take several weeks or even months.
Why your sales techniques aren't working
Traditional sales techniques have tended to revolve around control.
- Control over the information available
- Control over the timing of contact
- Control of the timescale
- Control over the buyer
As we have seen, the change in buyer habits – prompted by technology – has completely transferred control from the salesperson to the buyer.
This is the biggest single change in sales and marketing since selling began.
I'll just let that sink in.
Salespeople no longer have any control over the buyer. They have lost their leverage.
With the control in the hands of the buyer, they can do their research, compare solutions, assess the level of after-service they need, and all the other factors determining the final deal they want to make – all before they talk to a vendor. And they will be collecting a shortlist of vendors based on this research and contacting them at a time of their choosing.
In this new reality, cold calling, pressure selling, overselling, rushing the prospect, and endless sales messages are not going to work. They will move on to the next vendor on their shortlist.
It's not difficult to see that traditional – what we might now call "old school" – sales techniques have been squeezed out of this buying process.
As buyers are more informed, any attempt by a salesperson to mislead the buyer or overhype the solution will be seen for what it is, and the all-important trust between buyer and seller – essential for a meaningful deal – will be lost.
In particular, OEMs require a more in-depth, consultative approach. Contract manufacturers need to understand the OEM's business, their pain points and their ideal solution. They aren't just looking for a deal; they are looking for a partnership.
Even the attribution of a sale is complex, with more touch points than ever. Buyers may engage with content and leave no trace, interact on social media, respond to a newsletter, talk to peers, and talk to technical experts within your business. All of which may eventually lead to a sale. But who is responsible for that sale, and which salesperson should get the commission or the bonus?
Given the buying process's complex nature, a salesperson motivated solely by the commission may feel aggrieved if sales attribution is muddy or unclear. They may lose focus if the sale is too complicated or goes on for too long.
It is time to recognise the change in buyers' habits, review your sales and marketing – techniques, personnel and department structures – and implement a new effective way of working in these new circumstances.
Let's look at each of the issues we've mentioned, the implications for sales and marketing, and how to respond.
Buyers doing their own research
OEMs are researching their issues, possible solutions and vendors' offerings – all prior to sale. So how do you market yourself when they are not talking to you?
You ensure you have the information they are looking for on your website. If you can capture them at this early stage with content that is genuinely helpful and relevant to them, you will have made a strong start in the buying process.
But you will also need more in-depth information on your services, the technical issues they may face, how to get the best out of working with you, and so on. This is helpful and relevant content in the buyer's later research phases, which are all about narrowing choices and answering their more detailed questions.
At this stage, it may be possible to capture leads – not to sell there and then as they will not be ready for that – but to ensure you know what stage of the process they are at and what content they are likely to need. And to enable you to respond appropriately when they finally make a decision.
Multiple stakeholders in a buying decision
There are usually several people involved in the B2B buying decision. Within an OEM, there will be multiple people, from the CFO to the head of procurement, and you will need to have content that targets each of them.
Each of these stakeholders will put forward their independent research on proposed solutions. So it's vital you have published the information they are looking for.
For this reason, you must get a clear picture of each stakeholder, including their needs and goals. By creating buyer persona profiles for each stakeholder, you can create content that resonates with them.
Complexity of the buying process
Given the complexity of many buying decisions, you must understand as much as you can about the OEM's journey to finding a solution and choosing a vendor. Where do they look for information? What processes do they follow? Who and what influences them along the way? Your buyer personas should help you to answer these questions.
It's also important to consider the buyer's journey. This will allow you to create content that will resonate with your buyer personas and nurture them as they move through each stage.
The buyer's journey can be split broadly into three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision.
- Awareness stage content should help your buyer to identify and understand their problem or opportunity.
- Consideration stage content should help them to evaluate their options.
- Decision stage content should help them make the most educated buying decision possible.
Consultancy rather than sales
When it gets near to the final decision to purchase, OEMs will be ready to contact the vendors they have identified through their research. Because of the research they have undertaken, they will be better informed and be close to knowing exactly what they want. They are likely to have very specific, highly detailed questions.
You will lose the sale if you try to mislead them, pressure them, fudge answers, lie about pricing or capabilities, or sell them something inappropriate. They will be too well-informed for any of those old routines to work. The salesperson's role at this stage should be one of an informed consultant, someone who has the buyer's interests at heart – who wants to achieve the best possible outcome for that buyer.
Always remember, in the age of the internet, a viable competitor is but a few clicks away.
Customers share experiences
Because many OEMs will share their experiences with their peers, it will become evident to potential buyers if you are selling solutions that don't work, are inappropriate, or if you are overselling your capabilities.
Therefore, you have to be honest and open about your business, solutions, and capabilities. Any discrepancies between sales statements and the truth will be discovered, and the all-important trust between buyer and seller will be destroyed.
Reconfiguring the sales team
It is clear why traditional sales techniques are no longer effective. The world has moved on. Buyers have moved on… to a different buying process.
In response, vendors must learn to adapt their sales and marketing practices to fit into this new reality to remain effective and keep the sales flowing in.
Sales departments will need salespeople who can evolve into consultants that help and guide customers rather than sell to them. They need to be truthful, honest, reliable, and trustworthy. And they need to be rewarded in a way that recognises these traits and activities.
This will require a fundamental rethink of how salespeople are directed and managed. No longer should it be about sales at all costs. Given the complexity of lengthy sales and the numerous interactions with content and other marketing activity, attribution to a single salesperson will be nonsensical and impractical.
Marketing and sales teams will have to work closely together and could even be structured as one department under a RevOps model. This model will see sales and marketing teams working closely with customer service teams to increase revenue potential. Gartner predicts that 75% of the highest-growing companies in the world will deploy a RevOps model by 2025.
Sales in a new world
B2B buyers have radically changed how they buy and are now in control of that process. For contract manufacturers, this has enormous implications for sales and is why your sales techniques aren't working anymore, and your pipeline is stagnated.
Understanding the nature of this change in buying and responding to it with appropriate changes in structure, emphasis and marketing strategy will allow you to increase sales and revenue.