The People Vector in Sales

We all know the marketplace has changed dramatically in the last five years, including how, what, where and when people buy. We see proof every day that businesses are increasingly being driven by the connection economy. We’ve all had to rethink what it means to sell in this changing world.

And—as with all change—there’s resistance.

I see it every day in how sellers—especially seasoned ones in mature B2B markets—view the digital economy (and social media especially) as something that’s at odds with personalized selling. For example: one of my clients (a 100-year old resources company) is just this year rolling out their first CRM to their sellers, and have asked me to help them improve adoption and reduce the amount of push-back they’re getting from some within their organization.

I’ll tell you what I tell them: personalized selling and the digital economy are not at odds with each other. Instead, technology amplifies our work. It makes it possible for us to connect meaningfully with more people in less time. And because it offers that same potential to everyone—there’s no barrier to entry in this digital marketplace—you cannot afford to view this as a nice-to-have add-on to your selling process. You definitely can’t treat it like a nuisance and ignore it.

Direction and magnitude mean everything
We still sell to people and people still buy from people. What’s changed is what I call the People Vector: the direction and magnitude of how we do business with each other. The personal aspect of sales has always been important. It still is. Only now it’s massive in scope and in potential.

Thirty years ago when I started selling, we sold to a relatively short list of people, usually in a single territory. Those sales were influenced by only one or two influencers, such as a trusted advisor or a peer referral.  

Today, you can sell millions by reaching populations measured in billions and in economies measured in trillions.

These people are all connected: talking to each other, constantly influencing your ability to sell. It’s happening online and offline, and whether you’re listening or not. For example: a small-business client of mine thought I was crazy when I said they needed to be engaging in Twitter conversations. “But Colleen,” they said, “we’re not currently on Twitter, so that has no influence on our sales process!” We looked, and while they didn’t have an official @company Twitter handle, that wasn’t stopping buyers and prospects from having conversations about them…behind their digital back.

From buyer reviews to Facebook posts, from tweets to YouTube commentaries, it’s your job now to influence those conversations and leverage those connections. 

Amazonification of B2B sales
There are far more people involved in your sales process than ever before. Today, there’s an entire network of people out there who can either help or hinder your ability to sell more.

That’s why I talk so often now about the Amazonification of sales in the B2B environment. Your buyer today expects the same experience buying industrial equipment as they do buying consumer goods. They employ the same process to inform their decision to buy. Going online, they look at what others have to say about their own buying experience. They trust other buyers whose needs align with their own. Then—and only then—they contact you.

This behaviour is well documented, including what the CEB/Gartner Group found in a new study on buyer behaviour. Looking at sales transactions today, they found only 17 percent of the buying journey is spent talking to sales reps. The rest of it is spent talking to peer groups online, researching the problem they have in search of the right solution.

For some sellers, this means having to separate how they feel about social media and technology from the facts about today’s marketplace. You might not like using these tools, but the reality is that your customers sure do. Like it or not, the People Vector is here, and it’s already changed the way people make their buying decisions.

Be seen as a five-star seller even in the B2B space
Your B2B customer wants to be able to only consider sellers who have four- and five-star ratings. You might point out that Amazon only does that for B2C sellers. That’s missing the point. I’m talking about a way of thinking and about how you are perceived in the marketplace. Your customers are seeking out proof that you’re as good as you claim to be. Your willingness to engage them online—whether it’s the share what you know or to address customer concerns—gives them a strong indication of how well you understand their needs and how motivated you are to do business with them.

How do you apply that Amazon way of selling in B2B’s more complex selling environment?

Start asking for and posting user reviews. The most common reason why businesses don’t have reviews is because they’ve never asked their customers for one. I’ve seen studies suggesting that seven out of ten customers will give you a user review. But only if you ask them.

Tell stories that matter to your customer. Case studies need to do more than showcase what a great job you did working with a customer. It should show the customer’s journey, told in such a way that a prospect can see themselves in the problem that you helped solve.

Engage in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube with the goal of being helpful to others. Nobody wants to be sold to. What they want is to connect with others who understand the challenges they have and who can demonstrate having the knowledge and capacity to help them overcome those challenges. All of that know-how is helpful: your customers remember that.  Make connections, share relevant stories, highlight your expertise with tips and showcase your client’s success in action.

If you ignore this People Vector, you run the risk of either missing the friction points where your customers are talking about disappointing experiences after buying from you and your competitors. Or you miss out on conversations where people are saying great things about you and you don’t leverage those comments and apply those insights.

Get it right and today’s market is yours. Get it wrong and you’re gone.