What Do B2B Buyers Really Want? Not What You’re Selling

B2B software isn’t a sellers’ market. Your salespeople’s spam cannons and cold calls are no match for the empowered buyer’s peer insights and research skills. In her 2016 Advocamp AMP talk, social selling evangelist Jill Rowley discusses how salespeople can close the gap with something more powerful than an elevator pitch: advocacy.

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I want to talk about the fact that we’re living in the age of the customer. It’s no longer the age of the sleazy, slimy, slicked-back, cheesy, always-be-closing seller. Today, buyers not only have more choice, but a louder voice that reaches across multiple networks. It’s no longer word of mouth. Due to the Internet and social networks, it’s world of mouth.

Buyers and buying have changed more in the past ten years than in the past hundred. Sales have not. What do B2B buyers want? It’s not what your salespeople are selling. In fact, buyers are allergic to being sold to.

I’m a sales professional trapped in a marketer’s body. For 44 of my 52 quarters on quota at Salesforce.com and Eloqua, you were my buyers. My customers were modern marketers. What I learned through a lot of mistakes is that my job wasn’t to sell. Nobody wants to be sold to, but we all want help.

What happens when buyers go out? They seek knowledge. They seek information. They seek insights. They get drawn in by your lead bait. They fill out your form, and then they get called and emailed. That’s what you get.

What are you doing? Ignoring and deleting. What we have to do is change the way we sell. You’re going to have to play a role in that, because the way we sell is the way we’ve sold for the past sixty years. Oftentimes, sales organizations are led by the fifty-year-old white guy who spends most of his time on the golf course or at expensive steak dinners. Not online. Not where his buyers are learning. Not training his sales organization to stop selling and start educating and helping their buyers.

I’m going to walk through three points of the transformation to modern selling. The reality is that this isn’t transformation. This has just gotten easier for salespeople.

1. Know thy buyer

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Marketing can help sales understand who the ideal customer profile is. Marketing can help sales understand which companies would get the most value from your products and services. Marketing can help sales understand that it’s a buying journey, not a sales process. Marketing can help sales understand buyer personas and how to align content to them and the stage in the buying process. Marketing plays a really important role in this sales transformation.

One of the things I’ve become known for is social selling. Social selling isn’t social marketing. Social marketing is about reach, and social selling is about relationships. This isn’t teaching your salespeople how to use social media. Social media is confusing and chaotic. It’s noisy. It’s unfiltered. It’s the wild, wild west of the world wide web. This is helping your salespeople leverage social networks.

Networks layer on three things:

  1. Identity – Who someone is, what skills they have, what university they went to, what companies they’ve worked at and where they live.
  2. Relationship – To whom is that person connected? What mutual connections do you share? What groups is that person a member of? You’re starting to learn about your buyer through through their social network.
  3. Interest – To be interesting, we have to be interested in something other than ourselves. We have to lead to us, not lead with us. Buyers are allergic to being sold to, so you have to know them.

Your buyers are digitally driven, socially connected, mobile with multiple devices and empowered. They have unlimited access to information and to people, just like your salespeople.

Your buyers are also leveraging social networks to determine if they want to work with your sales professional. If your salesperson optimizes his LinkedIn profile for the recruiter, with things like “quota crusher” or “expert negotiator”, the allergy to being sold to gets worse.

You want your salespeople to be magnets for your buyers. The way they do that is by putting out information and by sharing insights that attracts your buyers to you, information that is relevant to who that buyer is and what that buyer cares about—not just company-branded content.

2. Be where your buyers are  

Be where your buyers are offline at events like this and online in social networks. In sales, buyers are looking for people who are experts, who are clear, who are empathetic, who understand who they are and who understand the challenges they face.

They’re also looking for trustworthy people and information. Instead of salespeople at conferences manning the booth and then not getting in the room with their customers, why not get in the room and learn where their customers are learning? Be where your buyers are.

3. Be the best advocates for your customers

To have a kick-ass advocacy program, we have to be the best advocates for our customers. As a sales rep at Eloqua, oftentimes I was asked, “Whose team are you on? Eloqua or the customer?” I was always on the customer’s team. It was about, “How can I connect that customer to other modern marketers who’ve been down that path?”

Instead of always ringing the bell when a contract’s signed in sales, how about we pop the champagne when our customers become advocates? That should be the measure, but your customers aren’t going to be your advocates until you’re their advocates. The buying experience has a significant impact on the customer’s willingness to ultimately become an advocate for your company, for your products, for your services and for your people. We have to stop selling and start helping our buyers.

At the same time, at the end of the day in sales, the rubber does meet the road with revenue. I wish it met the road with advocacy. I wish there were more leaders who were willing to change the metrics on how we measure our salespeople.

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In the early days at HubSpot, they were looking at attrition as a metric, and the assumption was that attrition was related to the customer success manager. When they ran the data, they found that attrition was related to the rep who sold the initial deal.

Mark changed the comp model, and he paid reps who had high renewal rates four times the amount the reps who had abysmal renewal rates were getting paid. He gave those reps training, and he helped them understand who are our best fit customers and how to facilitate a buying process. We need more leaders who are willing to measure not just on the close, but on the customer’s success.

It’s easy for me to spend my time researching modern selling and focus on what modern selling is and teach what modern selling is. The most important thing to be able to transform sales is to get everyone within the organization to learn to obsess about customer success and advocacy.

If you have a shitty product, you’ve got a problem. If you have false advertising in your marketing, you have a problem. If you have salespeople closing bad deals, you have a problem. If you have success teams who don’t know how to onboard customers in a structured, prescriptive way, you have a problem.

We have to think about how we embed advocacy in every phase of that customer buying experience. Remember that to get advocates, we need to be advocates. We need to be the best advocates of our buyers and our customers.