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It’s been a dramatic last 10 years for B2B sales teams. What worked a decade ago now makes modern buyers run for the hills.

B2B sales cycles have changed. Salespeople and buyers have a new relationship with one another, and it has directly impacted the sales process.

Historically, a salesperson’s knowledge was his trade secret. Prospective buyers didn’t have access to things like pricing, specs, customer reviews, or competitor information. The salesperson was the expert.

Because of this, the sale actually hinged on the salesperson’s ability to sell. Could they convince the buyer she has a problem? Could they make a strong enough case for why she should buy their solution?

Today, however, B2B buyers are taking the lead in the sales process. They do their own research online before considering which solution might be the best fit – even when they’re making an offline purchase. In fact, much of the buying decision has been made before the salesperson ever talks to the business.

Modern B2B buyers are much more actively involved in the sales process. They are not passive participants – they don’t just trust what the sales rep says, they do their due diligence.

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So what does that mean for todays B2B salespeople:

1. Increased availability of information, which results in prospects entering the sales funnel at much later stages.

“The point of contact with sales comes a lot later, so we have to be well prepared to present our value story to our customers or potential customers much earlier and articulate it in a much simpler manner.” – Renee Richardson, Caterpillar Global Marketing Services Manager, as told to Think with Google

Product details, competitor information, pricing – there is so much information available online today, and prospective customers are spending their time looking through it and using it for planning before even considering talking to a sales rep. In fact, studies show that this increase in research and planning on the buyer’s side has led to the buying cycle getting longer overall.

This doesn’t mean that reps are having fewer interactions, though – it means that often the buyer has been in the sales cycle for quite a while before the interaction occurs. And this, of course, means that the salesperson’s role in that interaction is different than it used to be.

Instead of being a source of information, salespeople are now asked to confirm what the customer has already uncovered about the solution.

Instead of giving a sales pitch, salespeople are now required to be expert authorities available to answer questions and guide the buyer through the purchase process.

Sales process is increasingly complex

as businesses in the B2B space strive to provide customers with a simplified, streamlined and “omnichannel” experience, the sales process itself is taking longer and becoming far more complex than in years past.

A big reason for this is, contrary to how it is often depicted (especially on infographics), the buyer’s journey on the B2B landscape is hardly a linear step-by-step process. Customers connect and re-connect through various touchpoints and channels:

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Buyers still want to feel they have personal relationships with salespeople – but technology sometimes complicates things.

Technology has empowered customers and salespeople both, but it hasn’t eliminated the need for personal relationships. Used well, technology makes it easier for customers to connect with sales reps, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, sometimes technology gets in the way of the relationship instead of growing it.

For example, a company uses chatbots instead of providing a phone number for customers to call to talk to a sales rep. (For the record, I think chatbots are great – but it’s still critical to give prospective customers the option to talk to a human being!)

Understand your buyer.

Think through the customer buying process and identify the main decision points. Use your experience as a salesperson for this insight, but also schedule time to talk to some of your best customers for firsthand insight. Adopt a consultative sales process.

Waiting for customers to ask the right questions is simply no longer an option; both because customers expect a much more personalized experience, and more pragmatically, because many customers do not know what questions to ask. What they do know, however, is that they have problems to solve. Businesses that lean forward and replace “what can I sell you?” with “tell me about your needs?” stand out for all of the right reasons, and establish a strong, trusting relationship from the outset.

Be Curious

Steve W. Martin conducted interviews with thousands business-to-business salespeople employed for some of the world’s leading companies. He found that there are curiosity directly influences top performers’ success. High levels of Curiosity — hunger for knowledge and information correlates to active presence during sales calls.

3. Don’t just inform – teach.

This the difference between an inbound sales process that works and one that fails. Where many companies go wrong is they don’t take the time to connect their content with the customer’s real struggle. These B2B sellers are only focused on selling instead of helping.

Millie Blackwell, president of Showcase Workshop, shared this insight with me recently, and I think every single salesperson out there can benefit from it:

“We have to be able to do more than just ‘sell.’ We have to be helpful, informative and extremely relevant.

Yes, our buyers have access to more information than ever before – because we keep giving it to them! – but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to decode.

Our job as modern sales professionals is to distill all that information and make it relevant for our customers’ unique situation. If you can do that, they’ll be very will to see how your product or service fits into the mix!”

5. Align marketing and sales.

This is a HUGE opportunity for businesses – so sales team leaders, listen up. When sales and marketing teams unite, ROI improves, productivity increases, and customers have a better overall experience with the company.

The result of this alignment is a more efficient funnel and more super MQLs for sales. (Here’s a great breakdown of this process.)

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