Mark Stuyt is founder and CEO of Neural Impact, a sales and marketing consulting agency that applies behavioral economics, neuroscience, and psychology to customer relations and cloud strategies. Stuyt has spent the past 7 years helping Microsoft and their partners improve their cloud strategies and their relationships with their customers.
As a Managed Service Provider (MSP) in today’s market, you may have noticed that your buyers are not the same as they used to be. They are coming to you with far more knowledge than before, and this is throwing a wrench in the traditional sales process. With a wealth of information at their fingertips, buyers can now research the products, MSPs who offer competing solutions, as well as the best options for their operation. All this before ever connecting with you.
The result is that prospects are engaging with MSPs near the end of the buying journey rather than the beginning, as has traditionally been the case. In order to keep up with today’s SMB buyer, it’s critical that MSPs adjust their sales process, understand there is a lower cost associated with today’s buyer, and recognize one very crucial thing – marketing is the new sales.
Stuyt says it’s harder than ever to be a sales professional in today’s landscape. Sales teams must become keenly aware of:
- The fundamental impact of changing buyer behavior on business
- The new cloud sales process vs. the traditional on-premise sales process
- Practices that can be implemented to change their sales approach and drive meaningful, measurable results
No Longer a Single Sales Process
There is no longer a single process. Buyers buy less in the beginning. They shift from one provider to the next to find what they want because it’s incredibly easy to do. That means it’s easy to incur the cost of acquiring a new buyer, only to have them jump ship after a small purchase. The result is a negative impact on profitability.
To counter this, a new engagement model is required, which is comprised of collecting the customer and continuing to upsell and cross-sell on an ongoing basis. This is where the integration of sales and marketing takes place. This is buyer 2.0:
- Goes online and does research
- Avoids sales people as long possible
- Knows more than the sales person when they do connect
- Expects the industry to know something about them
- Expects to be able to buy something and get value from it instantly, to consume it in a short amount of time
Buying is no longer a linear process. There was a time when the buyer would meet with you and decide whether to buy or not. Now, a buyer goes to a website, then disengages. They come back and speak with someone, and disengage again. They repeat this process with multiple websites until they decide to buy.
Challenges of Today’s Sales Process
Working with today’s buyer involves a steep learning curve. This is because of the three primary challenges that accompany the non-linear sales process:
Buyers are 60%-65% through the buying journey before they engage. They spend this time doing their own research, determining what they need, and evaluating the potential solutions. They will also get pricing information and demos online, something they once needed to obtain from the sales professional. Since the prospect is engaging so late in the sales process, the sales person is left with a very short window of time to make an impact, influence the buyer, and secure the deal.
Buyers often provide their name and contact information early on in the sales process, but that doesn’t mean they are going to buy. Telemarketing is not the answer here. When a sales person contacts these prospects, they are often not interested. If you choose to engage in telemarketing, you need a crisp message that gets through to the prospect in just 6 seconds because that’s how long a prospect will listen to a message before deleting it.
Marketing is now responsible of educating the buyer as well as upselling and cross-selling. The problem is that many companies have only sales people without marketing people. These sales teams are often tasked with doing all the marketing required in todays sales world, which is not something they are skilled at or necessarily interested in.
Marketing is different than it used to be. In todays world, it’s about engaging with the prospect and nurturing your relationship with them. For this reason, marketing needs to connect with the prospect at the two engagement points within the sales process:
- 5%-10% through the journey, when the prospect becomes a lead
- 60%-65% through the buying journey, when the prospect has already done their research
While the prospects at the second engagement point are most likely ready to buy, this doesn’t mean the leads from the first should be ignored. These leads need to be triaged so you can determine what you are working with. Remember, just because leads don’t want to buy today doesn’t mean they won’t buy tomorrow. The key is to ask your leads the right questions to determine whether they are active or if they need to be nurtured.
With early engagement:
- 10%-20% of the leads will be active prospects who want to buy now – You need to get on these leads quickly.
- 80%-90% of the leads generated will be checking you out – You want to bring these leads into a high-touch, low-cost educational process to keep them warm until they are ready to buy.
Traditional vs. Modern Sales Process
It’s easy to say that the sales process is different and that you have to identify your prospects and act accordingly. The question is how do you do that? The traditional sales process consists of:
- Qualifying leads
- Developing those leads
- Presenting the solution
- Providing proof
- Closing the sale
When it comes to this sales process, most sales people spend:
- 16% of their time in prospect qualification and development
- 69% of their time in solution and proof
- 15% of their time closing the sale
This process is based on the expectation that prospects are going to engage early; 15%-20% into the buying journey. Salespeople can spend the bulk of their time and effort in the middle of this process, making minimal effort in the beginning and at the end.
However, these days prospects are waiting until much later, 60%-65% through the buying cycle. For this reason, it’s important to adopt a model that looks like this:
- 55% of the time spent in qualification, development, and solution
- 30% of the time spent in providing proof
- 15% of the time spent in closing the sale
Notice the compression of the first three phases of the sales process. Most of the efforts need to be invested in qualification, development and solution instead of the proof phase. Simply because the customer is already educated and highly-knowledgeable. Depending on where the emphasis is placed during the sales process, one of the following win rates will be achieved:
- 20% – Sales team pursues all industries and services the buying cycle, nothing more.
- 50% – Sales team pursues one to three industries and always teaches something new – teaching is the key that leads to a change.
- 80% – Sales team pursues only one industry and disrupts the buying cycle all together – this is a completely interactive experience.
The win rate goes up with increased engagement and action during the beginning and end of the sales process. It goes up because the client feels safe, and safety is three times more powerful than greed.
Cloud Sales Process Best Practices
Remember, marketing owns the top of the sales funnel. Today, sales must come from a marketing direction and are primarily made over the cloud. Here are best practices to make this process run smoothly:
Closing the Sale
If you have the opportunity to get face-to-face, always try to do so. When you can’t, you want to close the sale in one call, and take no more than five calls. During these calls, which happen over a number of days, you will go through three phases:
- Calls 1-2: Connect and engage with the prospect, do significant research on them, make them feel safe and visually demonstrate something to them you think is unique and interesting so you can differentiate yourself. The decision to buy is made by the time the prospect comes out of the connect phase.
- Calls 3-4: Confirm with the prospect and provide proof by aligning their challenges with the solution.
- Call 5: Convince the prospect by comparing cost to value and handling objections.
Change the Way You Differentiate Yourself
Traditionally, sales professionals presented the following to differentiate themselves:
- Product advantage
- Pricing advantage
- Geographic advantage
- People advantage
These are the logical differentiators but they no longer work. They are the exact same things your competitors will use to differentiate themselves. Instead, concentrate on the following emotional differentiators:
- Industry/vertical solutions
- Knowledge advantage – teach new information
- Promote simplicity
- Promote safety and limited risk
Preconfigure a Repeatable Sales Process
- Send an engagement email after they give you their contact information to develop trust and confidence.
- Send an alignment email after you make first contact. The alignment email tells the customer that the sales person listens, understands, and is structured. The email should outline the following:
- You understand their “why”
- The capabilities they need – the “how”
- The anticipated impact after you implement the solution
- What you have agreed to
- Do a live 5- to 7-minute demo to provide visual engagement with the solution. This will engage the prospect emotionally and help override the critical part of their brain. A longer demo can follow if required.
- Do a remote proposal demonstration. NEVER email a proposal because you will not be there to respond to objections or to engage the person at the beginning and the end so you can win them over psychologically. Make sure the presentation includes these seven steps:
- Project Drivers
- Operational Challenges
- Financial or Risk Impacts
- Project Approach
- Anticipated Benefits
- Investment Options
- Get a commitment from the customer and outline the next steps.
- Upsell/cross-sell the customer. Customers can shift to another supplier quickly and easily, so it’s important to take care of them after the close. Keep engaging and teaching them and put another offer in front of them. Remember, on the cloud the close is just the beginning.
This entire process is highly repeatable. Build it so it remains unchanged, even when you swap out sales people. And remember, sales people need to be skilled, but they also need to approach this with curiosity, rather than from a self-serving perspective. They need to evolve, or they will be out of a job.