What I learned from speaking to almost 400 buyers
Sales is still stuck in the 90’s. Are you currently experiencing the following?
· High pressure to make 50–100 cold calls a day
· High pressure to fill your pipeline as much as possible, even with misfit prospects
· Pressure to lie and tell your buyers what you think they want to hear
· Constant frustration with rejections and “No” decisions
· Prospects “ghosting” on you
· Buyers negotiating hard for a discount
· Inexperience and limited training on how to sell using video calls.
The sad reality is that your buyers have raced ahead of your sales training. The average business buyer has 10 years more experience buying that you have experience in selling. They know the game better than you do! Most of your training will be about your products and why your company is better than the competition. Even if you have received some sales training, how much of it is really about your buyer? How much does your company teach you about things like:
· How your buyer likes to buy
· A day-in-the-life of your buyer
· How your buyers are paid, incentivised, measured and even bonused
· How your buyer makes business decisions
· How a buyer decides who they trust
· What the top 10% of sellers do?
I am sorry to say this, but you are likely being set up for failure. Not maliciously. I am sure that your sales manager and leaders don’t want you to fail. The problem is that their sales approach is over 20 years old and is no longer relevant to your buyers who are regularly changing their purchasing habits. Since the pandemic, things have moved so fast that if your buyer behaviour intel is older than 6 months then it is out of date.
After speaking with almost 400 B2B buyers and almost 100 sales high performers, I found that there is one main thing that buyers look for above everything else.
Without Trust You Have Nothing
This is one of the biggest myths about B2B sales. People believe that successful sellers charismatically convince and cajole their buyers into believing them. Unfortunately, most sellers believe that the key to success is to somehow say the right things and almost manipulate their buyers into buying by using “techniques” and “talk tracks”. As if experienced buyers are gullible enough to fall for them.
This problem has meant that buyers don’t trust sellers. A recent study by Linkedin on the State of Sales 2020 found that:
· 40% of buyers believe sellers are untrustworthy; and
· 25% of buyers believe that the whole sales profession is “morally and ethically challenged”.
That is a real problem! The sales industry has somehow crippled itself and made our job of selling harder. It is not the buyers who are at fault. It is sellers.
Think about the last time that you bought something. You will have done a few of the following:
· Checked out the reviews
· Recognised the brand or searched for a brand you know
· Done your research about the product or service
· Asked someone you know about their knowledge and experience of the product.
All of these fall under one category: trust. Before you make any purchase, you do your research to understand if you can trust the company you are buying from and if you can trust that the product or service will deliver what they promise.
This is even more paramount in business buying. Research by Gartner found that about 83% of the buyers purchasing journey involves them conducting their own research about suppliers. They speak with their peers, conduct independent research, and connect with multiple resources to gain as much intel about whether a supplier can be trusted.
Your ultimate objective as a salesperson is not to get the sale; it is to make yourself trustworthy. If your buyers trust you, they will listen to you. If they listen to you and trust you, they will seek advice from you. They will follow your recommendations because they trust you, and they are more likely to buy from you.
Here is the big question — has anyone taught you about how to be trustworthy? If not, you are missing the fundamental principles of modern B2B selling.
Trust is a Mixture of 2 Things
Steven Covey, the global bestselling author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once wrote that trust is where Character and Competence converge. You must have the right Character and Competence to demonstrate to a buyer that you are trustworthy. These are the things that your buyers are either consciously or subconsciously looking for when you engage with them.
In this article, we will cover Character. Trust is one of the biggest differentiators for buyers. Sellers can be trained to say the right things, conduct the right process, and even deliver a powerful value proposition. But, for buyers, the critical thing they look for is whether the seller has a trustworthy Character.
Characteristics of Trust
I have researched extensively into both the science and social aspects of trust; from scientific journals to experts who have dedicated the better part of their professional life understanding how certain people successfully inspire trust. There are 7 characteristics or traits of highly trustworthy people:
Are you someone who speaks and acts your truth? Are you speaking as yourself, or are you trying to be someone else and faking it?
Are you consistent in your approach? Do you consistently approach your day with the right energy and attitude? Do you consistently perform to high standards when engaging with your prospects or clients? Do you consistently structure and deliver on your sales calls with a buyer, whether it is the first call or the contract agreement? Are you consistently thorough and professional with a client even when you have a close relationship with them? Some salespeople become complacent when they know they are working with a loyal client. They become lazy in their approach. Trustworthy professionals do not fall into this trap.
When hiring someone, Warren Buffet looks for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. He then said, “If they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
Does the buyer feel that you are truthful, or are you stretching the truth by delivering promises that you cannot fulfil? Too many companies force their sellers to say yes to any buyer requests or to say that their product has certain functionality that the buyer seems to desire, even if it does not.
One of the biggest indicators for lack of integrity is if you have only great things to say about your product or service. Nothing is perfect, and your buyers know this. There is no such thing in our world. The best sellers are those who proactively share the negative aspects of their offering before the buyer asks them. It does not mean that you bash your product. Instead, you should be honest about what you do very well and what you don’t do that your competitors may have. The best sellers don’t just state the “negatives”, they go on to explain why clients still decide to work with them and explain why those “missing components” don’t add business value to the buyer.
What I have just explained has been proven by science. We are wired to look for inconsistencies. If we see something that claims to be perfect, we instantly don’t trust it, and we are less likely to purchase.
Do your buyers feel you as a responsible person? Do they believe that you feel great accountability towards them and do everything you can to deliver on your promises? Buyers want a seller they can trust to solve current and future problems. Too many sellers are available and present when things are going well, but suddenly disappear when there is a problem or a tough situation.
You might think that this comes under Responsible, but there is more to just being reliable on delivering your promise. Can buyers rely on the information that you are giving them? Can they trust that you also have their best interests at heart and that the information you provide them is not bias towards your selfish goals? Can they rely on you to give them the right advice and to remain up to date on critical market/industry/product developments so that they aren’t left chasing their competitors?
This was a surprising one to learn. A research conducted by the University of Chicago found that people who feel guilty about certain actions inspire more trust than those who do not. Everyone has done something in their life that they would regret. Those who feel guilt are more likely to reflect on their actions and change their behaviour for the better.
This does not mean that you have to be a “yes person” or a pushover. This does not mean that you do whatever the buyer asks of you. This is about tactfulness. In her book, The Influential Mind, Tali Sharot explains that we won’t accept all the data in the world that proves we are wrong. Have you ever come across someone who stubbornly sticks to their opinions even when you show them all the logical facts and information to the contrary? That is because their brain has decided on an opinion and will filter out anything that contradicts that belief.
Instead, you should be tactful when challenging someone’s belief. The word influence comes from the Latin word influer, which means to flow in. Imagine that someone’s opinion is a river. Do you try to block the flow of that river with a large dam? You probably could, but it would take a huge amount of effort and water may still break through or flow around your dam. Instead, you should get into the river and flow with them. Learn to understand why they have that opinion, and then you can slowly show them a different perspective and change the course of “their river”. By doing this, buyers will consider you more trustworthy because you have taken the time to understand them. As Dale Carnegie states in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, people ultimately want to feel heard and understood. When they feel that you are interested in them, they will find you more likeable and are more likely to be open to what you have to say.
The best sellers are empathetic and don’t seek to cause friction, but seek to influence and persuade their buyers in a tactful and mature manner.
Are You Trustworthy?
Below are a series of questions to help you quickly assess how trustworthy you are.
Rate yourself on a score of 1 to 5 for each (1 is Strongly Disagree, and 5 is Strongly Agree).
I am fully aware of what makes me unique.
When someone asks me a question, I share your honest views even when I know they are looking for a certain answer.
I know what my values are.
I approach each sales task and process with equal diligence and preparation.
I control my mindset to ensure I approach each day with the same level of energy, positivity and purpose.
I make sure that I conduct extensive research into each client or prospect that I engage with to be fully knowledgeable about their business and any new developments.
Truth is my north star, and I don’t compromise on telling the truth, even if it will reduce my chance of a sale.
There is never a good reason or circumstance to lie or bend the truth to a buyer about our product and service capabilities.
If a buyer asks for information that I am unsure of, I am confident in admitting my lack of knowledge.
I rarely blame others or circumstances for my failures and take full ownership of them?
I believe that I am in control of my life and that my choices ultimately determine my fate.
If a client is angry or we have failed to deliver on a promise, I courageously address their concerns and seek resolutions.
I reflect on past actions I have taken, especially those that I may be less than proud of.
I regularly assess my past actions to see if I could have taken a better approach and ensure I don’t make the same mistakes in the future.
I regret past decisions that were contrary to my values.
I patiently take the time to understand my buyer’s point of view, even if I strongly disagree with them.
When a buyer voices an objection or disagrees with me, I don’t force contrary data or my agenda, but instead, empathise with them and champion their point of view.
Total Score ____
If you scored 20 or less:
Remember that your average buyer has over 15–20 years of professional experience. That means they will be older and more experienced in life. Such experience carries with it the ability to quickly assess if someone is trustworthy or not. If there is any hesitation, they will take the safe road and decide not to risk trusting you. Skills and knowledge are only one part of being trustworthy. Your Character is the real differentiator. Work on understanding what is preventing you from developing those characteristics and decide which 2 of the 7 Characters you will address.
If you scored 21–68:
You are someone who has the makings of being trusted by senior professionals. You likely have at least 2–3 of the above 7 characteristics that align with your values. Therefore, it is easier for you to exemplify them. The challenge now is to address those that you may not readily recognise as aligned with your values. Why are they misaligned? Is this a question of perspective or because you have not dwelled on them in the past? Now is your chance to do so. Most of the time, we feel pain because we live a life that is not true to ourselves or our values. Addressing those misalignments will likely dramatically increase your self-esteem, confidence in front of decision-makers, and your ability to empathise with them and gain their respect and trust.
If you scored 67 or above:
You are a diamond in the rough. You stand out from the crowd not necessarily because of your knowledge and skills, but because of your courage to stand fast in the face of pressure from your manager, society, and pressure from wrongful expectations. Remember, mastery doesn’t come from a one-time event of achievement. Mastery is a continuous journey. High-performance athletes aren’t the best because they once trained hard; they continue to be the best because they train even harder once they reach the top. There will be occasions when your trustworthy Character is tested. Those who stand the test of time know that they must consistently refine and practice their strengths to maintain them. Which 1–2 Characters did you score the least? What could you do right now to practice and improve how you show up in those Characters?