Sellers sell AND buy. Buyers buy, but most don't sell on a regular basis.
This alone ought to give sellers an advantage, an opportunity to relate to buyers and bridge the divide between buyer/seller. Because sellers are buyers, they have a heightened ability to understand buyers. Why, then, do we miss the mark when it comes to delivering on buyer expectations?
At the risk of over-simplifying matters, when sellers put themselves into their buyers' shoes then sales advance.
Research with buyers bears this out. In our panel study with 530 B2B buyers, we learned that buyers are more willing to meet with and more likely to buy from sellers who exhibit certain behaviors more frequently than others. Among these behaviors are several that suggest an ability to understand and empathize.
What Buyers Value Doesn't Vary Much from B2B to B2C or Across Buyer Demographics
Just like sellers are also buyers, B2B buyers are also B2C buyers. In the B2C space, much attention and effort has gone into creating a meaningful Customer Experience (CX). The CX is far more than customer service because today's empowered consumers expect more.
CX involves the buyer's perception of value, their own ability to use and benefit from that value and their own enjoyment of the buying experience. Every interaction with the seller and every touchpoint during the buying journey impacts the total customer experience. Note how this definition (from Forrester) is hinting strongly at emotional engagement.
This is one reason why AI is focusing more and more on emotional context and personality preferences. To make an experience personally relevant, valuable and enjoyable, sellers must be willing and able to connect emotionally, too.
Our research with buyers showed consistent expectations across sectors, deal size, sales cycle time, decision authority and other variables. One subtle difference, though, pertains to what buyers value.
Buyers 30 and younger place a higher value on seller behaviors related to building trust and connections. By contrast, B2B buyers over 50 more highly valued seller behaviors related to driving ROI and business results. Universally, though, the top-ranked seller behaviors are those that demonstrate a seller's ability to engage and create an enjoyable connection.
To Learn What Buyers Value, Ask and Listen with Empathy When They're Talking
Sales techniques often interfere with connections. A seller's focus, for example, on overcoming a price objection causes an awkward disruption in buyer/seller conversations.
I see this time after time in field coaching with sellers. Here's how it plays out:
The sale has progressed through opening and rapport building. Nascent trust is taking hold. The seller has started to learn about the buyer's needs. The buyer is
progressing from awareness and interest to the first stirring of desire for the product.
That's when buyers ask this question: "how much will it cost?" or some version of it.
Sellers, trained to deflect that question until value is fully established, react by ignoring the question or giving some cute, canned response. The most recent one I heard was "Less than you think and more than you wish."
Both responses -- ignoring the question or giving a vague response -- move the process backwards. They put the buyer on guard, diminishing desire and trust. They make the seller seem self-serving and unwilling to respond to the buyer's needs.
The seller's response is magnified by the discomfort. Body language signals that this is not a welcome topic and walls go up. Notice what you and other sellers do, physically, when you get a price question. I frequently see responses like drawing in a breath, pursing lips, folding arms, grimacing, leaning away, shuffling, looking down. Buyers see it, too.
Sellers who stay "in the moment" and respond with empathy do something different. They listen so well that they hear the question as a sign of buyer desire. They recognize the shift from interest to desire (which leads to action). They pay attention to the phrasing of the question.
Instead of hearing "how much does it cost?" these sellers hear the actual words being spoken. There's a very big difference, for example, between "what kind of a deal can you get me?" and "can we talk in six months when we're budgeting?"
Hearing the actual words clues you in to where the buyer is on their own buying journey, what the buyer values, and what the buyer needs from you to move forward. Using canned responses doesn't dignify the buyer or tap into value.
In the B2B buyer research, the number one most highly ranked seller behavior is
The seller fully answers my questions and provides information that is relevant, timely, and useful.
Buyer comments are elucidating. Buyers say that dodging price questions is viewed as rude, untrustworthy and unhelpful. At the same time, buyers do not want sellers to misrepresent price, and they respect that information should be given in a timely manner.
Fully answering the question in a way that is satisfactory to buyers sounds like "Our prices usually range from $___ to $___. I need to understand more before I can give you a true quote."
Another effective strategy is to ask a question. If you've heard "it's not polite to answer a question with a question," this advice may surprise you. In response to a premature price question, ask a question to understand more about the buyer. A quality question that probes value is polite, dignifying and welcomed by buyers.
The question depends on what the buyer seems to value. "We're focused on mission critical installations. How much will this be?" gives you an opening to probe the "mission critical" plans, why they got prioritized and how you can align. You'll get insight into the decision-making process and decision drivers. At the same time, you'll be differentiating yourself, creating an enjoyable customer experience and dignifying what the buyer shared.
Your response would be phrased in a way that makes it clear you are extending, not changing, the conversation about price. It would sound something like this "As we talk about price, help me understand what you're prioritizing as mission critical."
With the information you gather, you will be able to provide an answer that is more relevant, timely and useful than the artful dodge that sounds good in the classroom. By the way, don't forget to come back to price once you have that information about what's valued and only a few minutes after it was asked.
Focusing on Your Product Will Cause You to Miss What Buyers Value from YOU
What your buyers value first is what you bring to the table. Not your product. Not your prices. Not your company's deal sweeteners or added value. You.
Only you can create value in the moment. Only you can make the customer experience enjoyable. Only you can respond in ways that are relevant, timely and useful.
When you focus on selling behaviors, you neglect connecting behaviors. When you focus on positioning your product, you're missing the opportunity to position yourself as a trustworthy resource. When you focus on closing the deal, you're losing sight of the need to open a relationship.
The 30 behaviors identified in our research with B2B buyers are all about how sellers and buyers interact with each other. These are not optional. They are not expected only of female sellers (some believe that women do this better).
Buyers want, need and expect all sellers to show empathy and to tune in. The price question is just one example. Buyers are looking for these behaviors in every encounter with sellers.
Now that You Know What Buyers Value, Consider One of these Next Steps:
Read the book that shows you how to build trust, engage buyers and become the ONE seller that buyers actually WANT to talk to. This bestseller was recently named one of "The 20 Most Highly-Reviewed Sales Books of All Time" by HubSpot!
Learn more about The Stop Selling & Start Leading® movement and our groundbreaking B2B buyer research. This movement is founded in the evidence-based framework The Leadership Challenge® by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.
The award-winning CONNECT2Sell Blog is for professional sellers who believe, as we do, that Every Sale Starts with a Connection. Our 2017 emphasis will be on reporting buyer-side research and how sellers can connect with buyers and sell more effectively by adopting the behaviors of leaders. The Stop Selling & Start Leading® movement is all about the future state of sales and your success as a Sales Professional.
Deb Calvert is President of People First Productivity Solutions, a UC Berkeley instructor, and a former Sales/Training Director of a Fortune 500 media company. She speaks and writes about the Stop Selling & Start Leading® movement and offers sales training, coaching and consulting as well as leadership development programs. She is certified as an executive and sales coach by the ICF and is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®. Deb has worked in every sector and in 14 countries to build leadership capacity, team effectiveness and sales productivity with a “people first” approach. Her bestselling book “DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected” has been named by HubSpot as one of "The 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time."