online_researchMuch has been written about the changing nature of today’s B2B buyer, often with consternation over these frequently cited figures:

Do you believe the CEB study that suggests that 57% of the buying decision has been made before a customer engages with a Sales rep?

Do you take more comfort from SiriusDecisions’ rebuttal, which concludes that while 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally, reps enter at the beginning of the buying decision somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 of the time?

How do you react to Forester’s findings, stating that in categories such as  “Security Software” the sales rep is the 6th most influential channel after Tech Info Websites, Tech Analysts, Vendor Websites, Peers and IT Forums?

We could quibble over numbers, question the conclusions of the players with skin in the game, or wring our hands over whether the internet is causing the death of the salesman. But maybe we should just accept that the role of the B2B sales rep is changing, and adapt our sales content strategy to align to this buyer.

Regardless of whether your buyers are engaging with your reps at the beginning, middle or end of the sales conversation, you can be assured that 100% of B2B purchases involve independent research.  I think Google puts it best (yes, another study) with data that shows that B2B researchers do 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site.

Now here’s the key, they’re going to talk to your sales rep at some point in the process. And that rep MUST add value to the conversation in order for that buyer to become your customer. If your sales reps can’t provide any more information, insight or knowledge than what’s widely available on the internet, then you’ve lost the opportunity to move the sale forward.

So…how are you preparing your sales reps to sell to the engaged buyer?

Step 1 – Be the buyer, and follow their journey

If your buyers are conducting an average of 12 searches before they ever make it to your site, then do those same 12 searches. Pick keywords that you are optimizing for, and keywords that are being targeted by your competition. Then use keywords from any press coverage about your industry. Keep track of all of your searches, and gather up the top 20 results from each search.

Now build a matrix for those results based on the messages contained within those sites, and how well they align to your value proposition vs your competitors. Include in that matrix, a quality assessment of how engaging the content is, For example, a text heavy page would score lower compared to a 20 second video.

Be rigorous! What does the engaged buyer know about your products, as compared to your competitor’s products? How do 3rd party sites, news outlets and analyst sites speak to the targeted keywords, and do their conclusions align with your value propositions, or your competitors? Finally, based on your honest quality scores, what messages have stuck in the buyer’s mind?

Step 2 – Create compelling sales content

Now you need to equip your sales representatives to have a conversation with this engaged buyer. You need to distill the information you’ve gathered into a series of questions, so your sales reps can assess what the buyer knows, and what conclusions they’ve already come to. Then you need to prepare the reps to have several different conversations, based on what the buyer knows about your products vs. the competitors, and the language that they are using to describe their problem. Finally you need to enable them to position your products uniquely against the information that the buyer has gathered during their research.

What’s important in this process, is that you’re not necessarily creating typical collateral. While some great sell sheet, or infographic might fall out of this work, your focus needs to be on enabling your sales reps to have a more engaged conversation. That content is going to look and feel different – it might be a series of battle cards, or some role-playing sales training videos. Maybe it’s a flowchart, or a series of preformatted emails. There are many options for creating content that transfers knowledge and makes your reps smarter. You’ll need to experiment to find the format that is most effective.

Step 3 – Measure and track

Once you’ve created this new content, and enabled you sales reps to have a different type of conversation, you need to assess the impact it is having on the sales process. Engage with your reps. Make sure they have digested the material you’re providing them, and that there is a way for them to track when they are using the information during sales calls. Ideally you’ll have a CRM system or other technology that can facilitate these analytics, but if not, collect direct feedback on whether this content has facilitated better conversation.

Step 4 – Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Messages evolve, competitors come and go, and products get upgraded. Some messages will work to carry the conversation, and others will fall flat. You’ll have to maintain this rigorous process of understanding your engaged buyer, tailoring content to move the conversation forward, and tracking the impact of your efforts.

So, how well do you sell to the engaged buyer?  We’d love to share your thoughts and results with our readers.