As sales people, our goal is to become the “go-to” resource for our customers in helping them solve their business problems. We want to position ourselves as trusted advisors to our customers.

But customers aren’t responding, increasingly, they rely on other resources for help in solving their business problems. CSO Insight’s 2018 Buyer Preferences Survey show only 23% of buyers consider Vendor Sales People as one of the top three resources to help solve their business problems. Out of 10 resources alternatives (for example, subject matter experts, vendor websites, past experience, industry resources, peers, etc.), vendor sales people were ranked 9.

As sales people become less preferred, customers are allocating less time (17% across all vendors according to Gartner), and deferring the involvement later in their buying cycle (customers are anywhere between 57 and 92% through the buying process, before engaging customers).

Ironically, customers are willing to engage sales people far earlier. They struggle in their buying process, they need help navigating the process. Their willingness to engage sales people increases if what they are buying is new for the organization, or it is perceived as risky, or it is complex–impacting multiple departments (which is the definition of complex B2B buying/selling).

What explains the gap?

Clearly, sales people are falling short. Sales people aren’t being helpful–at least in the areas that customers most need help.

  • Understanding of customers’ markets and businesses is critical.
  • Understanding the problems their organizations face and how to solve those problems is critical.
  • Helping customers navigate the buying journey, successfully selecting and implementing a solution that drives the desired results.
  • Helping them understand and manage the risk and complexity within their own organizations.
  • Helping them build the business case for change within their own organizations.

The challenge is, are we building capabilities that are most critical in being helpful to customers?

There is little in this list that is about our products. The majority of issues are about the customer and the challenges they face in understanding the need to change, determining what changes they need to make, identifying business needs/requirements, identifying risks, managing diverse priorities/agendas within the organization, identifying alternative solutions, selecting and implementing solutions that achieve the expected results.

Being helpful to our customers requires new skill sets–that few organizations recruit for or seek to develop: curiosity, critical thinking/problem solving, project management, collaboration, resources management.

If we want to be important to our customers. If we want to become a preferred, value creation channel, we have to change what we do, how we engage. Customers, clearly, have a preference for this—but we aren’t addressing those needs.