“84% of B2B buyers are now starting the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.” (Harvard Business Review)
Why are buyers shying away from salespeople? According to this same article, salespeople “tend to prioritize a sales agenda over solving a customer’s problem.”
To avoid becoming replaced by self-service solutions, salespeople need to be more than order takers. They need to be problem solvers.
In other words, they need to be consultative sellers.
The state of B2B information technology data
This really is nothing new. We have seen it time and time again in the B2B information technology (IT), data vendor space.
Data vendors start out with a unique data source or process for obtaining data. Then they run into trouble.
Originally these data are sold to companies looking to get a leg up on who are their best prospects for new customers. Eventually, other data vendors join in and these data become a commodity. (The commoditization process has sped up in recent years with advances in computing power and source coding.)
So now what? To survive, do data vendors need to enhance the value of their data to their customers? Rather than just selling customers access to their data, do vendors need to provide additional value?
Some data vendors hope for a quick sale of their business or extend their lives via channel marketing. Others double down on the data and are able to expand into other vertical markets or find new unique data.
Still others take the route of Mintigo and Domo and provide self-service online tools that let customers “slice and dice” using data visualization platforms. But, again, the arms race is on, and these self-service/data visualization platforms are proliferating.
Back to consultative sales
There will always be companies that consume data and have the in-house expertise to process and make sense of it. And there will always be companies that only want marketing lists and are happy to get them through a self-service portal.
But what about mid-market companies?
They do not have in-house analytics. But they do need help in making decisions; understanding who are their existing customers; in what market segments they play and the size of their markets; solving vexing marketing and sales issues; and finding the right prospective customers.
This is where consultative sales is needed.
A consultative seller is one who starts with the customer’s need. And works through with the customer on what could meet that need. Ending up with what the seller can offer to…meet that need. Rather than starting with a canned data set/solution or platform.
A challenge faced by many data vendors is that they do not have such expertise in-house. Not only would they need sales people with such a mind- and skill-set. But they would also need to provide marketing analytics backup, in the form of reports, case-studies, training and real-time sales support and analysis.
Alternatively, data vendors can outsource this function and partner with companies that specialize in consultative marketing analytics. Such partners would play the role of consultative sales support and be an integral part of the data vendor’s sales and product support processes.
Technology to the rescue?
But can’t a sophisticated self-service platform play this role? One that, for example, allows the user to input their customer data, provides a customer profile and then scores a prospective list of new customers? Enter your credit card number here…thank you very much!
It has been our experience that, at the very least, customer data are messy! Moreover, mid-market customers need help in asking the correct question; using the tool to correctly answer their question; making course corrections in their analysis; and taking the tool to the next level to address new questions and market opportunities.
This requires some level of consultative support, whether in-house or outsourced. Not only to protect against GIGO syndrome (“garbage in, garbage out”) but to provide maximum value to the customer from use of the data vendor’s data and platform/application (if applicable).
Consultative sales and marketing analytics…a key to product differentiation
Forrester predicts that 1 million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by 2020 if some sort of consultative sales model is not adopted.
But we would take this further and argue that self-service e-commerce itself is in danger of becoming a commodity. And that data vendors can use consultative sales, backed by marketing analytics, to differentiate and enhance their product offering.