Why Sales Cannot Afford to Ignore the Early Part of the Buying Cycle

By Jeff Kalter

Here’s a statistic you’ve probably heard before: “57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier,” (CEB).

One Statistic Should Not Drive Your Sales Model

Marketing automation platforms, content marketers, and more cite this stat from CEB because it offers a strong rationale for using their marketing platforms and services. After all, marketing automation and content marketing both help in the early phase of the buying cycle (and beyond). They do the hard work of capturing leads, warming them up with email nurturing, and scoring leads. Once a contact accumulates a high lead score, it’s finally time for sales to take action.

But is that too late?

In some cases, it may be. By then, the decision maker is well entrenched in the buying cycle – maybe even with a preferred vendor in mind. As the research says, 57 percent of the purchase decision has been made.

This number that is behind many of today’s sales and marketing strategies, however, may not be everything it appears to be. Apparently, the study that delivered this factoid was not as all-encompassing as you might think. While the research was based on responses from 1,500 decision makers, these people represented only 22 large companies.

Your buyer may be entirely different from the average buyers working at this small sample of companies. In fact, according to Forrester, buying behavior varies substantially by industry. For example, their research shows that, in the early part of the buying cycle, the sales rep’s influence is much lower for “mobile devices, apps, platforms, and management software” than it is for “business intelligence and analytics.” For the former, sales is the fifth most influential channel. For the latter, the sales rep is the most influential. Channels include sales representatives, peers, technical Websites, technical analysts, vendor Websites, IT forums, technical publications, and more.

Also, the SiriusDecisions 2017 Buying Study of 868 buyers from 15 different industries provides an insight that puts into question today’s tendency to minimize sales efforts early in the buying cycle. They say, “In the first educational phase of the buying process, where people spend one-third of their time, we found that more than 60 percent of buyers received information from the sales representative of the winning provider.”  

Conclusion? The winning vendors meet with prospects when the starting gates open for the buying cycle!

Zig While Others Zag

What does that mean for you?

If your competition has adopted a strategy of waiting until late in the buying cycle for sales involvement, there may be an opportunity to differentiate your company by doing the opposite.

You’ve probably heard about first mover advantage in the marketplace, where the company that enters a market first is likely to win more market share than its competitors. The same first-mover advantage may apply in your sales cycle. The salesperson who starts working with a buying team first is more likely to succeed than those who wait for the request for proposal (RFP). In fact, a company may put out an RFP just to determine whether their preferred supplier (the one they met first) is offering a reasonable price. It’s just a final check before they move forward. If they are a little higher than you, so be it. As long as they are in the ballpark, they will likely win the business.

So you may be better off having your business development reps enter into the buying cycle early. When they do, they can help the buyer frame the problem and present a solution that highlights your product’s advantages.

However, they have to approach early entry the right way. Here are some tips:

  • Be Consultative: Your reps should not lead by peddling their wares with brochures and spec sheets. By taking on a more sophisticated role as a consultant – talking about the customer’s needs, goals, and potential solutions – they are more likely to be successful. They must bring insights and education.
  • Think Big: Also, salespeople should assess the big picture and present integrated solutions rather than sell individual products.

By approaching the sale this way, they help reduce the amount of time decision makers have to spend online figuring out how to solve the problem. They provide a service. In the process, they develop a relationship and become trusted. Meanwhile, they are softly selling the unique benefits of your solution.

Another advantage of early involvement is that reps have time to search out the lay of the land at an account. Who are the decision makers, the influencers, and the users? What are their hot buttons and what role do they play? How might internal politics affect the buying decision? All this intelligence gathering assists in making the final sale rather than relying on reducing the price to gain a foothold in an account.

How to Be the Early Bird Who Gets the Worm

It’s easy to say, “Don’t wait until it’s too late.” However, in the past, it was hard to implement that strategy. You could have gone after a lot of accounts that were not interested in buying.

Today, however, it’s easier. You can adopt an account-based marketing approach, where you decide the ideal accounts you want to add to your roster. Layer on top of that intent-based data that tells you who is in the market. Then go after them. Taking this approach, you’re not just the early bird; you also know where the worms are hiding.

So reconsider your sales-and-marketing model. Is it working for you? If not, make sure you understand your buyer’s journey and how sales consultations fit into it. Then, restructure your model so it works for them and it better achieves your company’s objectives.

Jeff Kalter is CEO of 3D2B, a global business-to-business telemarketing company that bridges the divide between marketing and sales. He leads customer acquisition programs for Fortune 500 companies and is passionate about building strong business relationships through professional phone conversations.