I sold my first copier in 1985 — a small Canon with moving platen for $1,299. This was my first sales job and I was making cold calls, in person. I had absolutely zero sales experience and no natural ability, but it didn’t seem to matter. Back then, selling was simple: Buyers compared one copier against another based on speeds and feeds, time to first print and maybe duty cycle (CPP wasn’t part of the picture yet. Trust me, I was there.)
I’d walk into a business and ask if they needed a way to make copies without leaving the building. They’d grunt a reply and I’d tell them the price. It was one salesperson (me) to one buyer (the decision-maker). Even large equipment sales followed a very straightforward, linear process: demo, proposal, follow-up, sold! That was pretty much it, other than price. If you had a better product that was priced competitively, you won the deal.
Few people weighed in on the buying decision. IT wasn’t part of the picture; to move the copier, you simply got a longer extension cord. Financing wasn’t a factor either; the customer leased the copier from the dealership or paid cash. And customers bought supplies from an OEM or by phone. We did talk about the advantages of our dealership versus others, but my biggest challenge was getting to the right person —“The Ultimate Decision Maker.”
Oh, how times have changed!
A few months ago I attended a breakout session at an industry event. The topic was “Group Buying Consensus.” A few years ago this session would have been an empty room. This year, the session was packed. The presenter was Matt Behrend, chief sales officer at Consensus, a company whose Software as a Service (SaaS) creates and automates product demos to drive buying consensus and accelerate B2B sales. Behrend explained that new research from CEB, a publicly traded company that advises large companies on business best practices, indicates that 5.4 people on average are now involved in most B2B buying decisions. Clearly, business leaders have come to see buying as a shared responsibility.
5.4 people on average are now involved in most B2B buying decisions
According to CEB, purchase likelihood drops from 81 percent to 55 percent, a 26 percent drop, when a second person joins a buying group. That number drops into the 40s when five people get involved.
As Behrend shared with us, CEB attributes this group-buying dynamic to several key factors. Today’s solutions are complex, technological and integrated; they touch multiple departments from across the company. If the leaders from these various departments don’t participate during the buying process — and buy into the chosen solution — they may withhold the necessary resources to ensure a successful implementation after a deal is done. In addition, companies are now more risk averse, networked and global than in the past. This can be difficult because each member of the buying group brings a different set of perspectives and priorities to the buying process. These divergent points of view can create very little natural overlap among buyers. Under these circumstances, unless carefully executed, personalization can push buyers further apart, which contributes to “group-buying dysfunction.”
According to CEB’s new book “The Challenger Customer” — a sequel to CEB’s best-selling “The Challenger Sale” — this is an important issue because, left to themselves, buying groups tend to accentuate their differences and agree on the lowest common denominators by default: a desire to avoid risk, maintain the status quo and save money. In fact, group-buying dysfunction can result in a buying group making no decision at all. In response to these risks, CEB’s insights for facilitating group-buying consensus include the following:
- Identify internal challengers or “mobilizers” who are inherently committed to helping their organizations change and who have the credibility to facilitate buying consensus from within.
- Equip mobilizers with commercial insights that frame the pain of doing nothing as being greater than the pain of making a change.
- Make the shift from being a salesperson to becoming a buying coach who facilitates consensus.
- First lead with content that helps groups agree on the problem to solve and the type or category of solution that can best solve it. Do this in a way that leads to your specific solution.
- Provide credible, third-party support to back up the solution category and your unique ability to deliver them.
- Facilitate collective learning to drive consensus and high-quality deals.
Behrend taught us that, in today’s group buying environment, you can’t simply hope that an internal sales champion will be able to present your value proposition to multiple stakeholders and facilitate consensus on her own. After all, most of our sales organizations spend four to eight months training a new sales rep on how to present the value of our offerings in a compelling way, along with the ability to adapt our stories to the unique needs of different stakeholders. Why would we entrust our story to a sales champion who just learned about our solution and expect them to be able to adapt it to the unique needs of different buyers? Hoping that they can convey our value to their fellow buyers is a big bet and not a sound sales model.
Think for a moment about your last managed print, multi-machine, document management, managed services, or workflow sales attempt. How many people were involved? I’m going to put on my mind-reader hat for a moment and guess. More than one? How did I do? Even for a relatively straightforward toner cartridge sale at a large organization your success is being influenced by purchasing, contracts, IT, facilities, etc. One decision maker? Not likely.
We can either try to create a different message for each decision maker, which can do more harm than good, or rely on the old “internal sales champ” (a figure that is as mythical as the unicorn) to pull everyone together on their own. Or we can find a better way.
That’s what Behrend’s company, Consensus has been working on for the past two years — and with impressive outcomes. Consensus’ intelligent demo automation videos include a brief introduction that give each prospective buyer a high-level overview of your value proposition. Then a personalization menu prompts a buyer to choose the chapters of your product story that most interest them. Buyers rate each video module as being “Very Important,” “Somewhat Important” or “Not At All Important.”
Then Consensus’ intelligent demo automation platform instantly plays the video segments according to the sequence and length a buyer selected: buyers will see the long version of any segments they marked as being “Very Important” and they’ll see a short version of the segments they marked as being “Somewhat Important.” Segments that they marked as “Not At All Important” won’t play at all. The sequence of video modules the Consensus platform plays — combined with the level of detail they go into — creates a unique and customized demo experience for each prospect because it helps them learn about an offering in a personally relevant way.
Consensus’ system also alerts you when someone is watching your demo so you can follow up in a timely way, and the demo analytics dashboard shows you who watched your demo, the topics they rated as being important, what they watched, and who they’ve shared it with. These insights help salespeople and mobilizers discover who is participating in the buying group and where they are aligned, so they can focus on the topics with the most support. As a result, Consensus’ customers have reduced sales cycles by as much as 68 percent and have increased their close rates by as much as 44 percent.
Buying groups are here to stay. Consensus-oriented solutions can help us partner with mobilizers to facilitate collective learning and drive high-quality deals.
Brad Roderick is executive vice president of InkCycle Inc. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience. He is an active member of the imaging industry as an author, trainer and speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org