Why your customers are your best salespeople
3 reasons why happy customers are better at selling than your sales team
Prospective buyers hate pushy sales people, particularly when they interrupt them at the wrong time. It’s always the wrong time. They hate sales people even more when they just talk about their products and don’t take the time to understand their business and listen to their challenges. Overall, sales people have a bad rep and B2B buyers want to keep them at arms-length until they really need them.
In the digital age, information symmetry (the easy availability of detailed product information and customer opinions) means that buyers don’t rely on salespeople as much as they once did. Research from CEB shows that B2B buyers are 57% of the way through their purchase process before they want to engage directly with a salesperson. Before that point, they’re in stealth mode. They don’t want to be bothered. During this phase, they want access to rich information, but at the same time they want to maintain anonymity. They want to prevent interruptions from sales emails and sales calls that happen just moments after they sign up to access some gated content. This is why marketers get shouted at by sales teams for providing “mickey mouse” leads; they’re genuine buyers doing real research, but the sales people don’t get the contact details they need to follow them up.
Senior managers and executives commonly have a “gatekeeper” to screen calls and emails – to weed out these unwanted communications. Others make quick use of the delete key to deal with sales emails and promise “I’ll call you back tomorrow” to get pushy sales people off the phone.
So here’s the challenge for B2B companies: prospective customers don’t want to be bothered by sales people when they’re in discovery mode, but you want to make sure they know about your brand and your products early in their purchase process. If a prospective customer gets half way through their process and they’ve still never heard of you, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Hands up everybody who’s been on the receiving end of this question: “Why didn’t we know about this opportunity until now?” It’s painful, but all too frequent. Prospective buyers are getting very good at hiding their intentions until they want them to be known.
If your sales cycle begins 57% of the way through a prospect’s buying cycle, then you’re lagging behind. So how can you get your organization in front of customers earlier in the buying process? Content marketing is one strategy – publishing consultative content to provide value to prospects without the hard-sell that puts prospects off when they’re in research mode. Customer advocacy is another. Business buyers hide their needs and intentions from salespeople, but not from their peers.
- CUSTOMERS CAN REACH PROSPECTS YOUR SALES PEOPLE CAN’T
While business professionals actively throw up barriers to prevent sales people from bothering them, they don’t screen conversations with their peers. In fact, they want to have conversations with them. They’ll pay thousands of dollars and travel across the world to network with peers because they trust them (83% of people trust recommendations from people they know. 66% trust customer opinions posted online).
Every day, your customer’s are having conversations with buyers about their business challenges and solutions. That includes potential buyers that haven’t yet put a name to the problem, considered what their needs might be, or had their first thought about buying. As a result, conversations between peers frequently trigger forward motion: like the realization that there is a problem to be solved or that there are suitable solutions on the market that provide shortcuts. In this respect, happy customers aren’t just market-influencers, they’re market-makers. They generate demand for your products/services by talking about what you’ve done for them. These are the conversations that sales people would love to get involved in, but can’t. Most of the time, sales people don’t even get to be a fly-on-the-wall when these open discussions are happening among peers. The good news is that they don’t need to be: you probably already have a more trusted representative present – one of your happy customers.
- CUSTOMERS WILL QUALIFY PROSPECTS FOR YOU
These conversations often go deeper than simple recommendations. An offline conversation between peers often involves a deep discussion around business problems and how they approach and solve them. When your customers have these conversations, they’re thinking about how they can help. However, every single time a customer makes a recommendation they’re laying their reputation on the line. If a peer takes their advice and it all goes wrong, trust is diminished and their reputation will take a hit.
They really don’t want to get it wrong, so they dig deeper to find out if their needs can be serviced by your offerings. If there’s a match, they’ll recommend you. If there isn’t, they’ll explain why the solution won’t work for the prospect. Whichever way it goes, it’s a win for your organization. The prospect either walks away “primed” on the value that your organization delivers, or they’re not a prospect that you can sell to, and they’ve just saved you the cost of manually qualifying them out of your sales pipeline.
- CUSTOMERS WILL REFER YOU HOT LEADS
So what happens when the conversation ends? The prospect might get in touch with you, at some point. Or maybe they won’t. The ball is very much in their court unless you, somehow, find out that they’re in the market. At this moment in time, you don’t actually know that there’s a prospective buyer out there who has a definite need and a positive opinion of your brand.
By default, the opportunity floats off into the ether, but you can negate the risk by encouraging customers to refer new business opportunities directly to you. Ultimately, your customers want to see their peers succeed, and they want you as an organization to succeed, so they’re doubly motivated to take action. If you make it quick an easy for existing customers to refer new customers, they will. If there’s too much friction in the process, they’ll leave it, and you’ll never know how close you came to a sale.