Trust is the first and most essential factor. This was the point made by Mark Welch, author of “The Street Savvy Sales” leader, a speaker at an event that I facilitated last week in Toronto.
Mark was speaking about a real crisis in what is known as B2B (Business to Business) sales. Productivity in this area has plummeted to alarmingly low levels. Anyone who runs a corporate sales force is feeling the impact of this.
Finding new prospects, getting face time, all of the aspects of corporate sales are getting harder and harder. Everyone knows that. But something else has happened over the past decade which exacerbates the challenges. At least in the early stages of the buyers’ journey, the sales person is becoming less and less relevant.
Where the sales person was once the knowledgable guide, the average B2B customer is over 60% through their “buyer’s journey” before engaging with a vendor.
What is taking their place in the early stages of the buyer’s journey? Content. But not just any content. It’s the content the buyers trust.
In a recent study, (78%) of buyers say they are placing more emphasis on the trustworthiness of a content’s source than they did a year ago.
That presents some real challenges for companies that are vying for sales in the B2B space. In a world where trusted content is supplanting salespeople, in every survey vendor content inevitably falls to the bottom of the list of what is most trustworthy.
Buyers today trust the opinions of their peers, independent publications and industry experts by a wide margin.
The challenge that results – the plummeting productivity of corporate sales represents a real and present danger. In a digital world, maintaining a lead on features alone is a mug’s game. Even if we have the most innovative solutions, it doesn’t matter if our customers don’t know, believe and yes, trust that we are different.
Trust. It’s a world we use all the time. But what does it really mean?
One of the best definitions of trust that I’ve ever read comes from a book called “Trust in the Balance” by Robert Bruce Shaw. Shaw says that trust is something that is built from three key components:
- Empathy – are we open and listening?
- Integrity – is there consistency between our actions and our words?
- Results – do we deliver results?
The third of these essential characteristics is to me the most intriguing. While the first two are what we commonly associate with trust, they are necessary but not sufficient. We need to care and to be perceived as listening. Our deeds must match our words. But Shaw adds something extra. To our customers, nothing matters if we don’t deliver the results they need. Trust requires that we help them solve their problems and meet their challenges. Without that, nothing else matters.
Which leads us to the paradox – the “Catch 22” in our digital world. Companies have a shrinking window of time to distinguish themselves and to convince the prospective customer that we can deliver the results that they need. Once we concede 60% of the buyer’s journey is largely out of their direct control, the role of the salesperson becomes more, rather than less important. And to be successful, in that short period of time, these salespeople are competing for the trust of these customers.
This trust is what Shaw was talking about. It’s the trust that the customer experience will be there. That you will help them solve their challenges and realize their goals. The primary evidence of that will be their interactions with your customer-facing people and processes late in the buyer’s journey.
Mark Welch echoed this in his advice to salespeople. “If your products and services are the same, the difference is you,”
Which started me to thinking that if salespeople need to be more effective, and earn customer trust, and if trust requires results – they can only be trusted if their own organizations are aligned and dedicated to the customers’ outcomes. They have to trust their own organizations.
How many of us can truly say we really believe our organizations consistently deliver the solutions to our customers’ challenges?
We need coaches, not just in sales, but across our organizations.
That’s the role of leadership. We need to be effective coaches. And to be effective coaches we need to be trusted. Trust is achieved by our bur empathy, our integrity and most importantly, by the results that we get.
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins’ data showed that exceptional leaders aren’t the most charismatic. They aren’t the media stars. They are the hard-working, modest but fiercely determined leaders who believe in what they do and can be trusted to deliver results. Collins conveyed this with a great image. “Level five leaders,” he says, embrace the concept of the “the mirror and the window.” When things go well – they look out the window and give credit to their team. When things don’t go well, that window becomes a mirror – and they take accountability.
This is not new thinking. But in the world we live in today where truth and trust seem to be under siege, it was refreshing to listen to someone speak passionately about sales in a way that challenged me to think and more importantly, look in that proverbial mirror.
Thanks for the coaching, Mark. And for reminding me of the importance of trust.
If you want to read Mark’s book, it’s called “The Street Savvy Business Leader”. I got my copy at the event and I’ll be reading it and reviewing it in http://www.itbusiness.ca in the coming weeks. And I hope to do a webinar with him on the topic. I meet him at a series of sessions I’m doing with Dr. Cindy Gordon on Artificial Intelligence which is sponsored by IT World Canada (ITWC) and graciously hosted by Cap Gemini in their Toronto “Innovation Centre”.