Any time you’re taking advice, it is helpful to know that the person giving it has actually been there and done that. At Element Three, we’ve realized that one area consultancies really fail in—ourselves included—is in the buying experience. As marketing has evolved from finding leads to facilitating helpful sales interactions and finally to encompassing the way your team services current customers, Element Three has had to revamp our own buying experience, too.
What has that looked like? We’ve been able to take our sales process from being reliant on our president to a greater place of internal sales alignment where a revenue team works together to build our book of business. As a result, we’ve seen a consistent and reliable amount of new business revenue year over year—over $1 million in 2020, despite a less-than-stellar selling situation—and a 97% good-fit new client rating last year, meaning we weren’t forcing square pegs into round holes.
We’ve been working for a while to get to this place, and we would never have achieved these goals if we had not established a consistent and positive buyer experience. Here’s how we did it, and how you can too.
Identify and eliminate your bottlenecks
According to Gartner research, only 17% of business-to-business buyers will ever meet with a sales person during the research phase of a buying decision. This means that by the time they get to your sales team, they’re ready to go, and aren’t looking to be slowed down by a methodical sales process. Nothing is more frustrating than taking time to do research, and then running into obstacles once a human sales person enters the picture. To illustrate this point, consider how many car-buying services are advertising their lack of sales person interaction as a major selling point. Carvana is exploding because you can simply make your purchase online and receive your car right away. We buy like this because we’ve had so many experiences with sales people becoming a bottleneck rather than a helping hand through the process—and because in an increasingly digital world, we can do the research on our own, at our own pace.
Using Element Three as an example, our bottleneck was the lack of resources available to participate in the sales process. For a very long time, Tiffany Sauder, our CEO, was the entire sales team. If you couldn’t meet with Tiffany, you couldn’t get started with us. Like most CEOs, Tiffany’s calendar is obviously extremely busy. Trying to find time became a legitimate challenge and led to frustration for our prospects during the buying process
In order to get past this challenge, we worked to bring our various subject matter experts into the sales process. This took professional training with an outside sales consultant (we cannot recommend Lushin strongly enough) as well as simply giving these professionals at-bats in sales conversations. Were there hiccups along the way? Of course. But the end result is that Tiffany’s availability (or lack thereof) no longer slows down the process, and buyers consistently tell us how much they appreciate our attentiveness and responsiveness during the sale. It also helps us determine the proper starting point for our engagement.
- Figure out where you have stickiness in the sales process
- Determine the people, technology, and/or resources needed to eliminate this friction
- Implement the new system and listen for positive and negative feedback
Make sure you aren’t selling two organizations
While finalizing a recent partnership agreement, our main point of contact looked at me and said, “If this goes wrong, I know it is the sales person’s fault—and I have your contact information.” We all had a good laugh but it underlined a specific message: people are way too familiar with a bait and switch. You, no doubt, recognize this, but it still bears repeating. Also, it is entirely possible that you are doing this to your prospects without even knowing it. Here are a few examples of commonly experienced bait and switches in the buying process:
- A demo for a new technology that sidesteps your lack of internal resources to roll this out to the organization—so the technology sits unused or unmanaged
- A free sample of a product, but you have to pay shipping and handling costs
- The solutions architect of an organization sells, but then is nowhere to be found during the work
That last bullet point hits home for us. To be entirely transparent, in the past we were so guilty of this that it’s embarrassing to even remember it. Much like your own situation may be, it wasn’t intentional. We keep our sales team lean (you’re listening to the one sales person in the organization as you read this) and for a long time the main support person was our CEO, Tiffany. When Tiffany and I would sell a new project, we’d clunkily lob it over the proverbial fence to our client teams, and they’d have to figure out what to do with the project. In other words: our new customer bought a Tiffany-generated idea and then suddenly were working with a non-Tiffany team. Not a great client experience, right from the start, and it set our consulting leads up for failure.
We fixed this by starting to introduce our client-facing consultants earlier in the sales process, and ensuring that they have final sign-off on any project before it is sold. You could walk into our virtual doors tomorrow and promise me a one trillion dollar budget (please do), but before I could hand you a piece of paper to sign, we’d need to discuss the work with at least one of our consultants. This has led to greater alignment with clients from day one, stronger trust in our organization rather than one individual, and greater momentum from the get-go.
- Look at your sales process and establish whether you’re performing a bait and switch, and where
- Determine whether this is happening due to a people problem, a process problem, or a technology/resources problem
- Adjust the solution according to the answer to number 2 and stick to your new process
Help your prospects know when to call and when to pass
Since your positioning is such a massive component of your go-to-market strategy, this could happen long before a prospect actually talks to you. Picture this for a moment. You’re looking to go out to dinner, and you really want an excellent steak. When you get this craving, you’re going to search “Best steakhouses near me,” or something along those lines. How would you feel if instead of steakhouses, you were served up a bunch of taco stands or seafood restaurants? You would feel misled and you’d wonder what update Google made to their algorithm. You’d then have to continue searching for a restaurant with a great steak, and you’d have wasted your time having to look at taco restaurants.
The same thing happens to your buyer when you aren’t clearly articulating what your company does, who you serve, and how you help your buyers. While not specifically considered in the buyer’s journey, the way your brand is presented to the marketplace absolutely affects the overall buying experience. In fact, our own VP of Strategy Danielle Falconer defines brand as “every interaction someone has with your business”—this certainly extends to the way they interact with your content and messaging during the buying process.
Back in 2018, we took a look at the business challenges we were solving for our clients, the team we had assembled, and the work we wanted to be doing, and contrasted that against the work we were currently being actually asked to execute by the marketplace. What we saw? Our brand no longer reflected who we are internally, and that was spilling over into the types of buyers we were attracting. This led to a greater than 85% disqualify rate during introductory calls, and while I’m happy to be a resource to help people find their best fit, it was wasting this buyer’s time to meet with me only for us to both realize early on that Element Three wasn’t the best fit for them.
How’d we solve this? We ate our own dog food and did a full rebrand. While that is still being rolled out to the marketplace and we are still updating our own positioning, I can tell you that our close rate has increased to over 90% of qualified leads, and I’m spending significantly less time disqualifying potential buyers who aren’t the right fit. On a weekly average, I’m spending four hours less in discovery calls, but we have closed 250% more revenue in the first quarter of 2021 than we did in the same timeframe in 2020. Something is clearly working.
- Review current deals for best-fit customers
- Determine the number of people you are turning away as a percentage of total opportunities
- Decide whether this is a brand issue where you don’t know the story to tell, or a messaging issue where you know the story but can’t tell it
Never bypass your own primary research
We’re all guilty of this, so it is important to remember that you are a buyer, too. Chances are you have good, great, moderate, and terrible buying experiences every week, if not every day. Start taking note of what you really enjoy and what really gets under your skin. Even something as simple as filling your car up with gas can tell you a great deal about what you appreciate in a buying process. Did the pump function smoothly? Did it read your card the first time? Did you have to hit NO to three questions asking you to sign up for their rewards club (seriously, don’t get me started on this)?
The point is, you know when you’ve purchased something and really enjoyed it. Start to take the lessons from your daily life and apply them to your business’s buying experience. At the end of the day, we’re all human, and we buy from the people and brands we most enjoy. The buying experience is imperative to that decision.
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career–from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”
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