Happy New Year! I was glancing at Harvard Business Review during the holidays, and this article, Sensemaking for Sales (Jan-Feb edition, Page 122-129 by Brent Adamson), caught my attention given that I am always looking for ways to understand sales better from a marketing perspective.
Adamson points out that the biggest challenge B2B customers face is not about finding relevant and useful content, it’s about making sense of the information out there to make a high-quality and low-regret purchase decision. Thus, sales reps can address the gap by helping prospects prioritize perspective, quantify trade-offs, and deconflict competing viewpoints.
“They do so by emphasizing simplicity over comprehensiveness.”
So, how can sellers do that?
Adamson identifies two critical customer perceptions that sales reps need to address for deal success:
- Increase customers’ decision confidence: Help B2B buyers make sense of the information and feel assured enough to make a sensible decision.
- Build trust in the seller: Guide prospects to organize, analyze, and prioritize information. Simplify the technical complexities for them.
So, whatever sales do, it should come from enhancing customers’ decision confidence and establishing trust with prospects.
One approach from the article is to help prospects make sense of the information by explaining, simplifying, and deconflicting information through a carefully curated learning journey.
Here are the key steps you can take to use content and various communication channels to curate that journey:
- Articulate prospects’ questions clearly (Based on my experience of working with various clients, it’s important to understand what they want to solve. Just as a heads up, it’s not always that obvious first, so you may need to dig deeper.)
- Explain technical information within the context of their questions.
- Turn abstract concepts into concrete insights
- Communicate your explanation and responses in a series of targeted and curated content that Adamson calls a “collaborative learning” journey
The key is to ensure that customers reach certain conclusions on their own. In addition, sales reps should encourage customers to independently verify seller-provided information and give them an easy way to do so.
Many sales professionals wouldn’t encourage their prospects to verify seller-provided information. They are afraid they may lose credibility or that prospects will discover other vendors offering different features and benefits.
I’d always encourage my prospects to check out other B2B consultants and interview them. Maybe others are a better fit than I am to solve their problems. If prospects reach that conclusion earlier, it also saves me time so that I can refocus my energy on other prospects. It’s a win-win.
However, I can also understand that some sales professionals are not comfortable doing that due to the size of the deal. I feel that prospects constantly do fact-checking and Google searches, given that information is readily available at their fingertips, anyway. You might as well acknowledge it and embrace it.
Encouraging them to do the inevitable can help showcase how confident you are, anyway. I think it’s a good practice.
Adamson also shares two case studies from Dealertrack and Expedient. I especially like Dealertrack’s approach.
Case Study: Dealertrack
Dealertrack, dealer management software (DMS) for auto and equipment dealers, establishes 4 stages that can guide customers’ decision-making process on the basis of extensive customer interview results:
- Problem identification
- Solution exploration
- Requirement building
- Supplier selection
For these stages, Dealertrack provides customized information about “each stage of the process including what customers should expect, what they should learn, when and from what sources they should learn, whom to involve, what to avoid, and what a confident attainment of each milestone would look like.”
Sales can closely monitor the sentiment around key milestones and direct pieces of information to support them at each stage.
Again, it helps boost prospects’ decision-making confidence and makes it easy for them to move forward.
Case study: Expedient
Expedient, the cloud-based disaster-recovery software company, takes a different approach. Their market research team helps sales identify the highest-priority questions customers are likely to ask based on their information-consumption patterns.
Then, the company develops an assessment tool giving buyers a practical means of answering those questions. This is not an Expedient product assessment, but it offers prospects an easy and customized means to conduct their assessments.
Having prospects conduct their assessments with curated questions is another way to help your prospects make sense of their challenges and analyze and prioritize information.
Ok, what can marketers do to help sales in this sensemaking approach?
Reading this article made me realize that most B2B marketers have worked hard to create high-quality content. Adamson’s research acknowledges it. Kudos to B2B marketers!
However, not all of that high-quality content helps customers make decisions easily and smoothly because technologies or even internal workflows are complicated. We feel a sense of powerlessness when faced with the daunting task of choosing or upgrading technologies. I get it. Sometimes I feel the same way about sourcing technologies for my consulting practice.
Plus, each company may have different internal requirements or factors to consider to make a technology or platform decision.
I often suggest that marketers map marketing content via the sales team’s sales stages. Check out this blog post: How to Better Support Sales With Marketing Content. I created the framework for marketers to make sense of what sales need when sales actively engage with prospects.
Adamson suggests curating content (a form of content marketing) according to guided decision-making stages to help prospects organize, analyze, and deconflict the information. That’s another way of mapping content to address prospects’ needs.
Dealtrackers follow that approach by identifying 4 key stages of reaching a software sourcing decision. The sales and marketing teams work together to create and select the content to help prospects to move from one stage to another.
If you are a marketer supporting sales, you can’t just share a bunch of content with sales and expect them to use it.
You need to structure or classify content in a proper context, either by sales stages or by decision-marketing processes (or other ways you think it’s appropriate), so that sales know how to use the content properly.
Traditionally, sales can be a lone wolf and close deals independently. In the digital world where content is everywhere, prospects sometimes know more than our sales team, but that doesn’t mean they can comprehend and distill all the information they read to make high-quality decisions.
Sales reps can address that void to help prospects understand their challenges, organize and analyze the information, and guide them through a learning journey. To do that, Sales need a team to bring that “learning journey” to life.
Here is the reality: modern B2B sales engagement is teamwork that requires product development, sales ops, sales enablement, marketing, business development, even customer success teams to work together.
Marketing plays a critical role in messaging, content planning and creation, and even content mapping based on sales stages or customers’ learning journeys.
Although marketing can provide recommended content to sales based on sales needs, sales will be the ones who need to understand (or make sense of) buyers’ needs clearly, and then select and curate the content that is needed to enhance their decision-making confidence.
Content plays a critical role as part of sales enablement. How do you make sense of or categorize marketing content for your sales team?
Book a call with me, and let’s talk about how to make sense of your prospects’ needs by working closely between sales and marketing.