Modern buyers are changing faster and to a greater degree than sales organizations. Buyers are also consumers, and their experiences as consumers influence their B2B buying behavior. They’ve rapidly come to expect personalization, transparency and immediate fulfillment. They take their B2C shopping experiences, consciously or unconsciously, with them when they go to work, and their expectations change as rapidly as their consumer options change.

A recent CSO Insights study found that more than 70% of buyers usually engage with salespeople only after their needs are already clarified.

And 44 % of these buyers also identify their solutions on their own before they engage salespeople. One-fifth only want to lock down the details with salespeople just before making a buying decision.

However, 90% of the buyers said that they would be open to engaging with salespeople earlier along their customer’s path in specific buying situations.

There was more interest in early engagement when a business challenge was new for the buyers (34.1%), perceived as risky for the organization (21.1%), or as risky for the buyers themselves (19.1%) or complex in nature and likely to impact several departments (16.2%). At least one of these criteria will apply to many opportunities. If buyers are, in general, willing to engage sellers earlier, why are they not doing it more often? But the majority of buyers prefers other resources when it comes to solving a business problem.

The study participants were approximately 500 executive buyers from around the world. Only 23% of them selected salespeople as a top three resource when it comes to solving business problems.

What does that mean? It means that buyers turn to other resources first; resources they perceive to be more relevant and valuable to them. These resources are SMEs, third parties, vendor websites, industry events, peers, colleagues, social networks, industry publications, or web searches. Buyers ranked salespeople ninth as a resource they turn to for help with a business problem. If salespeople are perceived as vendors rather than problem solvers, today’s sales organizations have a serious challenge to overcome.

Buyers shared their preferences: They prefer salespeople who understand their business and their role, who demonstrate excellent communication skills, who focus on post-sale and who provide insights and perspective.

That’s the set of requirements for any effective customer engagement approach. What is customer engagement? What does it mean to you? Is it a marketing issue, a sales issue, a service issue? Buyer data shows that customer engagement should seamlessly cover the entire customer’s path.

Customer engagement covers the way organizations and their customer-facing professionals get in touch with their prospects and customers (buyers) along their entire customer’s path. Customer engagement’s main goal is that prospects and customers perceive every interaction, regardless of with or without human interaction, as relevant, valuable and differentiating.

As regular readers of our CSO Insights sales enablement research know, we always recommend making the customers and specifically the customer’s path the primary design point of sales enablement.

Yes, it’s more than being valuable. What valuable is does not only depend on the buyers’ perspective but also on the buyer’s current stage along their customer’s path. And that’s what we mean by relevant. And differentiating means that the messaging, the engagement approach, and the provided expertise and perspective should always be differentiating, and not perceived as a competitor’s copy.

Effective customer engagement is the result of aligning all enablement services to the customer’s path, not only creating the required content and messaging but also ensuring that the related training and coaching takes place to drive reinforcement and adoption of the desired behaviors.

Let’s look at some data. We asked the more than 500 global participants of our brand new 2018 Sales Enablement Optimization Study some questions about the prerequisites for driving customer engagement. The first question was about effectively aligning their enablement services to the customer’s path to improve customer engagement and customer experience: 42.0% agreed, and 58.0% answered neutral or disagreed. Does customer engagement matter? Yes, it pays off.

The 42% that align their enablement services effectively to the customer’s path experienced 8.1% better win rates compared to the study’s average. Not doing it at all led to win rates way below average.

Then, we looked at how enablement teams do this. It requires providing content and messaging that is tailored to buyer roles, content that speaks in the target industry’s language, and a dynamic value messaging approach that tailors different value messaging types to the different phases of the customer’s path. It requires social selling skills to take advantage of sharing relevant and valuable content and drive engagement this way, too. And looking at these detailed practices, we saw a difference.

While 42.0% of organizations reported having their enablement services effectively aligned to the customer’s path, only one-quarter is actually applying all the necessary steps to get there.

Having all the prerequisites in place is important, but it’s only half the battle. Providing content and messaging is not enough; salespeople have to learn and practice how to use and apply these things successfully. So, training is key to success and sales coaching is even more important.

Implementing effective customer engagement means making changes. It requires an integrated set of enablement services, a compelling change story that explains the WHY, and lots of change leadership across the organization to make the changes the new standard.

This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, October edition.
Photograph: Unsplash, donna-410624

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