mind the gap bridge Mind the Gap: New Research Reveals Buyer Seller Disconnect

I’m pleased to have Michael Boyette as a guest author for today’s post.
Michael  is the Executive Editor of Rapid Learning Institute and thought leader for the Top Sales Dog blog. He is a nationally recognized authority on selling and has written hundreds of articles and training programs for sales reps and sales managers. Michael has managed programs for US Healthcare, Bell Communications Research, and DuPont. Connect with Michael via Twitter @TopSalesDog.

Here’s a scenario to chew on: Fred learns that a customer he’s worked with for several years, who has repeatedly given him good reviews, has just signed a contract with a rival company to implement a project his company could have done. Fred asks the buyer why, and Ethel says, “We assumed you specialize on X, and it never occurred to us that you could also handle Y.”

New research shows that this “assumptionitis” is a condition both buyers and sellers suffer from, and it’s far more common than you might think. In this case, the customer thought Fred’s company did only one thing well, and hired a specialist because she assumed they were superior at what they do. Meanwhile, Fred assumed she knew all his company’s capabilities, which are laid out plain as day on its Web site and in its brochures.

A survey of more than 1,300 buyers and sellers by the Hinge Research Institute found substantial gaps in the way buyers and sellers perceive and understand the same issues. You might even think they were using different sides of the brain. Although the study focused on professional service firms in accounting, engineering and IT, the findings apply across the board, whether you are selling complex software solutions or ball bearings. Among the disconnects:

  • Sellers often don’t really understand the challenges buyers face, so they may not bring the right solutions to the table. For example, while 75% of buyers ranked dealing with a competitive marketplace as their top business challenge, only 40% of sellers saw that as a top issue for their customers. Similarly, while budget/financial issues ranked second among buyers at 35%, only 15% of sellers saw budget/financial issues as equally significant.
  • Sellers typically overestimate the importance of their products or services, so they do a poor job of explaining why their offerings are relevant to solving a customer’s problems. In IT services, for example, only 10% of buyers felt technology services were important for solving key business challenges, while 40% of sellers thought so.
  • Sellers think cost is a critical part of the selection process, while most buyers do not. The dichotomy is vast: More than 50% of sellers say price is among the key drivers, while only 28% of buyers rate price that highly. The situation is reversed when it comes to cultural fit and shared values between buyer and seller. Buyers rate fit equal to price in importance, but sellers underestimate it by a wide margin.
  • Sellers seem blind to other companies (and other solutions) that buyers view as competition. The study found only a 25% overlap in the lists of competitors produced by buyers vs. sellers. Why? Sellers often rule out potential competitors because “Company X could never do that,” and buyers entertain a wider range of competitors because they think about problems differently.
  • Buyers value a seller’s reputation more than sellers think. Sellers who do not build and demonstrate a solid reputation don’t make the cut. For example, the research shows more than 70% of buyers ask a friend or colleague for a recommendation. Nearly 25% of buyers say they already know enough to find a suitable seller, and 11% say they conduct an online search. All of these strategies favor sellers with good reputations (deserved or not) at the expense of qualified but less well-known providers.

Certainly, these gaps in perception can be deadly for sellers who don’t understand what is going on. But there are ways you can win buyers’ confidence, create a solid relationship and win more business.

Bridging these gaps to win more business

As mentioned, buyers overall ranked increased market competition/macroeconomic factors as their number-one business challenge, with budget and financial issues in second place. The remaining key challenges for buyers were (3) bringing in new business (4) finding and retaining good people (5) keeping costs in control (6) maintaining quality and efficiency (7) dealing with regulations (8) internal leadership changes (9) technology-related issues and (10) vendor or business partner problems.

When you know about these buyer-seller perception gaps, probing deeply to fully understand your target prospect’s or customer’s key business challenges makes a lot of sense. This process of exploration gives you a chance to shape the sales process – and your offering or solution — around what matters most to the customer. (For example, showing how your solution will help them expand their own market share, or open a new market.)

But there’s more to the story than that. Here are three other key ways to bridge buyer-seller gaps:

            •           Educate your prospects. Related buyer research by The Rain Group has found that the number-one criterion that set winning sellers apart in buyers’ minds was that they “educated me with new ideas or perspectives.” This strategy has many payoffs. First, you boost your reputation and raise your visibility. Second, your “student prospects” begin to see you as an authority and trusted resource. Most important, you can shape the sales conversation around their challenges, helping to diagnose the problem and craft the right solution.

            •           Collaborate with them. When you work side-by-side with buyers, you build a collaborative relationship that makes you an essential part of the solution. It starts when you take the initiative to introduce ideas and uncover opportunities the buyer may not have thought about. As part of the process, buyers begin to “own” the ideas and solutions, and working together becomes a win-win arrangement.

            •           Demonstrate results. Case studies, customer references and site visits are effective ways to do this. Best bet: Implement a proof-of-concept test. A small-scale trial that gives you a quick “win” is the best way to win over skeptics on the customer’s team. It’s particularly important in projects that involve a major investment in time, money or “the way we’ve always done things around here.”

When you understand and adapt to these research findings, you are well positioned to win more business. You’ll be on the same wavelength with more target buyers, connect more effectively and demonstrate that you both listen and understand their needs. Because you set yourself apart, you’ll come out ahead.

Source: Adapted from the e-book “Inside the Buyer’s Brain” from the Hinge Research Institute. www.hingemarketing.com

Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert increasing sales productivity through the use of tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digest with invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Sales Productivity blog. Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035. To schedule a free 30 minute consultation click here.