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The Three Seller “Personas” Required for Buyer 2.0

With unprecedented access to information, today’s buyers are less reliant on sellers to lead them through their buying process. Buyers can identify their own business issues to address, conduct research, reach out to peers, participate in blogs and forums, and they can attempt to diagnose their own needs and formulate a list of evaluation criteria. In many cases, either the sellers are completely locked out of needs determination, or they are contacted somewhat informally to help validate an initial assessment.

For those familiar with Solution Selling®, you will recall that a key tenet of the methodology is focused in prospecting to potential buyers who are not actively “looking” for capabilities that your company can provide. This approach places emphasis with the salesperson to explore, with insight, opportunities with prospects that have not yet been contemplated – providing a first mover advantage in shaping a solution vision with the prospect. While challenging and perhaps counter-intuitive, this approach creates a much higher probability of winning customer mindshare and ultimately, their business.

However, the new buyer paradigm creates an expanded set of challenges for sales professionals. First, the exchange of new ideas and insights is much more rapid than it historically has been – it is more difficult to control the propagation of unique perspectives within a selective set of prospects. So, even if you’re armed with some innovative new idea to help your customers, the “shelf life” of uniqueness is contracting rapidly – by token of social media and unprecedented access to both information and individuals.

As a result, in the world of Buyer 2.0, sellers are often reacting to a set of pre-conceptions, versus introducing potential ideas and jointly shaping the “vision” of a solution. The demands of this new environment suggest three distinct sub-roles, or “personas,” for sales professionals:

  1. The “micro-marketer”
  2. The “situational expert”
  3. The “risk manager”

These personas align with the behavioral buying phases and concerns of prospects.

Sellers must become highly effective “micro-marketers.” They must become capable users of new social media tools and technologies to get back to the “front” of the sales cycle.

To get back to the “front” of the sales cycle, the sales professional must now engage in “informal” marketing. So now, salespeople need to participate actively in industry or community discussion groups to demonstrate thought leadership and credibility. They need to regularly monitor and engage in discussions that are talking place in relevant communities. To accomplish this, sellers need to become “social media literate.” They need to become power users of new tools and technologies that allow them to efficiently engage where and when buyers are forming their initial ideas about a potential problem or opportunity. In addition, since most sales professionals don’t have the time or background to research innovative new ways for their prospects to compete or solve problems, marketing needs to actively assist sales with messages to “seed” early stage discussions.

Sellers must become “situational experts.” They must be highly fluent consultants who can quickly and objectively validate or re-frame a buyer’s existing premise.

Armed with an abundance of information resources, the new buyer is empowered to conduct extensive research and fact-finding when they suspect they have a problem or need. More often than not, by the time an actual sales conversation takes place, the new buyer usually has a premise that is already forming about the nature of their problem and how to solve it. The seller needs to quickly ascertain where the buyer is in the buying process (phase I, II, or III), what the buyer knows about the selling organization and its offerings, what they know about competitive offerings, and diagnose the overall state of the buyers “premise.” The ramifications here are clear –  the seller must be highly “situationally fluent” with respect to the buyers industry, issues, and competitive alternatives, as well as be able to objectively validate or challenge the perception of the buyer.

Sellers must become effective “risk managers.” They must be able to skillfully position and demonstrate defensible value to increasingly sophisticated buyer organizations.

The overall economic climate has undergone multiple forms of trauma in the past decade. The internet bubble was closely followed by events of 9/11, and more recently, the instability of the global financial system has suppressed corporations’ willingness to invest. A by-product of this environment has been the emergence of increasingly sophisticated purchasing functions in corporations. Sales professionals in the Buyer 2.0 world will need to be exceptional in their abilities to position, articulate, and defend the value of their offerings. In addition to increased levels of business acumen, sellers need to be well versed in principles of effective negotiation.

Conclusion

The era of Buyer 2.0 requires new thinking about effective selling and the types of roles that sales professionals will need to assume to succeed. This suggests a new framework and direction for the types of skills, activities, and tools that are becoming new essentials for effective sales execution. This updated thinking should, logically, be a significant driver for new sales learning and development programs. In August of 2012, we’ll be announcing Solution Selling 2.0. This major update to the proven, results-driven methodology and ongoing updates to the supporting training curriculum will directly address the buyer 2.0 impact to sales process, methodology, and the sales training approach.

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