October 16, 2013
In his recent report, Competitive Strategy In The Age Of The Customer, Forrester’s David Cooperstein notes that in regard to successful business strategy:
“It's no longer sufficient to say that you are simply ‘customer-centric" or "customer-focused.’ The only successful strategy in the age of the customer is to become customer-obsessed — to focus your strategic decisions first and foremost on how your customers expect you to engage them.
Through our ongoing conversations with executive buyers, professionals in sales enablement, and through survey responses from hundreds of global executive buyers, Forrester’s Sales Enablement practice has discovered a massive gap between buyers’ expectations of salespeople and what they’re actually experiencing when they meet with reps. In fact, less than 40% of executive buyers say that meetings with salespeople meet their expectations (see figure 1). Further, only one in three IT executives said that sales meetings "usually" live up to expectations, and just over two of five business executives said that sales meetings hit that mark (see Norbert Kriebel’s report: Executive Buyer Expectations — The Bar Is Low).
Considering that perhaps 25% or less of the typical sales force is even capable of gaining access to executive buyers, consider the cost when these meetings miss buyer expectations and result in no further opportunity.
Despite massive and ongoing investment in onboarding, training, and developing salespeople, companies are vastly underequipping their salespeople with empathy for the buyers they meet with. The resulting manner in which salespeople engage buyers is dramatically out of synchronicity with customer expectations, resulting in lost opportunities.
What do we mean by customer empathy?
Customer empathy is the degree to which a salesperson is able to “walk in the shoes” of each of the buyers who need help in the buying process, and to understand the specific challenges of their business roles at their organizational altitude level. Customer empathy is about understanding how each buyer uniquely perceives value (impact, cost, and risk). Because decisions are increasingly made by agreement networks of buyers, and are typically being made at higher organizational levels with greater scrutiny, salespeople must have empathy for more buyer roles than ever before.
Where is investment in preparing sellers going wrong?
Unfortunately, instead of preparing salespeople with deep buyer empathy, the money companies invest today in preparing salespeople for meeting with buyers is primarily focused on training them on their products and services and related capability configurations. Executive buyers aren’t interested in buying products. They’re interested in solving their company’s problems. This difference in seller and buyer focus is at the heart of why buyers are not getting what they need from salespeople, and why salespeople fail to win business. In B2B sales, the problem is lack of empathy.
What to do about it
Companies who choose “to become customer-obsessed — to focus your strategic decisions first and foremost on how your customers expect you to engage them” must equip their salespeople whom they expect to sell to leaders and executives with a much deeper understanding of buyers’ industry and business, the individual buyers’ roles and responsibilities and related business problems, and how they can help to solve those business problems.
In his report, our colleague David Cooperstein adds “Like all strategies, customer obsession is a choice, requiring not only a change in stance but also a change in how money is spent as well as a commitment to valuing the customer embrace over building barriers.” “A customer-obsessed enterprise focuses its strategy, its energy, and its budget on processes that enhance knowledge of and engagement with customers and prioritizes these over maintaining traditional competitive barriers.”
Within Forrester’s Sales Enablement practice, we've developed a wealth of new yet proven recipes for what organizations must do to understand customers and engage at a new (might I say obssessive) level. Contact our inquiry team (firstname.lastname@example.org) to connect with us. My own focus is on researching workflows (e.g. hiring, onboarding, aligning sales resources with customers, training, coaching, and performance-management) that are responsible for putting the right salespeople into successful conversations with the right buyers at the right time to help those buyers solve their business problems. I’m helping clients to revise their workflows to meet customer expectations and drive sales growth. There's lots of work to do!
Drop a note to me if you'd like to discuss elevating your sales force's level of enagement with executive buyers. Also, we'd love to hear your experiences with salespeople who lack empathy for buyers.