Building trust in the age of the informed buyer

I remember my first car purchase. Years of saving money from bagging groceries and mowing lawns were finally used to make the largest purchase of my life (at that time at least). It was before the days of Google and many years before the car research sites were online. So how did I choose who to buy from? I did what everyone else did at that time…

  • I drove to the closest dealerships to look at cars and settle on a model I wanted.
  • I asked my friends if they had bought a car from anyone, and if it was a good experience.
  • I went to the magazine store (yes these did exist) and bought car and driver to look for reviews.

When I finally settled on the car of my dreams, I was disappointed to learn it was a rare model. Only one dealer in my neighborhood had it, and my salesman swore it was the only one in 200 miles.

I never trusted the guy.  His approach was rushed, he didn’t listen to or answer my questions and kept pulling the classic “manager decided I can no longer offer the price I quoted” game on me. To say I disliked him and my experience at his dealership would be an understatement, but I still bought the car from him because I couldn’t find the vehicle at the other local dealers.

Flash forward to this year. I moved back from Australia and was in desperate need of a new car. So how did I choose who to buy from? I did what everyone does today…

  • Google research, read independent online car review sites and went to CarGurus to search out the model I wanted.
  • After I had decided on a model, I emailed all the dealers in my area for price quotes (letting them know I would be doing this with everyone).
  • As the quotes started coming in, I engaged with each sales team online first.

What I learned from this process was pretty eye-opening. Some dealers never wrote back at all; a few tried to pressure sell me over email and the final few offered some real value. One salesperson, in particular, stood out.

  • First, he gave me a good price.  But I’ll be clear here – it wasn’t the lowest price. He also gave me an overview of some added benefits that their dealership offers over the others.
  • He asked how I wanted to interact with him. I said I preferred email, and he never asked for my phone number or attempted to call me. He stuck to the method that was most convenient for me.
  • He answered all of my questions about the car in a timely and detailed manner. It was evident he had a passion for what he was selling and stood behind the product. He even said he could connect me with a few previous buyers if I wanted to see how their experience with the car has been so far.
  • Finally, he made it easy for me to come in and check out the car, and even stayed late one night so I could get there after work. In person, he was thorough, likable, easy to work with and just seemed like a friendly and trustworthy person.

I bought the car from him.  I don’t regret it at all.

When I started to think about this, I realized that selling technology, media or any other large B2B product is not drastically different than the car buying process.  We live in an era where our customers have access to more information than they’ve ever had before. And we have more access to information about them than we’ve ever had before. This doesn’t mean that we can now sit back and wait for the orders to roll in – it’s the opposite. A more informed buyer in a digital world can challenge us, connect with peers anywhere in the world over social media and find the best deal without ever talking to us. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review study showed that 90% of buyers would no longer respond to cold outreach. So how do you break through in an age where impersonal B2B buying is the norm?

1)      You have to become comfortable with all communication tools. Phone and email aren’t enough anymore. If you have a solid prospect, you’re trying to reach you need to engage in all professional formats possible. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Skype are additional ways to get in front of a potential customer and can be effective if you approach them the right way.  If you know their preferred contact method, frequently approach them using this method vs. others.

2)      You have to bring value to every interaction. “Just checking in” or “I wanted to touch base” doesn’t cut it anymore. Appreciate the time your prospect is giving you and bring value to every interaction with them. Be prepared to address their questions, connect them with peers and do your research about their business before you interact with them. Assume they’ve done their research on you, so give them the same respect. Start to build a network of contacts from different industries who would be willing to talk to your prospects. It can take time to build make this list up, but having it on hand is invaluable.

3)      You still have to be likable. A more informed buyer doesn’t mean they don’t have to like you. No matter what all the sales and marketing blogs out there say, I still believe people are more likely to buy from someone they like and trust. I know that’s been the case in my experience. The B2B reps I’ve invested the most with are people who address my business problems have faith in the product they’re selling and someone I enjoy communicating with. This doesn’t mean we have to have beers every week, but I still need to like you.  If I believe my salesperson is looking out for me because they care, it’s easier for me to justify the business I do with them and push the deal through on my end.

In an age where we are drowning in data, the art of (and appreciation for) good salesmanship is sometimes lost.  I’ve had a few of my marketing peers tell me that salespeople are no longer necessary in the digital (data) age. I would say that seasoned (data-savvy) sales professionals are more important than ever.

Josh Garland

Josh has 17+ years of b2b agency, publishing and digital marketing experience in technology markets. He’s a self-proclaimed​ “cat loving marketing nerd” with a passion for learning about technology and its impact on the future of marketing. Josh currently owns and operates bettertechmarketing.com.

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