Sales Intel: 4 Painful Things You Need to Know


Sales intel is supposed to be the intelligence that increases wins. But sales reps can never get enough of the good stuff to hit it out of the park with predictable certainty.

That’s because sales intel isn’t about selling, it’s about buying. It’s about accurately understanding the people, politics, and business timing of a specific opportunity.

And that’s as changeable a situation as the weather in Seattle.

Here’s why:

1) The 57% Sales Rule
Sales Intel: The 57% Sales Rule

Never heard of the 57% Sales Rule? (no one else has either, I just coined it from this article “B2B’s Digital Evolution

The 57% Sales Rule is one research nugget from 2013 that proves selling is not changing, IT’S ALREADY CHANGED. Here’s a snippet from the article:

“Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete.”

“That means for nearly two thirds of the buying process, your customers are out in the ether: Forming opinions, learning technical specifications, building requirements lists, and narrowing down their options, all on their own, with minimal influence from you.”

Now, there’s some push back to what this really means for complex B2B sales, and whether the steps listed above really account for 57% of the buyer’s process or some other amount.

Whatever the exact percentage, its necessary to admit that customers’ buying processes have changed and placed information gathering in their hands, rather than sales reps explaining it to them.

The bottom line is that sales reps can be left out of important opportunities if customers miss them in their online research.

This means sales reps must ensure their firm’s SEO is clicking along. Sales reps also must also contribute content to inbound marketing using the no-longer secret trigger, and add value to LinkedIn discussions.

And all this in addition to traditional in-person networking, relationship building introductions, coffee meetings, and lunches. Who says selling isn’t hard work?

2) Tight Lipped

Sales Intel: Tight Lipped Customers

Customers virtually never share their real buying motivations with sales reps in advance.

Maybe customers think that would lessen competition among suppliers if they did.

Here’s an idea for customers: Share the same insights to all bidding suppliers during the RFP process, just like you do now when answering bid questions. No potential bad optics regarding favoritism.

Possibly customers don’t want to share their real buying motivations because they may air out corporate dirty laundry and touch on failures, scandals, etc.

Here’s an idea for customers: Scrub your buying rationale as part of your RFP development,  then  include it in the RFP to give the bidding suppliers more insight to propose more targeted, specific solutions – instead of the oft repeated “we are looking for the best value at the lowest cost”.

As you can see, there are ways for customers to loosen up on their buying intel. But for whatever their hidden reasons, they don’t.

And sales reps lust after that intel. It’s the oxygen that drives the most creative, best-fit, best-value designed solutions. It’s just the hardest gold to find.

Getting sales intel from tight lipped customers means digging deeper, spending more time, working the fringes. Even aligning with a customer’s professional peers, associations, etc. to gain insight and introductions. It just takes time and effort, and is not something sales reps can do with every sales opportunity. But when the sale’s size is right, reps must make the commitment.

3) More Deciders – More Agendas

Sales Intel: Multiple Deciders - Multiple Agendas

B2B buying decisions are made by groups, on average 5.4 people have to sign off on a purchase.

With this many people having a say in the final buying decision, it’s a wonder any decisions are made at all.

Multiple deciders bring multiple buying agendas, and sales reps need intel to guess which one has the most juice in the organization.

That intel helps sales reps define their sales proposal strategy and identifies which agenda they’re pandering to, i.e.:

  • Procurement wants lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • End-users want full usefulness (utility) from whatever they’re buying
  • End-users want easy, worry-free management & interaction after they’ve bought it
  • Risk/Legal/HR/Safety wants regulatory compliance, conformance, transparency, safety, etc.

This is probably the most crucial reason to invest in getting the best sales intel possible. Doing time-consuming, relationship building over the years pays off here.

Not that relationships alone will ever sway the decision of an entire evaluation team. But it’s the insight into departmental dynamics, individuals’ authority, and business agendas that will win the day.

4) Last-minute known-unknowns & unknown-unknowns

Sales Intel: Known-Unknowns & Unknown-UnknownsSomething strange can and will happen right in the middle of the best planned sale or RFP process, despite having golden sales intel. These are the known-unknowns and the unknown-unknowns.

And so savvy sales reps know there’s never a sure thing, or even a near sure thing when it comes to predicting the outcome of a complex B2B sales opportunity.

It’s the unannounced company sale or acquisition, or a last minute change in the buying group that shakes everything up like a dry martini in the hands of a caffeinated bartender.

Even though the best sales intel is vulnerable, it gives sales reps a better survival rate with it, than without.

IMAGE: Ping Pong Playing Robo by V Rao Bathina

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