The first major knowledge inflection point occurs if and when the prospect transitions from passive awareness to a more active buying mode. Here, buyers proactively explore potential solutions to the problems they have committed to solving; in the past, this would be the entry point for a sales rep. In response to a lead or the result of a lucky cold call, the rep would engage directly with the buyer hoping to shape the requirements to the capabilities of their products. Now, buyers maintain control through this inflection point. They often access their personal knowledge network to examine product capabilities, market drivers and competitive information before approaching a potential provider. A discussion with peers, access to an analyst’s review of market choices or an Internet keyword search all can help highlight alternatives. A quick pass of each potential seller’s Web site provides base product or service capabilities, in addition to easy access to white papers illuminating the business problem, case studies trumpeting customer successes, and self-service ROI/TCO calculators to verify potential cost and value.
The second major knowledge inflection point occurs when buyers can no longer satisfy their knowledge requirements without interactively engaging with potential sellers. However, before they do, they now come fully armed with product, market and competitive knowledge courtesy of their knowledge network. Thus, what the sales rep must be prepared to provide during this “window of opportunity” is detailed information about the product or service the buyer is considering based on their specific set of requirements and customized to their environment, or there won’t be a second call.
Gaining the “Knowledge Advantage”
For a sales rep to have any influence on a decision, they must gain a knowledge advantage at some point in a buyer’s process. There are four keys to establishing a knowledge advantage, including:
* Identify the knowledge inflection points. When customers first reach out to the seller, it’s either in response to a sales/marketing campaign or the proactive search for more detailed information. This is where the linkage between passive reputation messaging and active demand creation efforts must be seamless. Webcasts, case studies, white papers and other demand creation content all enhance the buyer’s ability to acquire information about your company and encourage them to engage with an interactive resource.
* Manage the message. Reputation, demand creation and the messages delivered through a sales resource must all be aligned to satisfy buyer’s requirements and reinforce the positive things they have learned from public – and private – sources.
* Anticipate the advantage. Improving sales processes and skills will help reps better manage buying processes, but accessing and applying information is where salespeople often fail. By understanding what types of information that typical buyers lack, you can work with marketing to fill gaps that will help arm sales with knowledge and gain an advantage at the second inflection point.
* Leverage technology. The development of a sales readiness platform is essential to giving your reps a knowledge advantage. Collateral, content and presentations will satisfy early stage requests, but a combination of tools, access to subject matter resources, and situational expertise are needed the deeper the buyer goes in their cycle.
Ready access to abundant information sources has now given the buyer a knowledge advantage, as buyers progressively acquire and compound information into knowledge. The more knowledgeable the buyer, the less dependent they are on the salesperson for information – thereby minimizing the salesperson’s influence. Understanding where the inflection points are for buyers - and being prepared to fill the knowledge gaps with the specific, customized information the buyer won’t find anywhere else – holds the key to regaining the advantage and thus the ability to influence a successful sales outcome.
About the Author:
SiriusDecisions, a leading source for business-to-business sales and marketing best-practice research and data. SiriusDecisions Executive Advisory Services, Consulting Services, Benchmark Assessment Services, Learning and Events provide senior-level executives with the sales and marketing operational intelligence required to maximize top line growth and performance.
©Sirius Decisions, 2009. Reproduced with permission.