"The Navigator" News Blog

When You Join the Buyer’s Journey in the Middle

Joining the Buyer’s Journey in the middle is a unique challenge, but let’s face it – most of you are doing that on a regular basis.  When a buyer calls “just wanting a price,” they have completed a significant portion of the journey – at least in their minds.  In 2019, Forbes Magazine published an article quoting a study saying that the average B2B buyer has completed 57% of his or her Buyer’s Journey before ever contacting a sales rep.  Well – this blew up the Internet, and continues to do so.

In researching this article, I found a number of posts that argued with the 57% number.  Some say it’s much lower, and some say it’s higher.  But I never found one that could effectively argue with the concept that buyers are performing much more of their own due diligence and research before involving a salesperson.  As I’ve been saying for years, it’s a different world.  Today’s buyer is more educated and informed than buyers used to be – which creates different responsibilities and opportunities for us.  It also creates some significant challenges.  I’ll list those challenges and give some ideas on how to deal with them.

The challenges can be:

  1. Your Buyer doesn’t trust you. A 2017 HubSpot study concluded that only 3% of buyers consider salespeople to be trustworthy.  That’s a kick in the pants, isn’t it?  At least we beat out lawyers and politicians, but that’s not exactly good.  Unfortunately, the actions of too many past salespeople stick with our profession, and when a buyer calls saying that he knows what he needs and just needs a price, that is an expression that he doesn’t trust salespeople to accurately define his needs and assist in a solution.
  2. Your buyer has done a lot of research, and not all of it may be correct. Research on nearly any topic is both plentiful and readily accessible nowadays, but that’s a double edged sword.  Most articles, guidelines, whitepapers, and other forms of Internet research are nonspecific and one-size-fits-all.  In fact, so is this article.  I know that most of my readers are B2B salespeople and the managers and business owners who employ them – but that still leaves a wide field.  What the Buyer’s Journey means, specifically, may be different between industries or even companies and product lines within the same industry.  That means that your buyer can access a lot of information that might actually run counter to what he or she really needs – because it’s not specific to your buyer’s situation.
  3. Buyers don’t know what they don’t know. Even when defining their own needs, buyers might be asking the wrong questions of themselves and their counterparts and co-workers.  This is especially true when entirely new types of product or service are being considered.  We add value when we can be a part of the Investigation phase of the Buyer’s Journey – if the Buyer will allow us in.
  4. Competitors may have guided their research. We have all seen this one.  We get an RFP with specifications that are obvious attempts to limit offerings to one company’s products or services, and we know – the competitor helped set the standard.  Today, it doesn’t have to be a bid spec.  A buyer with a pre-existing relationship could have had that salesperson point them to sources of research that favor your competitor, thus setting the standard for the purchase.   The road here is uphill.

Not all of this news is bad, however.  What you must realize is this.  When a buyer calls asking for a price, or even a demo on a specific product, they believe that they have completed a substantial part of their own Buyer’s Journey, and they believe that they have completed it correctly.  Whatever you do from here, you absolutely must respect the work that they have done – or they will disconnect from you, and buy elsewhere.

When the buyer calls you and makes it obvious that they believe they have completed a substantial part of their Buyer’s Journey, here are some ways to position yourself as a key part of their process:

  1. Show respect. This is mandatory.  If you come off as know-it-all or condescending, your buyer will immediately assume that you are trying to get one over on them (remember that 3% number), and either disconnect or make it incredibly difficult for you to impart your knowledge and expertise.  Instead of saying, “How do you know that’s what you need?”, ask a question like, “Wow, you’ve obviously done your homework!  Knowledgeable customers make my life a lot easier.  Just out of curiosity, would you mind telling me how you researched and found our product to be the one you need?”  Hopefully, they will give you enough information to let you know exactly where in the Buyer’s Journey that you intersected with them.
  2. Have 2 or 3 great questions to ask. If your buyer believes that they already have the answers, they’re not going to give you much time for a full discovery.  At least, not at first.  What you need to do is have two or three really great, incisive questions to ask to pinpoint their needs.  Sometimes, the answers to these questions will let you know that their research is right on target – or sometimes, it’s wrong.  Depending on their demeanor, if their research is on target, you may want to move ahead with them in their journey to the Evaluation step.  If they’re wrong, a more gentle approach is needed.
  3. If there’s a pitfall, expose it, but in a different way. Sometimes there are common pitfalls with products or services that nobody talks about, and that you can’t easily find with Internet research.  These are things that your buyer must know – but remember, you have to respect their knowledge.  You can do both.  The approach here is to say, “Well, as much research as you’ve done, I’m sure you already know about X problem.  Do we need to talk about that?”  If the buyer isn’t aware, this could be a “Wait, what?” moment for them.  If it is, now you have the credibility to back them up and go back through the Investigation phase.
  4. Don’t sell them the wrong stuff. Sometimes you will go through as much due diligence and questioning as possible, and not only is your buyer determined to buy something that won’t fix their problem, they’re getting mad at you for attempting to guide them.  This situation is no fun at all.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  But ultimately, it’s your credibility that’s at stake.  Sometimes you have to lose a sale now to win a relationship later.  Politely but firmly explain that, based on your experience and expertise, they will not get the result they are looking for and that you’d rather not sell them something that won’t meet their needs.  Further, you hope that you can recontact them down the road.  Keep the relationship whole; few things build trust and credibility quite like refusing to make a sale.  That’s pretty much the opposite of the behavior of those salespeople who created that 3% trust stat.

Joining the buyer’s journey in the middle is a challenge, and it’s a challenge that grows more common each day.  As I always say when people complain about the new trends in customers – get good at dealing with them, and you can separate yourself from the pack.  Is 57% the right number, in terms of how far a buyer has progressed down their road prior to talking to you?  I don’t know – but I don’t think it’s as far off as some other people do.  Within change lies opportunity.  Let’s capitalize on it.