According to recent CEB, now Gartner, research, most sales professionals struggle to sell to the modern buyer. They’re eager to help -- to a fault.
Star performers, meanwhile, sell prescriptively. The difference is huge.
In an effort to stand out and meet customers’ rising needs, responsive sellers provide customers more information and additional options to consider and compare, preferably as quickly as possible.
Prescriptive sellers, on the other hand, provide customers with less information and fewer options. Their primary strategy isn’t “give the customer what they want,” but “simplify the customer’s buying burden” -- by carefully guiding customers along a complex purchase journey they would struggle to navigate on their own.
Prescriptive sellers’ message to customers isn’t, “Tell me what you need and I’ll deliver it to you.” It is, “Let me take you by the hand and show you what you need to successfully complete this purchase.”
Why does that difference matter so much? Because today’s “empowered” customers are actually overwhelmed -- by too much information, too many options, and too many people.
And our research indicates that suppliers adopting a prescriptive sales approach significantly increase purchase ease by as much as 86%. Purchase ease, in turn, boosts a supplier’s likelihood to win a high-quality sale (where the customer buys the bigger solution at the higher premium) by more than 60%. Effectively, prescriptive sellers cut through informational clutter, align competing priorities, and resolve conflicting perspectives to help buyers achieve a clear, common vision of what and how to buy.
So what exactly is a “prescriptive” sales approach? We define “prescription” as:
A credible and influential set of “do this”/”don’t do that” recommendations, provided to customers across the purchase process, deliberately intended to ease the customer’s movement toward purchase.
These recommendations are believable, objective advice on: Which information matters most? Which options are most valuable? Which stakeholder questions/concerns could most likely stall the purchase? And, how should we address those questions and concerns most effectively?
It’s the kind of insight and experience customers typically don’t have -- despite their independent research -- because they’re often buying that solution for the very first time. Meanwhile, it’s exactly the kind of advice supplier sales reps are best positioned to provide, as they’ve seen other customers struggle in similar ways.
If we think about the customer’s entire buying journey, from the initial definition of a problem worth addressing in the first place, through the identification of the most viable solution, to the ultimate selection of the best possible supplier, there are all sorts of points along that journey where customers are likely to struggle. And every one of those points is an opportunity for sales reps to proactively provide guidance.
For example, rather than waiting for the customer to tell you late in the purchase process that Procurement has unexpectedly gotten involved and is now slowing things down, a prescriptive seller might say very early in the purchase process something like this:
“We often find in similar deals that Procurement inevitably gets involved at the last minute, and when they do, they typically have a lot of questions. To make things easier, we’d suggest pulling them in earlier and providing them these specific answers to the following three questions.”
That kind of guidance specifically solves one of the biggest challenges in B2B buying: Anticipating and addressing internal roadblocks. Yet, as one head of sales so memorably put it, “Our reps are almost always Takers on that kind of thing, not Makers.”
In other words, we wait for the customer to identify a buying challenge or need and then tell us exactly what they think they have to do to address it. At that point, we bend over backwards to deliver the fix. But we do very little to flag the issue in advance and provide a solution before customers even recognize it’s a problem.
So how can salespeople adopt a more prescriptive approach? Across the board, virtually every customer identified a prescriptive supplier as consistently being “one step ahead” and anticipating buying challenges before they arise. To do that, sellers will need to do three things:
- Map out the customer buying journey: Which steps does a customer move through from Problem Definition, to Solution Identification, to Supplier Selection? Which questions do they commonly ask? What information do they typically need? At what point do various stakeholders get involved? Which questions are they likely to ask?
- Pinpoint challenges and hurdles: Proactively identify “what’s hard” about each of those questions. Where are customers likely to get hung up? What’s likely to confuse them? Which options are likely to distract them? Which stakeholder questions are likely to undermine progress? These are the buying obstacles we’ll need to proactively clear away for customers in order to smooth their progress toward an actual purchase.
- Identify tactical solutions: Craft strategies for helping customers overcome these roadblocks. What specific information, guidance, tools, and advice can we give them to help them anticipate these obstacles and get past them as easily as possible?
In my next post, we’ll dig in there, with a closer look at some very tactical ways we can identify customer purchase roadblocks and deliver prescriptive guidance. We’ve discovered there are a wide range of “channels” -- well beyond a sales-led conversation -- we can use to provide prescriptive guidance.