The software buyer's journey has shifted dramatically over the past few years.
As G2's Director of SMBs, Mike Buscemi, puts it: "Software buyers today act like B2C consumers because they have so many options. There are hundreds of thousands of software vendors out there, and over 115,000 on G2. Buyers have an abundance to pick and choose from."
Which ultimately means the seller's journey is going to have to shift, too.
Here, I spoke with Mike about how the software buyer's journey has changed, according to new data from G2's 2022 Buyer's Behavior Report — plus, how your sales strategy should pivot in 2023 to meet new buyers' expectations.
Let's dive in.
How to Shift Your Sales Strategy to Match the New Buyer's Journey in 2023
1. You need to build more trust with all stakeholders involved in a sale.
In 2022, many buyers don't trust sales. As a result, their buying preference has shifted to a self-service approach.
In fact, 60% of buyers say that vendor sales aren't involved in their research phase, and 68% only involve sales at the last stage of the buyer's journey.
For many sales reps, it can feel like this breakdown of trust between sales and prospects has accelerated over time.
But, as Buscemi points out, "I don't think trust has fundamentally changed, because you've always needed trust with your prospect or your customer in order to build a relationship that is founded in mutual respect. However, I think the way our information is available today has made it more acute in the minds of buyers and sellers."
Buscemi adds, "There are tons of studies that say a buyer is 60% to 70% of the way down the buying cycle before they even reach a rep — and those studies are 10-years-old. Now, I'd argue people are probably even further down the funnel and know exactly what they want to purchase before a rep comes into the picture."
Fortunately, Buscemi offers some solutions to ensuring your sales team can build and maintain trust throughout the buyer's journey in 2023.
- Act as a consultant to your buyers. You'll want to start each call with the four or five things your product can solve in direct response to your prospects' biggest challenges — which requires making some assumptions and having a deeper understanding of their industry.
- Share customer stories with your prospects. Sharing stories that directly tie into your prospect's needs throughout the entire sales cycle is critical. For instance, if your prospect cares most about ease-of-use, share a customer story related to that. Alternatively, if your prospect is concerned with the implementation process, share a customer case study that makes the implementation process more clear.
- Know how to speak your prospect's language. If your prospect is in marketing, you'll want to take marketing courses so you can talk to them about what they're doing in their roles — which can help build trust and demonstrate your expertise.
2. Leverage customer reviews to build trust.
Considering 82% of consumers say reviews are more influential than vendor marketing and sales claims, and one in two buyers feel better educated on the benefits and risks of purchasing software after reading review websites, it's vital you leverage the power of reviews for increasing trust with prospects in 2023.
However, collecting reviews, especially if you work at a small business, can feel a bit like chicken-and-the-egg: If you don't have reviews it's hard to build an online presence; but if you don't have an online presence, it can be hard to collect reviews.
Fortunately, Buscemi told me there's tons of ways to collect more customer reviews.
A few of his favorite review-collection strategies include:
- Ask those who've already provided NPS scores to give you reviews, since they've shown they're open to giving feedback on your product or service.
- Build an in-app review strategy, so when a user logs in or out of a product, they're automatically asked to leave a review.
- Request reviews from customers right after implementation when they've had a month or two to leverage your product.
- Request reviews on social media or through newsletters.
Collecting reviews for your products or services isn't just about collecting positive reviews, either. Having a healthy mix of positive reviews and negative reviews demonstrates more authenticity than simply having all 5-stars — plus, negative reviews are invaluable to helping you improve your product over time.
It's also important to note: To take a compliant, ethical, and transparent approach to review collection, always be sure to pull lists that are representative of your customer base. This can include industry segments, but you cannot intentionally solicit from customers that are more likely to provide more positive reviews.
3. You need to be a true expert in your industry.
A prospect isn't going to trust you if you don't seem like you know what you're talking about when it comes to their specific challenges and industry at-large.
Which is why it's vital you become a true expert in the space.
For Buscemi, this includes requiring everyone on his team to take a number of marketing courses.
He told me, "Everyone's responsible for taking marketing courses so we can speak our prospect's language right off the bat. We also do marketing strategy sessions, where we talk through all the ways our product can fit into a broader marketing strategy. This helps each sales rep understand the real pain points we're solving beyond service-level pain, so we can be very consultative about how we're going to help the customer with our solution."
Beyond requiring sales reps to take courses, his team also practices role-play where his team takes turns listening to calls so everyone can say, 'Here's how you could tweak that'. This, he notes, gets the top reps helping other reps, so everyone can learn together.
4. You'll want to strengthen your implementation process.
93% of buyers indicate that the quality of the implementation process is important or very important when making the decision to renew a software product.
Which makes strengthening your implementation process a vital component for selling in 2023.
For starters, you'll need to know which areas of the implementation process are the biggest roadblocks for past customers. Conducting reviews can help you identify weak spots in your implementation process.
You might also leverage past customer reviews to share stories with your prospects on how other customers' in the industry implemented your product or service. Hearing from peers is an incredibly effective way for prospects to learn how to best implement the product themselves.
Beyond that, Buscemi recommends each sales rep create a mutual success plan with their prospect.
As he puts it, "You'll want to build a mutual success plan and gain agreement. This means chatting with the prospect and walking through, 'Hey, here's your responsibilities, and here's our responsibilities,' and documenting the agreement and sharing with the post-sales team, as well."
Bonus points, he adds, if you bring the post-sales team onto the call so they can actually speak through how it's done, especially if your account executives aren't involved in the implementation process.
5. Your sales reps need to prove value to more stakeholders.
Nowadays, 80% of companies have buying committees which influence buying decisions, and 71% of respondents say additional stakeholders are frequently added over the course of the buying journey — up from 61% who stated that in 2021.
All of which is to say: In 2023, your sales rep will need to prove your product's value to more people to get a sale, which increases the complexity of the sales process.
To combat this challenge, Buscemi urges your sales reps to get comfortable asking, "Who else is involved in the buying process?"
He says, "There's a number of ways you can nuance that question. You might ask, 'What was the last piece of software you bought? Who was involved in that process? Who can say no when everyone else can say yes?'"
He continues, "You might also say, 'Typically when we sell this product, sales is involved. We often see them executing on X, Y, and Z. Does it make sense to bring them into our conversations?"
As more stakeholders get added to the buying process, it becomes increasingly critical for your sales reps to know your product inside-and-out.
Buscemi told me, "If I'm talking to a product team member, I might say, 'Here's how we typically work with your team', or, 'Here's a problem we typically solve for your team … Is that the case for you?' Making sure you're well-versed in each team's pain points — and also the features, values, and benefits that your product offers for each individual — is critical. Part of your job as a sales rep is knowing that information."
6. Sales reps need to become their own brand, and take a solutions-focused approach.
Seeing the wide-scale shifts we've seen across sales in 2022 had me wondering: What additional changes does Buscemi predict for sales in 2023 and beyond?
He told me, "I don't think selling will ever go away in the sense that there are no more individuals responsible for helping guide people throughout the customer purchasing process. But the definition of what a seller is responsible for has changed drastically, and I think we're still in that migration where you've gone from a transactional salesperson to one that is an expert in the space helping uncover additional challenges the customer may also face in the future."
He envisions a future in which sales reps have built social followings and demonstrated their expertise in a given industry so they're seen as thought leaders, rather than just sellers. That way, when it comes time for a prospect to make a purchase, he or she will trust the seller to have a pulse on what's happening and work to find a solution to the prospect's problem — even if it's not directly tied to their products or services.
Buscemi adds, "I think we'll move to a method where it's the individual's expertise in the space that makes or breaks the sales cycle."
7. You'll want to leverage data to become more efficient during a tumultuous time.
Finally, Buscemi acknowledges that 2023 will present new obstacles for sales reps. He recommends sales reps prepare by leveraging tools to help them better identify who is ready to buy, and when.
He says, "In the SMB space, sales reps are sometimes less targeted than you might be with enterprise accounts — you're kind of just throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. You're sending mass emails out, you're doing huge cadences, whatever."
He adds, "Leveraging a tool like G2's buyer intent can help you focus on the folks that are actually in the market for your product or service. For instance, with buyer intent you can look at people who are already investigating a product category, or building out a short-list of products, or even comparing two vendors head-to-head."
Ultimately, 2023 will undoubtedly bring with it unique challenges for your sales team to navigate. Hopefully, these six strategies will help you formulate a plan that enables you to stay ahead of the competition, and even exceed buyers' expectations.