Business development · 28 October 2019

How to avoid ‘zombie’ sales and change buyer behaviour

Halloween

If you’re leading a business that sells to other businesses, you’ll know just how hard closing a sale can be, and how long it can take. With so many decision-makers involved – and a widespread belief that change is likely to be risky and disruptive – buyers are rarely swift to move.

Prospects may even fester in ‘zombie loops’ where they lurk in your CRM as a notional opportunity that never actually converts; a forever ‘maybe’ that drives your sales team mad. What should be the most dynamic part of the business becomes a slow, torturous slog.

Marketing has the power to change buyer behaviour and convert prospects – and zombies – into paying customers (without resorting to a double-tap to the head). But to do that, we need to learn how to maintain momentum when selling. And to do it well, we need to understand our customers better.

1. Breaking down the customer journey

Let’s strip out all the sophistication from the buying process for a minute. We have a customer who realises their business has an unmet need. They look for possible solutions and narrow these down to a shortlist. After interacting with potential suppliers, they – together with multiple colleagues – make a final decision and buy.

As the provider of this chosen service or product, we try to meet their needs and find ways to deliver extra value. Some then buy from us repeatedly, while others end up going elsewhere, finding some of their needs are not met.

The customer – or, to you, the sales lead – zombifies when they have an unmet need you think you can solve, but they never quite make a decision to actually buy.

Why?

Because people don’t buy B2B products or services in the same way they do their weekly groceries. Trying a new brand of cereal doesn’t have wide-reaching consequences for their colleagues, nor will it put them in the firing line.

B2B buyers are ultra-cautious because change is risky. The fear of what they might lose if they make a poor decision can outweigh the gains they hope to achieve from buying. In reality, it’s an emotional as well as a rational purchase.

Plus, in B2B, there are almost always other people involved in the purchasing process: higher-ups with sweeping demands, budget holders to convince, and users to placate (who are quite happy with how things are thank you very much).

2. How to close a risk-averse buyer

Your sales and marketing efforts need to focus squarely on the questions and concerns likely to arise from a) your point of contact and b) all the people they work with who you may never meet.

You need to make it ‘viscerally real’

Customers need to be reassured with a view of what the next week, month, or year will be like if they sign on the dotted line. They need to know your contingency plans for inevitable issues and setbacks. They need to see that you get where they’re coming from and feel safe in the knowledge you understand their business inside out.

To do this, you’ll need to devote time and resources to demonstrate what it’s like to work with you. This means producing empathetic easy to use onboarding content created exclusively for customers at this point in the buyer journey.

Very few companies ever think to create a ‘here’s how to get the best from us’ guide for new clients, but they should. This could include a clear overview of how you work and key processes – what customers can expect from you and what you need from them. You could use video interviews with existing customers as case studies and use case examples.

3. The power of storytelling

Storytelling techniques can be employed to detail specific examples of how you’ve met customer challenges successfully in record time. And you can make it super easy to contact key people on the account (from simple telephone and email details to how-to guides for accessing intranets and live online chats).

Get beyond that ‘honeymoon period’

Not only will this help you exit the honeymoon period in good shape for the rest of your relationship with the customer, but it can also provide powerful opportunities to upsell and cross-sell, as they will gain a more rounded picture of all the ways you can help them.

Importantly, you can begin using this content long before a prospect ever becomes a customer. In the same way that many prospects will check out tech companies’ support pages to see how they deal with customer issues, great onboarding content can deliver clear evidence of what it’ll be like to work with you right from day one.

Ultimately, it can make the difference between a prospect becoming a morale-sapping zombie or accelerating into being a great-fit ongoing customer.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Jason Ball is founder of B2B content marketing specialist Considered Content.

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