Buyer Engagement: The Universal Truth of Sales


Buyer Engagement: The Universal Truth of Sales

What is the role of the salesperson in today’s B2B ecosystem?

Recent numbers would seem to suggest the salesforce has become irrelevant:

  • Buyers now make 90% of their purchasing decisions based on their own internet research, according to a Gartner study.
  • 73% of buyers won’t answer a cold sales call, according to a Market Transformations study.
  • Two out of three decision-makers in the buying department say they trust their research more than salespeople.

The marketplace has reinvented the buyer journey as a buyer-led process. Buyers do all their own research, confer among themselves, and then reach out to a potential vendor. So what value could a sales team provide?

The truth is, despite the above statistics, sales teams haven’t become unimportant—quite the contrary. It’s that the sales role has evolved, especially over the past decade.

In 2020, buyers want sales reps to act not as sellers but as knowledge brokers. After all, “77% of buyers agree that purchases have become very complex and difficult,” according to Gartner’s Win More B2B Sales Deals. The sales rep can add value by acting as an expert guide helping the buyer navigate the waters of decision-making.

And in so doing, the sales rep is uniquely positioned to navigate that buyer right into their desired deal. Not by going in for the hard sale—let’s leave that one where it belongs, in the 1980s. Instead, today’s sales team must enrich the sales experience by finding high-ROI ways to engage the buyer.

The Marketing Science Institute (MSI) cited “engagement” as a top research priority as far back as 2006. This has been a consistent refrain in all their later research. By now, buyer engagement has become the prevailing paradigm in all sales environments.

The concept of buyer engagement might seem like some kind of dark art at first (what’s the magical formula to get someone to care—especially if you can’t rely on your charisma and talents in meetings and sales calls?).

Truthfully, there’s a whole set of proven tactics any salesforce can leverage to get their prospects and clients more engaged.

In this post, we will:

  • Break down what we mean by “buyer engagement.”
  • Take a look at the best practices for optimizing engagement.
  • And learn how sales enablement tools can lend a competitive edge.

What is Buyer Engagement?

Industry leaders have developed a multitude of definitions for “customer engagement.” These definitions extend to “buyer engagement” as well.

We’ll touch more on the distinction between the two terms is coming up in a minute.

For our purposes, a generally accepted definition is as follows:

Buyer engagement is the level of a buyer’s participation in, and connection to, a firm’s offerings and activities across the many touchpoints of a given buying journey, especially beyond the point of sale. Engagement starts before the buyer even becomes a prospect and continues post-purchase.

Tracking buyer engagement is not the same thing as monitoring sales performance. By definition, buyer engagement is not about completing sales. Rather, it’s the totality of all the buyer’s responses to your firm’s offerings and actions.

Buyer engagement involves behaviors such as:

  • Clicking on an email from the seller
  • Reviewing assets provided by the seller
  • Sharing those assets with the rest of the buying team or other departments
  • Participating in a product demo
  • Sharing their thoughts about the product or service in question. This can be online or through word-of-mouth referrals

The goal is to maximize the buyer’s participation in all the above actions (and others not listed).

Buyer Engagement vs. Customer Engagement—What’s the Difference?

You might find “customer engagement” used as an umbrella term for all sales processes. But it’s useful to distinguish “customer engagement” from “buyer engagement.” The two terms correspond to different sales environments with distinct variables and pressures.

Customer engagement happens in a B2C environment. Its dominant characteristics are:

  • The customer is an individual.
  • Sales are more frequent but often at a lower price point than in a B2B environment.
  • Social media and real-life community-building experiences are crucial to driving engagement.

Buyer engagement happens in a B2B environment. Its dominant characteristics are:

  • The customer is an organization. So, the sales rep is selling their product not to the individual buyer but to that buyer’s departmental team. The team then discusses the product with company-wide departments and decision-makers
  • Sales are likely less frequent than in a B2C context, but the buyer will spend a large amount of money.
  • Relationships between the selling firm and the buying firm are complex and interpersonal.
  • The interaction between salespeople and buyers is critical in influencing buying decisions.

Why Does Buyer Engagement Matter?

Buyer journeys are more complex than ever before. Buyers are now interacting with vendors through several different touchpoints. They’re also interacting with other buyers online as part of their pre-purchase research.

“Fully engaged” customers account for a 23% increase in revenue, according to a recent Gallup study. By contrast, an “engaged” customer can lead to a 7% increase. But “not engaged” and “actively disengaged” customers can trigger revenue losses of 1–13%.

Why a positive correlation between engagement and revenue? Because engagement is the entrée into forging trust. Trust helps to build a strengthened emotional bond. This, in turn, results in loyalty and advocacy.

Buyers go through the following psychological process as they navigate the buying journey:

  • First, they process information.
  • Second, they use that information to form beliefs.
  • Third, they use those beliefs to develop attitudes.
  • And fourth, they depend on those attitudes to make decisions.

According to research, an engaged buyer goes through the above process faster than a less-engaged buyer. They’re also more likely to develop favorable attitudes toward the operation with which they’re engaging.

That’s because engagement encourages buyers to:

  • Feel knowledgeable about the business, product, and service offered to them
  • Feel they have an invested stake in that business, product, and service
  • Convert from a prospect to an MQL
  • Advocate for that business, product, or service to others

SEE ALSO: Buyer Energy – The Real Measure of Sales Effectiveness 

Best Practices for Driving Buyer Engagement

Buyers report that “cost” is the most frequent objection to a buying decision. “Risk” is the second most common objection.

Cost and risk together are the most time-intensive objections to resolve, according to Gartner Survey.

Enter Don Hutson, CEO of the Memphis-based US Learning Inc. Dan had an answer to these objections when he spoke at the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management conference.

Hutson said that if the seller brings enough value to the table, the buyer will view them as a “trusted advisor.”

At that point, cost becomes irrelevant.

How do you become that “trusted advisor”? That’s right—through buyer engagement. And the best way to get your buyers to engage with your offerings? Ensure a positive ROI at every touchpoint in the buying journey.

That positive return doesn’t have to be something quantifiable. Garin Hess, in his book Selling Is Hard. Buying Is Harder argues that an emotional return on investment is what counts here. You must convince the buyer that the emotional benefits of closing the deal will outweigh the emotional risks.

Buyers need to feel that they are co-creators of a shared process with the seller.

Creating these perceptions starts with a review of some general sales principles. To make this kind of “symbiotic selling” relationship, reps need to:

  • Understand what buyers want and how they think.
  • Discover and engage the buying group.
  • Identify a key advocate for the product or service, and engage that advocate to sell it to the rest of the buying group.
  • Guide that advocate through the buying process by sharing knowledge and expertise. For instance, by offering digital learning materials that the buyer can review whenever they want and at their own pace.
  • Offer a wholly personalized sales experience tailored for the buyer (and other team members).
  • Offer trustworthy proof that their product/service will solve the buyer’s problem.

Besides those general precepts, let’s drill down into some of the digital assets sales reps can produce to drive buyer engagement.

Here are some of the most popular engagement tactics, according to the 2018 Demand Generation Benchmark Survey:

  • White papers, utilized by 50% of businesses surveyed
  • Case studies, utilized by 50% of businesses surveyed
  • Videos, utilized by 37% of businesses surveyed (the report notes that this is an emerging source of engagement)
  • Content syndication, utilized by 25% of businesses surveyed

How Can Sales Enablement Enhance Buyer Engagement Strategies?

We’ve gone over the general sales principles behind boosting buyer engagement. We’ve also talked about some of the concrete offerings that can add value to the process and help a prospect “buy-in” to the offering.

Now let’s get a little more pragmatic, and take a look at the available tools for optimizing engagement strategies.

When we say “tools,” we’re referring to one thing: smart technology. That is, AI- and data-driven sales enablement software that can automate several parts of the sales process.

These tools offer insights to help leaders increase engagement and customize content offerings. Thus, providing a bespoke experience for each stage in the buyer journey.

Phil Fernandez is a well-known Silicon Valley executive. In his landmark 2012 “manifesto” of sorts, Revenue Disruption, he argues the following.

For a business to survive in the changing marketplace, its sales and marketing department has to beef up its “left-brain” capacities.

What does this mean? This means analyzing and leveraging the massive quantities of customer data that they have at their disposal. Sales enablement tools act like that “left brain” for the company.

Fernandez further expounded on how to drive revenue in a B2B sales environment. An effective operation, he argued, is one equipped to understand the buyer’s journey from the start (or even before the start!) to the very finish—even (or especially) if that journey is a multidimensional and nonlinear one, as is so often the case today. Sales enablement platforms are designed to generate those kinds of insights.

Adopting these practices is key to running an efficient, lean-as-a-greyhound sales operation. Hess found that companies utilizing sales enablement technology see close rates increase by as much as 40%. Also, and their sales cycles shorten by as much as 62%.

Let’s take a quick look at what, exactly, this technology can do:

  • Automate parts of the buyer discovery process, which represents a massive savings in man hours
  • Create customized, intraviral content at all stages of the sales funnel (more on this in a second)
  • Track and gather data on buyer engagement throughout the entire sales cycle
  • Discover stakeholders and engage them more through personalization

Here’s a note about that intraviral content we mentioned above. Intraviral content refers to assets created for the buyer that the buyer finds valuable enough to share with other team members.

Hess ran an experiment in his own business. He discovered some powerful insights about interactive video demos in particular. Let’s say a seller sent an interactive video demo to a prospect. If that prospect shared it with one other person before responding to the sales rep, they were 81% more likely to become a qualified opportunity.

Furthermore, buyer engagement plays a critical role in tracking the effectiveness of your bottom-of-funnel sales content. Check out our previous post for a deeper dive into how to use buyer engagement data to tie your content to revenue.

SEE ALSO: Sales Content Effectiveness 

What to look for in a sales enablement tool:

Speed and ease of use. Make sure you can put in place the sales enablement software you’re considering can in a reasonable timeframe. Some programs are so cumbersome they can take months to get up and running.

Instead, look for tools like Accent’s platform, which allows businesses to get up and running in days or weeks. It includes powerful automation that accelerates the set-up process. The interface is intuitive which allows for quick and widespread adoption among team members. And most importantly, if you’re looking to get started with Sales AI and Analytics, it can access the buyer/seller data that lives in data sources scattered across your tech stack and replenish a missing or nonexistent CRM historical data set.

Easily accessed insights. If it isn’t archived, analyzed, and organized into actionable insights, then data is just that—sheer data. It’s an ocean of intimidating points that mean nothing on their own. Accent’s sales enablement platform harnesses that information without sacrificing precious time.

Sales leaders can see at a glance what content their reps are sharing with buyers, and how buyers are responding. This affords them the knowledge they need to assess and improve engagement.

Searchable, organized data. Make sure whatever program you choose can filter content by role or segment. This way, you can better analyze buyer responses and tailor resources to stakeholders.

Final Thoughts

Accent Technologies is the first and only SaaS company to bring together Sales AI and Content Management in a true Revenue Enablement Platform. We provide both sales and marketing with better visibility into the performance of their teams. This drives revenue through intelligent recommendations for complex sales scenarios and provides the data for rich analytics that power better coaching, forecasting, and long-term customer support. Learn more about our solutions or request a live demo to see it in action.

By Accent Technologies

23rd December 2020

Buyer Engagement The Accent Way

Why is measuring buyer engagement a better predictor of conversion than sales activities? Because reactions to stimuli are intrinsic to the person and generally cannot be faked or misinterpreted. Either there is a reaction, positive or negative, or there is not.​

Many AI vendors only look at data tracking the seller’s actions. The problem with this is the data is usually lacking or entered half-heartedly to meet management’s requirements. And even if leadership works endlessly for months to collect sales’ activities from them – they’re still only looking at half of the equation.

Accent AI solutions not only tap into your data sources to backfill your sales activity data, but we analyze every buyer/seller interaction and help you understand your buyer’s energy (read: invested interest) in those interactions. Because at the end of the day, it’s less important what you’re sales rep said they did… it’s more important how the buyer responded to it.