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What’s The Customer Doing During The “57%” And Why Sales Should Celebrate!

by David Brock on April 22nd, 2015
57 varieties

I have to admit I’m getting relatively pissed off with all the discussions around, “Customers don’t want to see sales people until they are 57%  (up to 70%) though their buying process.”  There are reactions ranging from:

  • Sheer joy:  Sales people saying, it’s great, that means they are only focusing on serious buyers, it shortens their sales process, and all sorts of other nonsense.
  • Sheer relief:  Again sales people saying, all that front end stuff is the really tough stuff.  We don’t have to prospect, find, qualify, do need/requirements discovery.  It’s all marketing’s job to provide the content that gets us to be on the shortlist 57% of the way through the journey.
  • Sheer terror:  Sales and marketing alike thinking, “What if we don’t get enough calls when they are 57% of the way through the process?  How will we make the numbers?”
  • Mixed terror and opportunism:  CMO’s and marketing thinking, we own the 57% now, it’s all up to us.  How do we attract people, how do we develop the right content, how do we move them through the process?  The opportunistic side is, we need more budget, we need more tools, we need more people and resources to do all this stuff.  (Interestingly, we don’t see a shift of resources from sales to marketing to cover this, we just see net increase in spending, does this make  sense?)
  • Sheer terror on the part of corporate and others:  How can we control and drive outcomes when we have so little direct influence over what the customer is doing through their buying cycle?
  • Continued prognostications on the death of the sales person–with all this activity shifting, we don’t need as many sales people.
  • And consultants love this because it is the source of endless books, blogs (and I’m guilty too) with prognostications ranging from doom and gloom about sales to cautious optimism.

I’m not sure this is what my friends Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson really intended, when they cited that data in Challenger or others mean when they cite similar data.

When one looks at the research, it’s actually pretty limited in the statements it makes about what customers are actually doing during that “57%.”  The research says, they are shifting where and how they learn about products and solutions.  They are relying increasingly on information at company websites (recent research shows this as one of the highest “go to” destinations for customer research.)  Along with this they are looking for meaningful relevant content from suppliers about products and solutions.

So the opportunism from marketing is actually quite justified, we have to be doing a much better job of attracting, educating, engaging customers as they engage digitally.

They also rely on user experience, discussions, and other forums.  It’s not their primary digital research but it’s an important channel we have to develop and influence.

And there are other important digital (and, surprisingly non digital resources like conferences and tradeshows) that are part of what customers are doing during that 57%.

A conclusion we all draw from this is the role of the sales person has changed.  Where the sales person used to be the primary channel for customers to educate themselves about products and solutions, that role is increasingly be displaced by digital and other means of learning about products and solutions.

But here’s where I think all the discussions miss the point.  We are still making all of this about the product!

I’ll repeat myself, the research says that the “57%” is customers self educating about products and solutions.

But is that all the customer is doing when they are in a buying process?  Is buying really just about researching solutions and products?

And buying is just a small part of the customer change management process anyway.

Customers don’t buy just to spend money.  They buy to achieve business objectives, whether it’s to address new opportunities, to solve a problem, to better serve customers, to improve their operations.  All of these activities involve more than just buying.

From a sales point of view, we probably should be celebrating the 57% and rooting for it to be 70%!

Not needing to educate customers about our products and solutions frees us up to create much greater value for our customers!

It frees us up to start educating customers about opportunities they are missing, problems they don’t realize they have, things they can be doing to better serve their customers.

It frees us up to start talking to customers about their dreams and engaging them in rich discussions about their personal and business future.

It frees us up to start helping the customer realize they must change!  To help them recognize their current state is unacceptable, they must do something different.

It frees us up to help the customer figure out what that means.  What is the problem, opportunity they want to address?  How do they develop a plan of attack?  Who needs to be involved?  How do we establish a project including, milestones and goals to get them where they want to be by a certain date?

It frees us up to help them in the tough work of aligning diverse agendas, priorities, and goals.  We can help them define and scope the problem establish the goals, develop the plan.

It’s probably an area they may not have much experience in addressing, but since we help customers solve similar problems every day, we are freed up to help the customer really understand the problem and what they might do about it.

When they get to the buying part, rather than having to focus on educating them about the product, we can focus on helping them learn how to buy.

As sales professionals we should be celebrating the 57-70%.  We really don’t create a lot of value in educating customers about our products and solutions.  We create more sustainable and differentiated value in all the other stuff.  The 57-70% frees us up to focus where we have the greatest impact!

Too many of us, sales, marketing, corporate execs, are caught in the past.  We think it is about our products and solutions.  We try to make it about our products and solutions.  For those, stuck in a long and thankfully gone era, they should be terrified.  They have become irrelevant!

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  1. Richard Young permalink

    Good point on the allocation of resources.

    For me I often find the CMO/Marketing wanting to own 99% and have the sales team take the order i.e. actively wanting to convert the sales environment to transactional sales. I also see few CMOs putting their hand up to own 57% of the revenue targets.

    This does lead me to question why the CMO/Marketing don’t have CTAs that actively promote the contact.

    Would we see a reduction in that 57% if websites actively promoted engagement rather than just content marketing?

    • Great points Richard! I think the 57% is actually some sort of false positive. Too often, it’s taken as “this is the way things are,” rather than, things have changed, we need to change as well. Marketing needs to change how they engage the customer, sales needs to change how they engage the customer, or we become irrelevant.

  2. Don Mulhern permalink

    Really enjoyed this one David! I’ve always been bothered by the 57% (or whatever %) noise too. You’ve articulated the frustration and clarified the real message it sends very well. The best sales people I’ve worked with over the years have always known the importance of “getting in early” and having inquisitive conversations with prospects vs. waiting to be contacted. But I suppose the majority, sadly, are still very reactive. This should be a wake up call to them. The 57% thing, when correctly interpreted as you have, suggests they must transform their approach or become irrelevant. The shame is that some folks are unable or just unwilling to make the changes required. But those who can and do should survive and thrive.

    • Thanks so much Don, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Sometimes, I think sales people and managers secretly like the 57%–and might prefer the 70%. It takes the tough part of selling off their shoulders. It also takes all that hard stuff about presenting products off their shoulders. They are reduced to quoting agents, usually winning purely by price.

      The best sales people always got in early. They always helped the customer “find the pain.” But the job has changed–as has every other job. It’s time that sales people and managers changed.

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