It’s Cyber Monday; a term coined by my friend Scott Silverman along with his fellow National Retail Foundation (NRF) VP Ellen Davis back in 2005. At the time, many people were waiting until today (the Monday after Thanksgiving & Black Friday) to shop online - as it was more likely they had high-speed internet at work than at home.
While the threat eCommerce had (justifiably so) on the future of physical retail was getting all of the headlines, there was also real concern about the role sales professionals would take in the future, as websites were beginning to take over many of our functions.
Keep in mind, in 2005, professional salespeople were still essentially walking brochures. "Here's our feature. Here's our benefit. Yap. Yap. Yap." And, as buyers, eCommerce was a welcome option given our inherent control-seeking wiring.
Today, eCommerce has more lessons to teach us as B2B, human-to-human sellers. eCommerce is fundamentally a website acting as a seller, with a playground to experiment. The goal of eCommerce is to attract prospects (to their website), and convert them to buyers with a minimum amount of friction - a focus we should all have in the B2B space, too, right?
Why does eCommerce work so well? Well, there are three primary lessons we can apply to human-to-human selling:
1 - Transparency Wins
Online retail has taught us that transparency sells better than perfection. We all look at reviews before making a purchase of substance that we haven’t bought before. As a matter of fact, at last report, this is true for 96% of us.
However, as it turns out, 82% of us specifically seek out the negative reviews first. We skip past the perfect 5-star reviews and go right to the 1’s, 2’s, 3’s and 4’s. Why? Because we are wired to resist being influenced. We are wired to attempt to predict what our experience is going to be like using a product or service. It’s why, when an average review score on a product being sold online is between a 4.2-4.5, it sells at a higher rate than a product with any other score - including a perfect 5.0.
Revealing your solution’s potential downside is a more effective selling strategy than hiding that downside, and hoping the buyer won't find out.
Online sellers are all about transparency, displaying both the positive and the negative reviews for their products right alongside the products themselves...on their own website! This below example is on Crocs.com for a pair of their shoes. Just under the product description, the most helpful positive and the most helpful negative review are right on top!
When a buyer isn’t able to predict what their experience is going to be like using your product or service from what they get and hear from you, they seek it elsewhere. They leave you, the seller, do online searches, reach out to peers who may have experience in the product category, and check for analyst reports. If you’re in the tech space, you can count on them checking reviews on your products on G2.com or Trustradius.com. They’re likely even looking at Glassdoor reviews to predict what it’s going to be like working with the people in your organization. Just Google your company. Type in "What's it like to work with (your company)". If you have Glassdoor reviews, I'll bet it's the first thing that comes up in the search result. When I buyer isn't getting what they need from you, they leave, and many times they don't come back!
Providing both the positives and the negatives of your products or services speeds sales cycles dramatically, as buyers don’t need to seek that information elsewhere. It works like magic when a website is acting as the salesperson. And, as it turns out, works easily well when you, a human being, are positioning your products and services, too.
2 - Brevity Wins
Reading is work - and when it’s unexpected, it’s typically unwelcome. Especially for your brain.
Remember the last time you opened an email from your boss, co-worker, or even someone in product marketing, and it was paragraph-after-paragraph of text? Your brain cried a little on the inside.
Now consider the way you communicate with prospects or clients. Are your communications the equivalent of War and Peace?
The eCommerce world recognized early that clear, short, bulleted communication is the clearest communication. They work hard to make sure that their value proposition can be communicated quickly and clearly. And, with the magic of links, an easy and trackable invitation for learn more is delivered via invitation via said link.
Here’s the product description for a pair of boat shoes on Zappos.com. Notice they use only three bullets of information, providing a link for more information right below it. Easy to read. Easy to consume. Easy for the "prospect" to investigate further.
Think about your communications in the same way. When sending an email to a prospect, active buyer or current customer, think “Twitter” length. Make your communications short, to the point, and provide opportunities to learn more.
3 - Discount the sh*t out of everything at the end of the year!
Wait. Don’t do that.
Let’s take a step back for a second. Why do you think retailers heavily discount this time of year?
One of the feelings that drives buying decisions is that of “fairness”. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Is the output of my resources (time, money) worth the return (value)?
This is where human-to-human selling still has a big advantage!
It’s ok to discount. It’s even ok to discount aggressively. But, as a human being, you have an opportunity to get something of value in return, and paint a picture of fairness. It’s in the “why”.
“There’s value in our ability to forecast our business. If you’re willing to help us with our forecast, meaning, make a formal commitment to our solutions by December 20th, we’re willing to pay you for that in the form of a discount.”
"If you're willing to commit to more (product, service, technology), that commitment is valuable to us as an organization, and as such, we're willing to pay you for that larger commitment in the form of discount."
"If you're willing to accelerate payment (upfront annually, multi-year upfront), that's good for our business. It allows us to accelerate investments (in our products, services, technology, team). As such, we're willing to pay you for that accelerated payment in the form of a discount."
"There's value to us in your commitment. The longer the commitment, the better it is for us, and the more we're willing to pay you for that in the form of a discount."
65% of publicly held companies in the United States end their fiscal year in December. In other countries, the percentage is much higher. There's no need to embrace desperation. In the end, eCommerce provides a lense into the decision process of buyers. Buyers want control of their process. They want predictability. They want fairness - to feel like they've gotten a good deal. Be transparent, embrace brevity, and negotiate discounts transparently as well, and I promise you you'll see shorter sales cycles, improved win rates, better qualified opportunities, and more predictable ones as well!
Good luck bringing home 2019!
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that all of these concepts are explained in much more detail in the book, The Transparency Sale, along with simple, easy to implement tactics. It makes a great gift, too, right? 😀
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