Most sales teams—whether formally or informally—will perform some type of win-loss analysis. The goal of these programs is to identify trends and patterns that can be replicated, or in the case of losses, avoided by your team in the future. But what happens when the results of a win-loss analysis demonstrate that buyers are perhaps less rational in their decision-making processes than we might expect, or desire?

At Qstream we focus on helping customers uncover the “human” side of selling – the individual skills and capabilities of their sales reps – and then develop personalized development and coaching paths that drive improved performance. But when it comes to selling, it pays to understand the other human in the equation as well: the buyer.

Steve W. Martin, in his article for Harvard Business Review, “6 Reasons Salespeople Win or Lose a Sale,” explored just this question in a survey of more than 230 buyers, and the findings have some interesting implications for sellers in a wide range of industries. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the research data, as well as some likely repercussions for salesperson behavior.

1. To Challenge or Not to Challenge?

Martin’s research revealed that 40% of study participants prefer a salesperson who listens, understands, and then matches their solution to solve a specific problem. Another 30% prefer a salesperson who earns their trust by making them feel comfortable, while 30% want a salesperson who challenges their thoughts and then prescribes a solution they may not have known about previously. A fairly even spread, but what if we look at the data through a departmental lens?

Less than 20% of accounting and IT buyers want to be challenged, while 43% of the engineering department does. More than 50% of marketing and IT prefer a salesperson who will listen and match a solution to their specific needs. The sales department equally preferred having a salesperson listen and solve for their needs and being challenged; HR was equally split across all three selling styles.

Implication?:  Be sure to understand the personality and purchasing preferences of your primary buyer persona, as well as their appetite for conflict. (According to Martin, there was a direct correlation between that and selling style preferences: 78% of participants who wanted a salesperson to listen and solve for their specific needs agreed with the statement, “I try to avoid conflict as much as I can.” Conversely, 64% of participants who preferred a salesperson that would challenge them disagreed with that statement and were more comfortable with conflict.

This might mean that in the discovery process, for example, you should include more process-oriented questions such as:

  • Have you made a purchase of this type in the recent past? If yes, what was your process for making a vendor decision?
  • Based on your past experience and the company culture, how do you like to work with vendors during the consideration/evaluation/research process?
  • What can I do to make this process, and buying from my company overall, a successful experience for you?
  • What is the best way to communicate and engage with you moving forward?

2. Find Out Who Speaks Loudest When It Comes to Decision-Making

Much has been written about the rise of the “consensus” sale, and the growing number of people within an organization that are involved in buying decisions.  According to CEB/Gartner, on average, 5.4 people are involved in today’s B2B purchase decisions. But according to Martin’s research, purchase decisions are typically not made unanimously, so it’s important to understand who within the group might hold outsized influence.

One critical research finding is that 90% of study participants confirmed that there is always or usually one member of the evaluation committee who tries to influence, even bully, the decision to go their way. In fact, this person is successful in getting their preferred vendor selected 89% of the time.

Implication?:  As a salesperson, you may not have to win over the entire selection committee, just the individual who dominates it. This requires sellers to identify the real decision-maker early on and ask the right questions of them specifically to understand motivation, urgency and buying preferences.  And remember: the real decision-maker might not be the most senior or tenured person on the committee, but rather the person with the most to gain from a successful solution – both personally and professionally.

3. Do Your Reps Need a “Charm Offensive”?

When making a significant purchase for your company, assuming that each of the vendors in play are similar in terms of function and price, would you rather work with:

a. A highly proficient salesperson who possesses a wealth of product/service knowledge but is not necessarily someone you would ever consider as a friend,

b. A friendly salesperson with just average ability to represent their product or service, or

c. A highly charismatic salesperson who you really enjoyed spending time with, but was not very knowledgeable about their product/service?

The top selection, according to Martin’s research, for all industries was b, the friendly salesperson. (Interestingly, the media and fashion industries selected the “charismatic” salesperson more than most, while manufacturing and healthcare industries had the highest percentage of responses in favor of the more knowledgeable salesperson.)

Implication?:  While other factors may be at play here, for example, the technical complexity of a specific product or service purchase decision, Martin’s data would seem to contradict other sales research which discounts the value of personal relationships and connection in today’s buying environment.  From this perspective, it’s important that sellers are experts at assessing buyer reactions – even non-verbal ones – to various selling styles and adapt accordingly.

The bottom-line? It pays to remember that buyers are human too, and that their decisions in the workplace can be driven by any number of factors, both personal and environmental. What has your own win-loss analysis told you about buyer behavior, and how are you helping your sellers remain agile while still adhering to your desired sales process? Would you change the questions currently being asked in your company’s win-loss analysis based on Martin’s data?  We’d love to hear from you! Tweet to us @Qstream.

Share it with all your network