The Customer Situation Takes Center Stage

August 04, 2016

Contributor: Christy Pettey

Manage messaging to improve the buying cycle.

The sheer diversity of customer situations and scenarios means that situational awareness has become a critical competency for IT sales. Preparedness is everything when you are facing varied buying teams with wide-ranging perspectives.

“Situational awareness requires salespeople to develop broad storytelling capabilities and a more consultative selling approach,” said Hank Barnes, research vice president at Gartner. “Technology service providers (TSPs) must invest accordingly in improving the skills of their sales teams.”

“ The emphasis for sales teams should be on a dialogue rather than a monologue.”

Sales teams that fail to grasp the shift from a product-oriented to a customer-centric environment risk alienating prospective buyers. Business-unit buyers don't care about technology for technology's sake. The sales interactions they value the most are those that focus on their situation and their needs, not those that provide general product or corporate information.

Understand your audience

In most instances enterprise technology purchase decisions are made by teams, not individuals. So it’s crucial that the sales team understands the role — or roles — of the buying team. Some people may be influencers, others may be decision makers and others may be participating for information purposes. Responsibilities may shift throughout the process, with executives perhaps leading during the early stages of the buying process and handing over more decision authority to more technical personnel to guide the evaluation.

Target your message

Given this dynamic involvement, sales team members should use situational messaging and tailor their communications to each individual’s specific interests.

Mr. Barnes warned against making incorrect assumptions about the skills and interests of the various participants on the buying team.

“Sales teams should keep an open mind and not assume that business-unit buyers are not knowledgeable about technology,” he said. “Technology roles in business units are on the increase and, largely due to the consumerization of IT, more people outside IT view themselves as technically proficient.”

Develop strong storytelling skills

One of the most important benefits of storytelling is that it creates an environment for emotional connections. The human brain uses emotions and previous experiences to remember. This may be the biggest reason for strong storytelling. When we give buyers lists of features or facts to remember, quite simply, they don't.

Storytelling approaches can be used to create messages that are more appealing to technology buyers by making the buyer the focus of the story, which helps capture interest and build trust.

This is an approach to communications that starts by defining the business situation that an organization is facing, and the impact that the business situation is having on performance, before introducing the product that can be used to provide resolution to that situation.

SituationalMessagingDialogues-01

“The emphasis for sales teams should be on a dialogue rather than a monologue,” said Mr. Barnes. “Customer feedback will help to validate situational assumptions, clarify areas of confusion and ultimately allow TSPs to adjust their story to focus on what the buyer is most interested in.”

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