14 MIN READ

Buyer Enablement for the B2B Sales Process [The Complete Guide]

Note: a portion of this article was previously published in the Boston Business Journal

“The buyer is boss” is a point I’ve stood by for a long time.

But a recent conversation with a client brought to my attention how important it is for companies to position this concept at the heart of their sales process.

When discussing whether to enable chat tools on a client’s website, the salespeople on the call argued against using chat tools.

Their reasoning?

They would rather communicate with buyers through phone or email.

To this, I took a deep breath and asked: “Should we plan our strategy around how the seller wants to sell...or how the buyer wants to buy?”

To say “the buyer is boss” doesn’t mean the buyer is always right or that they even understand the problem they’re tasked with solving in the first place.

Regardless, one fact remains: buyers (and their preferences) dictate how — and what — they buy.

In this article:
What is buyer enablement?
How buyers in 2022 interact with the sales team
What does buyer enablement entail?
Why is buyer enablement important for your B2B sales process?
The road to better buyer enablement

 

What is buyer enablement?

Buyer enablement is providing buyers with the information they need when they need it, so they can understand the full scope of their business problem and how your solution will help them.

As the co-owner of a B2B marketing firm, I'm about to say something that many in our industry might consider blasphemy: marketers are not in control of the buyer's journey.

Salespeople aren't in charge, either.

The buyer is in control of the buyer's journey.

Yes, you read that right.

The BUYER is in control of the buyer's journey. Not sales. Not marketing.

That wasn't the case thirty years ago—or even ten. But thanks to the vastness of the Internet and people's increasingly impressive search-savvy skill sets, today's buyers know how to buy better and smarter, even if the journey isn't always smooth due to things like:

  • Multifaceted problems that the buyer is trying to find a solution for
  • Multiple decision-makers need info and the ability to provide input
  • Companies are not making it easy for buyers to find the information they need when they need it.
  • Old-school approaches from marketing and salespeople who want to "help" push buyers down a sales "funnel" but inevitably make the process more frustrating for buyers.

The "new" role of Marketing and Sales in the age of buyer enablement

In this new era, we find ourselves in, our job as sales folks and marketers is simple: don't get in the buyer's damned way.

We shouldn't put up roadblocks or force buyers to come to a screeching halt because we want to wave demo request forms and lead nurturing emails and free guides in their virtual faces.

Instead, our focus should be on this: what can Marketing and Sales do together to enable buyers to move faster and with more confidence to buy from my company?

How buyers in 2022 interact with the sales team

I read an interesting statistic that the salesperson is typically the ninth point of contact in that particular prospect's journey.

In other words, the buyer has interacted with eight other sources before even talking to a salesperson.

It might be a referral source, it might be the company website, it might be a competitor's website, it might be an industry association, or it might be a thread on Reddit. You get the idea.

The point is this: the buyer has interacted, on average, with seven or eight other sources before even getting to the sales rep.

And what is the buyer doing during these "interactions" with other sources?

Gathering intel—intel that often influences and pushes them in one direction. Again, ALL before ever talking to someone from Sales.

This is why Marketing and Sales—together—need to change their approach. Sales enablement and inbound marketing still have their place (when done right), but you're going to see that more and more marketing and sales initiatives need to be driven from a buyer-enablement mindset.

So, some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are you doing to enable buyers to get answers to their questions?
  • What are you doing to position your company as the go-to resource where buyers can get all of their questions answered?
  • What are you doing so that when the buyer interacts with these eight other sources, your company's name keeps bubbling up to the top?

Because here's the thing, and this isn't rocket science: If your company is the one that's consistently, generously, and reliably answering prospects' questions, then prospects (i.e., buyers) are going to naturally, organically keep coming to YOU.

You simply need to enable them to get there.

What does buyer enablement entail?

Effective buyer enablement involves:

  • Reducing any and all friction the buyer typically encounters when they're searching for answers.
  • Giving the buyer the right information when they want it—not at a time pre-determined by you.
  • Offering the buyer multiple ways to engage with Sales when they are ready to do so. And I don't mean old-school phone calls, forms, and email. I DO mean texts, well-thought-out live chats, and effective social media.
  • Giving Marketing and Sales teams the permission and resources to do things differently.
  • Retraining Marketing and Sales to embrace this new approach and teaching them how to pivot depending on the buyer they're talking to.

Intrigued? Overwhelmed? Do you feel I'm onto something, but do you need to digest it a little more?

No worries. I’ve got you covered.

Read on for advice that tackles the specific things you'll need to do when shifting your organization to a true buyer-enablement mindset, particularly the Marketing and Sales teams.

Why is buyer enablement important for your B2B sales process?

According to the Gartner Group buyers spend 45 percent of their time researching solutions independently and 22 percent meeting with their buying group.

The easier you make it for buyers to learn about their problem, discover your solution as an option, and advocate decision-makers at their company, the faster they will move through the buying process and become your customers.

To engage buyers, you need to:

  • Document and Evaluate Your Prospects Buying Process
  • Identify and Reduce Points of Friction
  • Communicate With Buyers on Their Terms, Not Yours
  • Help Your Buyers Understand Their Problem Through Educational Content (Not Product-Focused Content)

How to Enable Your B2B Buyers

1. Document and Evaluate Your Buying Process

Chances are you’re already documenting your sales process, which begins once a buyer raises their hand to speak with a salesperson.

Before taking steps to enable your buyers further, you’ll need to document and evaluate your prospect's buying process, which starts when a buyer begins thinking about their problem.

To better understand your buyers’ journey, take time to interview recent customers. Some questions to ask:

  • How did they frame the problem before interacting with your business?
  • What resources (online and offline) did they use to begin framing the problem? When they were online, what did they type into search? How many different resources did they use?
  • What about your content helped them grasp and define their problem?
  • Did they engage with your sales team? If so, did this engagement make it easier for them to take the next step?

I cannot stress enough the need to view your buying process objectively. Doing so will help you reduce friction points, which brings me to my second tip.

2. Identify and Reduce Points of Friction

Points of friction are experiences that make it difficult for your buyer to find the information they want and manage their own buying experience.

Common friction points include software companies not offering demos on demand, manufacturing companies only talking about material specifications and not applications, or professional services companies that offer point solutions but fail to indicate price (not even a range or starting price).

Some companies think a friction point is part of their strategy, hoping it will encourage buyers to talk to sales—for example, the back and forth of setting up a meeting with a salesperson.

In reality, buyers who fail to get the information they need at this point will simply bounce from your website to another that provides them the answer they initially sought to find.

Solve the sales meeting point of friction by making it simple for your buyers by using a tool that allows your prospect to follow a link and pick a time that works for them.

3. Communicate With Buyers on Their Terms, Not Yours

This point of friction is crucial because it’s so often overlooked and can result in wasted time and resources. Determine the channels your buyer may want to communicate and plan how you will use them.

If your buyers want quick answers while on your website, yet their only option is to call or send a form, they will leave your website for one with a chat feature that provides immediate answers.

On the other hand, if you enable chat on your site and then use it to ask dozens of questions before offering value, you can bet your buyers will leave that experience too.

When you outline the buyer's journey, take the time to learn all the different communication channels your buyer would like to use and make them available.

And when your buyer reaches out to talk to sales, make sure you ask the question about what channels are most convenient for them.

4. Help Your Buyers Understand Their Problem Through Educational Content (Not Product-Focused Content)

The B2B companies we work with know their solutions inside and out — while it’s tempting to immediately show a buyer how their service can solve their business problem, the reality is that your solution usually solves part of their problem.

Think about the buyer’s problem in the larger context of their business.

 For example, buyers concerned about product safety can solve their problems in various ways -- your solution is one of them.

Create content that helps the buyer understand the broader implication of their situation and educates them regarding their options.

Doing this will position you as a thought leader and a helpful resource and begins to build a relationship early in the buying process.

In fact, research has shown that when companies do this, customers are three times more likely to buy a bigger deal.

The Road to Better Buyer Enablement

Here's the secret sauce many people are overlooking: for your sales folks to be truly efficient and effective, your organization needs to shift to a buyer enablement mindset first.

Why? Because BUYERS are in control of their buying journey. Not sales. Not marketing.

Instead, Sales and Marketing need to focus on ways that make it easier for buyers to buy your services/products.

Now, here's the thing: we know that more and more buyers are doing more and more research before ever talking to a salesperson.

Not surprising, right?

 People are savvy searchers, and they know what they want—or, at least, they know what they're looking for.

And what they don't want is their search to be interrupted by pesky sales folks bugging them via phone or email, which is the equivalent of the retail associate who ambushes folks the minute they step into a brick and mortar store with a breathless: "Is there anything I can help you with?"

Since so many buyers are doing their due diligence and conducting research online and from various sources—review sites, websites, chat, social media, and so forth—your job is to think about all the ways you can provide buyers with the information they're looking for and in the format that they want it in. 

And to deliver this info in a way that's authentic, generous, and with no strings attached.

I know this is scary for many people reading this.

Because what if you give buyers the info they need, and they walk across the street to a competitor?

Don't focus on that.

Instead, you need to think about how many more genuinely qualified buyers you'll get because you enabled these buyers to buy faster, more efficiently, and with more confidence from you.

So, what are some things you can do to give buyers the information they're already looking for with ZERO friction?

1. Revisit your buyer personas—and potentially throw them out.

Yes, you still need to understand the buyer's journey, but you also need to understand that a buyer's journey isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Journeys are as varied as buyers themselves.

Consider these examples. Does any sound familiar?

  • Some buyers will come to the table wanting to talk price, nuts, and bolts. Think about the information that can help those prospects.
  • Some buyers will come to the table because they've been sent on a mission—they're the face of several other decision-makers. They need to look smart and informed to their colleagues. How can you help them shine?
  • Others will be sour and prickly because they've been burned by a competitor or the spectacle of the sales process. How do you enable these buyers to come around?
  • Some buyers might be all of the above at various times during their journey because buying isn't a linear process for most people (which is why the concept of the sales funnel is becoming more and more outdated)

It's not much about what Netflix shows the buyer watches, how much money they make,, or even their job title.

 Instead, put yourself in their shoes, and get in their heads and hearts regarding the problem they have and how your company's product or service is uniquely positioned to solve this problem.

What info would genuinely be helpful to them as they research and evaluate options? 

What are some things you wish all buyers thought about before making this type of purchase?

What are some mistakes you've seen other buyers make—and what information can you provide to help these new buyers avoid those mistakes?

2. Rethink your approach to content marketing.

  • Create thorough, easily-searched-and-sorted Frequently Asked Questions pages that answer real questions prospects have AND THAT CUSTOMERS HAVE. Regarding the latter: you're showing how you continue to help buyers once they become your customer.
  • Provide demos on demand rather than (or, at least, in addition to) having a demo with a salesperson. Again, the buyer is in control. Let them decide when they want to talk to an actual human.
  • Create detailed product pages that talk about the specifications of your product. Benefits and features are still good info to have, but spec sheets are often what people need in order to make decisions.
  • Be transparent about pricing if at all possible. Create price comparison dot charts that easily show service/product levels (or comparisons with competitors).
  • Consider ungating ALL content. This isn't for everyone, and I realize this is a terrifying idea for many, especially those who've worshiped at the altar of inbound marketing for the last 15 years.

    But ungating content removes friction since there's NO form and no worry about pesky follow-up phone calls and emails. Let buyers search in stealth mode (many already are—consider how many "dummy" phone numbers you get on forms).
  • When ungating, have confidence in your content. Because if it's truly great, helpful, and demonstrates your expertise, prospects (overall) will remember you. And if the content isn't great, do something about it.

    If you've been going through the motions and putting out "guides" and "white papers" because that's what someone told you to do, but the content was "meh"—reinvest and create something special.
  • Take CHANCES with your content. Unless you're selling a product or service that's truly unique, you have competitors who likely sell similar products and services. Unless you can PROVE your stuff is better, the way to stand out is through the personality of your content.

People remember personality, and people remember real. People remember honest.

(I know this can be scary for professionals, especially those that have to run all content by Legal.

But here's the thing: personality-driven and professional content aren't mutually exclusive terms. You can have both!)

3. Experiment with new ways of having "chill" conversations—over text, IM, social media, and live chat.

Don't sell. Just chat. Let that be your new mantra—and not just for Sales, but for Marketing, Customer Service, and the C-suite.

If you're doing everything else right—enabling the buyer to learn about your products and services naturally and on their timetable through generous, authentic, no-strings-attached information—they will come to you when they're ready to buy.

That said, you still need to make yourself available to chat with buyers (again, on their terms). And the formats people use to communicate today are as unique as buyers.

Some people respond well to texts—others like tweeting back and forth with companies.

Still, other buyers use messaging apps, like WhatsApp. Others can appreciate live chat, provided the discussion is constructive and not just something shiny on a website that frustrates people more than it helps.

A BIG CAVEAT: You can't set up these things once and forget about them.

So here's another word to strike from your vocab, at least in this case: automation.

Instead, embrace EXPERIMENTATION. Try different things. Be willing to move fast (be ready to permit your Marketing and Sales teams to move fast).

I know communicating in "real-time" with potential customers can feel fraught—and can BE fraught.

I'm not suggesting you simply unleash everyone and let them do what they want, when they want, without any direction—just the opposite.

Before you unleash, you should...

  • Have discussions with Marketing and Sales—what platforms do your buyers tend to use? What are the pros and cons, and limitations of these platforms What will you need to do to get up and running?

  • Train staff regarding best practices and pitfalls to avoid.

  • COACH staff on an ongoing basis. What worked about a particular chat? What didn't? How can we make the process more real, more authentic? Have them coach and support each other, too. Share what works with each other!

  • Have goals/metrics so you can measure the effectiveness of these new communication strategies.

At the end of the day, I know you and your teams still have quotas to meet

And I realize the concept of "buyer enablement" might be hard to grasp, especially in a sales culture that's all about jumping on a lead, any lead.

Over the last decade, Marketing and Sales teams have gotten a lot better at identifying and labeling prospects according to where they might be in their journey.

"Marketing qualified leads" remain in nurturing programs while "Sales Qualified Leads" move to salespeople for follow-up.

But again, that's the OLD way where marketing and sales folks are "in control." (Or think they are.) I'm not recommending you toss out lead scoring.

But again, keep in mind that the BUYER is in control. You might think a lead is an SQL, but honestly—only the buyer can truly tell you that.

And they WILL provide your company continues to generously and authentically provide the information they need to make the right decision for them.

Again, I get this is a new way of thinking about things. If any of this resonates with you—if you feel a flutter of excitement in your belly and perhaps a little fear—let's chat.

A true buyer enablement mindset can have enormous possibilities for your business, and I'd love to explore this more with you.

When YOU'RE ready. (See what I did there?)


Precision Marketing Group is a full-service outsourced marketing firm and a Gold Agency HubSpot Partner, offering the absolute best in strategy, design, execution, and HubSpot expertise to our growing client base.

Our sweet spot? B2B companies with a complex sale, a commitment to collaboration, and an affinity for quality content that drives qualified leads. And, of course, who like to have a little fun along the way, too!

 

Questions to Consider Before Hiring an Inbound Marketing Agency PDF

 

Note: a portion of this article was previously published in the Boston Business Journal

Susan LaPlante-Dube | PMG Principal

About the Author

Susan LaPlante-Dube, PMG Principal

Susan LaPlante-Dube created PMG in 2002 and acts as one of PMG’s Principals. As a jack-of-all-trades in marketing, she loves digging deep on a topic and finding new ways to spin old ideas. While she would prefer having some high-tech voice software to record all of her blog thoughts instead of having to write them down, she loves the satisfaction of helping her readers learn something new.