I’ve been in my marketing role at my current job for a little over a year now. Part of this job involves researching new products and services we can use, either directly for our customers or internally to make our work easier. At this point, I am well versed in how B2B sales work, and I hate it. While B2B sales processes sometimes have to have a couple more steps than consumer sales, it does not need to be as cumbersome and slow as it is.
B2C companies, like Amazon, have made their sales process easy, because they know about the consumer buying process. You know about this too, because you buy things. Basically, the process is like this (I’ll use a recent personal experience as an example):
- Problem recognition. We recently got cats, who have to have litter boxes. Litter boxes don’t smell that great, and dumping clumps into plastic bags is messy, plus we then had to take them from the guest bath to the kitchen trash can, which made our kitchen stinky too. We needed a better litter disposal solution.
- Information search. My husband is an EXPERT at this, but I do this on my own too. Both of us simply googled “litter disposal” and were presented with several options online. We looked at product descriptions and read reviews.
- Evaluation of alternatives. Using the info above, we weighed our needs against what each product offered.
- Purchase decision. Given the reviews, cost, and specs, we decided to try the Litter Genie.*
- Purchase. We ordered two Litter Genies online.
- Post-purchase evaluation. We used the Genies for awhile, and though we have a few minor gripes (litter doesn’t always fall smoothly, refills a bit confusing to change, wish there was a latch for the lid), these are working really well for us and we’ll continue to purchase refills.
That’s the human buying process. Everyone goes through this process, however simple it gets, for every purchase they make. So why, when humans are still the ones buying and selling at B2B companies, do they still make it so difficult?
If you’ve never gone through a B2B sales process, let me give a rundown of what it has been like for me.
- When my employer is interested in a new product, I contact a few companies who offer a solution for our problem.
- Then I typically have to email a representative back and forth a couple times to establish what I’m looking for and schedule a welcome call.
- This welcome call usually lasts somewhere between 10-15 minutes, where I talk to someone new (usually an account manager) and tell them why I want the product and they ask a few basic questions about the business (usually which has already been covered in emails). Then we have to schedule a demo call.
- Depending on the product, this demo call can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and it’s usually a Webex presentation, where the representative (typically a new person again) shares a slideshow and spends approximately half the time telling us what we already know about their product and how it can help us. Then sometimes we’ll get a useful demo, where they actually show us how the product works.
- To get pricing information**, we usually have to pointedly ask – this will sometimes be covered on the first scheduled demo call, but other times it has had to be covered in another separate call, which can last about as long as the first demo call.
- After that, we review the information internally, and if (God forbid) we decide not to use the product, I can expect emails and phone calls about once a month (at least) afterward, even if I contact the rep and tell them we’re no longer interested.
This is exhausting! This process can take weeks, and most of it is a huge waste of time. Business products can be more complicated, so it can sometimes be necessary to have to have this level of hand-holding in some cases. But mostly, it seems to me that the pre-Internet sales process hasn’t been updated at all – it’s just been slightly digitized.
When I was in marketing classes, one of my professors mentioned that before the Internet age, especially when TV was just getting started, salespeople were the main source of information about their product. We didn’t have Google or Yelp, so we relied on the salesperson to teach us about the product. And that’s what salespeople are still doing. But we don’t need that anymore. Many B2B companies already have tons of information about their product on their websites – I don’t need their salesperson to tell me all that again. B2B companies could do so much better, especially now that millennials make up a giant share of the work force. We don’t want to use this process anymore.
Here’s what I propose: if you’re a B2B company, and especially if you’re selling some kind of digital solution, make your information available, and then let us come to you. If I am interested in something at work, I’m going to use the same shopping process I use at home. This means I’m going to do my research. I’m going to read your website. I’m going to ask other industry professionals whether they’ve used your product and what they thought. I’m going to look at competitors. I’m going to review my own internal data to see if I think your product would work for us. Only after I’ve done all that am I going to contact your sales rep. So why do you spend two thirds of the time you have with me telling me what I already know?
By the time I make it to your sales rep, I am firmly in the evaluation of alternatives stage. All I need to know, typically, is how much it will cost us (because that’s the ONE THING B2B companies don’t put online). I do not need you to sell me your product, because by the time I reach you, I’m already halfway there. If you’re a B2B company, please, change the way you work with potential clients. Make it a one-and-done system. And please, for the love of God, put a pricing chart on your website.
*Not sponsored; we genuinely use (and like!) the Litter Genie.
**This is a whole other rant – I know pricing for B2B products can be more complicated because it’s often based on number of users the client will have. But for the love, could you at least put a pricing chart on your website??? Sigh – I know you won’t, because withholding that info is the only way you’ll get me to contact you if your website is halfway decent. Smart move, I guess, but really irritating!