The sales game continues to change thanks to the ways technology has empowered the modern buyer. Purchases that once required a salesperson to engage with prospects through a phone call or face-to-face meeting can now happen partially or entirely online. Customers research solutions via search engines and review sites. They crowdsource feedback through social media networks. However, they don’t tend to reach out to salespeople until they are ready to purchase.

The modern era of digital commerce has put buyers in control in both B2C and B2B scenarios. This empowerment is great when you are the shopper but what about when you are the sales rep?

How to Engage with Prospects Who Aren’t Ready to Engage

Buyers have grown more averse to speaking with a salesperson early on in their buying journeys. Salespeople, on the other hand, want to — need to — engage with prospects and customers early to help make a case for their brands. Good old cold calling, dial-and-smile tactics are not enough to reach decision makers. Let’s look at these three tips to uncover better ways to engage your target audience earlier in their buying process.

Tip 1: Meet prospects on their turf

Sales and marketing teams must be ready to address customers and prospects across various channels. An omnichannel marketing approach will ensure a consistent experience for your audience no matter where they choose to engage with your brand.

Beyond marketing considerations, there is a role for the salesperson. Take time to research your prospects, leads, and customers online. If you’re in B2B sales, start with LinkedIn. B2C sales reps may have more luck with Facebook or Twitter. Learn about who the person is, his or her concerns, and ways your communication can make a difference to that individual. The next step is to engage the prospect on the channel of his or her choice through social selling.

If you’re going to delve into social selling to engage with prospects and customers, remember to think in terms of “social helping.” People have begun to circumvent the salesperson because they don’t want to be “sold to” — they want to learn about solutions that can solve their problems. Help your social connections by providing valuable information and insights. Create a bond before trying to make a sale on social media. Try these relationship-building approaches:

  • Participate in LinkedIn and Facebook groups, as well as Twitter chats, where your prospects are active. Answer questions, provide valuable insights and don’t be afraid to share other people’s content. Don’t make everything about you or your brand.
  • Post thoughtful, relevant comments on posts published by your prospects. Show genuine interest in the information someone shares. Don’t immediately use the post as a springboard for a sales pitch.
  • Private message people with whom you’ve built a rapport. Once you’ve established that you have expertise and interest in understanding a prospect’s problems, your private message has a better chance at a warm reception that can lead to bigger conversations.

Other opportunities for reaching prospects and customers before they are ready for a “sales call” include texting them useful tips and sending educational emails with personalized insights. This approach can work well when you have an existing relationship with a prospect or customer. Use texts and emails responsibly to stay top of mind between customer purchases or when building up to the first sale.

Remember that your contacts have granted you privileged information by sharing their mobile phone numbers and emails. No matter how excellent your advice or tips may be, never send unsolicited messages to people who have not opted in to receive your messages.

Tip 2: Learn and guide instead of talk and sell

Merkle Loyalty Solutions conducted a 2017 study on what drives loyalty in B2B purchasing. The respondents, made up of executives from across North America and the U.K., were asked to list their greatest challenges in searching for, identifying, and choosing a B2B service or product provider. The number one issue deals directly with the sales experience: “vendors/sales reps are more interested in selling their products/services than listening to my needs.” Sixty-five percent of respondents chose this as the number one challenge. Ouch.

I get it. You have a job to do and a quota to meet, so it’s easy to get laser-focused on your goal instead of uncovering the goals of the customer. But, this approach just isn’t working. In fact, it’s part of the reason why:

  • 59% of B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of research (Forrester & PROS)
  • 93% of B2B buyers prefer buying online (Forrester & PROS)
  • 53% of customer loyalty is driven by the sales experience and the rep’s ability to provide unique, useful insights (CEB)

Make every sales call count by learning the needs of the customer and guiding the buyer to a unique, relevant solution that addresses his or her needs.

Don’t set yourself up for failure before the call has actually begun

We all get into habits that don’t always serve us well. Listen to recent call recordings of some of your cold calls and observe your style and approach. Do you set yourself up for success or failure from the very outset of the call? Some of the well-meaning things you do may work against you.

Do you ask a prospect, “Is now a good time to talk?” This approach seems like a respectful and reasonable way to start off a conversation, but it’s a trap you’ve set for yourself. If you’ve reached out unexpectedly, you have given that prospect an easy way out of the conversation. “No, now isn’t the right time. Please email me a link to your website.” Ugh. No sales rep wants to hear that.

Mr. Inside Sales Mike Brooks says, “Never ask if it’s a good time to pitch or qualify or have a conversation with a prospect or client. . . . rather than ask if you caught them at a good time, listen to their voice and to how they answer the phone to see what their mood is. If you actually listen, you can always tell.” Use these cues to help you gauge how open a contact is before you launch into your pitch or qualifying call.

As you listen to your call recordings, look for other ways you may be inadvertently giving prospects a way out of the conversation before you’ve even had a chance to engage with them. Think about additional ways you can evaluate a buyer’s interest and openness and serve up alternative ways to overcome common objections.

Tip 3: Add Value Instead of Disruptions to the Buyer’s Journey

As you go about your day calling prospects and qualifying leads, put yourself in your prospects’ shoes. Your typical customers, whether B2C or B2B, face a ton of interruptions all day. There are thousands of emails to read, coworkers or family members to deal with, tasks to accomplish. If you can’t find a way to add value to their day, then you are just another disruption — and another reason why they go online to find their answers first.

Approach your prospects and customers as a trusted advisor who listens. Your delivery of a top-notch sales experience can make a difference between a sale for you or one for your competition.