As selling has evolved, so too has the role of the salesperson — and buyers. Long gone are the days when a rep could hope to get by as a mere order-taker. And the days when anyone can make a living by being a “talking brochure” — a reciter of a product’s features and benefits — are fast expiring.

Buyers are much more likely today to have a lot of information about your offering, and the offerings of competitors, than ever before. That’s because they can consult myriad online resources, including sites that review products and services. True, many of these sites are strictly business-to-consumer. But review sites suitable for B2B exist, too, starting with the venerable but still effective Better Business Bureau.

As a result, buyers are likely to be pretty far down the road toward a decision before you ever encounter them. They’ve looked at you and other alternatives. And this state of affairs has implications for the way you approach them.

Done the research

Think about it: Suppose you yourself are buying, say, a backup generator for those annoying occasions when the power goes out for several hours. You’ve done a lot of research, and now you’ve traveled to an electrical supply company to have a look at a couple of units you’ve identified as potential choices.

Imagine, then, that the sales guy begins his pitch by running through a raft of products you’ve already ruled out. He insists on going over the whole range, including low-end portable units that you know won’t do the trick, as well as $15,000 jobs that are too much for your needs. As he jaws away, you’re muttering to yourself, “I don’t need a salesperson like this. I’d do better on my own.”

Well, when it’s you doing the selling, you don’t want to be that guy. Assuming that buyers have to start from the very beginning has probably never been a good strategy, even back in the days when salespeople did have an information advantage over buyers. And in these days of universal information availability, it’s a horrible one.

Where are you, Ms. Buyer?

The way to approach a new buyer — one who’s new to you, at least — isn’t to start where you think you should. You want, instead, to start where the buyer already IS. And this means that the first part of your discovery process should focus on figuring this out.

Make sure you quickly learn:

  • What the buyer already knows about the market, your product and those of competitors
  • Which preferences the buyer has formed.
  • What preliminary decisions the person has come to. You may want to gently nudge them away from these, if you think they’re ill-considered or mistaken, but you’ve got to know.

By starting where the buyer is, you’ll demonstrate respect for him or her, a respect that will be noted and appreciated. And you’ll be ensuring that you remain relevant, as a thoroughly modern sales rep who understands the way today’s customers research and approach the market.

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