Anticipatory Selling: 5 Tips to Stay One Step Ahead of Your Buyers


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These days it appears that B2B buyers are firmly in the driver’s seat. Equipped with Google search, online forums and easy access to trusted thought leaders and peers, they favor discovering answers themselves, completing some 60 to 70 percent of their decision process before contacting a single vendor.

Sales leaders are being held back by the belief that they have to react to technological change in order to keep up with the buyer. But it’s not about reacting– it’s about anticipating. To take a page from Wayne Gretzky’s playbook: good salespeople meet their buyers where they are; great salespeople meet their buyers where they are going to be.

Salespeople must have better data about their buyer than their buyer has about them. This enables a seller to anticipate a buyer’s next move, and engage that buyer around value-added data or content that will influence their decision making process as they move forward.

Prospects in the very early stages tend not to respond well to a sales offer, but as Heinz Marketing president Matt Heinz explains, “They will respond to advice. Help. A link to a best practice article. Someone who helps them discover and self-educate. The source of that information has a leg-up in a sales process that hasn’t begun, but where the prospect is already becoming qualified and establishing solution preferences.”

I call this anticipatory selling.

Of course, making the transition is easier said than done. There are three primary hurdles sales teams need to overcome in order to succeed in this data-rich era:

Challenge #1: Reengineer demand generation

In the past, sales and marketing would engage in a flurry of activity to generate demand. They would buy a list, pound it with emails and calls, and, as time went on, experience a smaller and smaller percentage of deals as a result of each action.

Now, we have dozens of quality social listening tools at our fingertips that can help identify opportunities to connect with buyers when their demand is highest, like these examples in the B2C space:


Buyer signals are equally pervasive in the B2B space. Julio Viskovich, president of NexLevel Sales, gives this example: “An employee congratulating a new VP of Marketing on their entry in to the company tells people that the Marketing department in that company is ramping up, has a budget, and has a new VP looking to put in new processes.”

And it’s not just social listening software that can add a scientific baseline to sales actions. Best in class social sales organizations use dashboards to build networks within the organization whose reach, efficacy and impact can be measured and cultivated over time.

Challenge #2: Choosing the right tools

Sales organizations also face the challenge of finding the right tools for the job. Today’s tools can be cumbersome and inefficient, reporting either too much unfiltered data or just scraping the surface. And many operate in information silos.

The right tools are the ones that make a sales team smarter. They help the team get to know their prospects better – what their likes and dislikes are, what actions they are likely to take based on the discussions they’re having, and so on. These tools also enable teams to find new clients more efficiently, as they parse the data into actionable insights and provide learning loops so teams get better each time they respond to a sales opportunity.

Challenge #3: Converting the disenchanted

The old school sales organization tends to employs sale generalists who are organized by sales geography. New school sales teams are organized based on social proximity, and each person is responsible for understanding the impacts of their products or services in their clients’ terms, better than anyone. In the new paradigm, salespeople assume the role of a business case analyst, assessing prospects’ needs and providing value-added content that impacts the buyers’ journey.

Here are five specific strategies to help the seller overcome these challenges and regain that leg-up.

1. Become a tease. Work with marketing to develop teaser content: stories, studies and examples that are relevant and so compelling that buyers will want to replicate their outcomes.

2. Harness influencers. Figure out who your potential buyer trusts and learns from, and/or who will impact the final decision, and invest in those relationships as well. CEO Jeb Blount advises salespeople to, “…use social tools to monitor all of the influencers that will impact the final decision: what are they commenting on, what are they ‘liking,’ what are they sharing, who are they connected with, and who are their new connections. This ‘social intelligence’ helps the account manager identify which influencers are having conversations with competitors and better understand what is most important to them.” He also advises using this intelligence to set up meetings and focus on these issues; strengthening relationships and successfully neutralizing the competitive threat.

3. Find the ‘critical crack’ – the critical interest point that is common amongst prospects that helps open the flood gates.

4. Play Moneyball. Be smart about using social data and sales intelligence. If your understanding of a buyer’s journey flies in the face of conventional wisdom, don’t be afraid tocapitalize on your knowledge, especially if your out-of-the-box understanding helps you do more with less.
5. Schedule 30-60 minutes per week with a customer. Many people entering the workforce today are over reliant on digital communications. Far more can be communicated in a phone call than an email.


It’s true that search and social media have given more power than ever to the buyer – but salespeople have an opportunity to flip the situation on its head and use the vast amount of data to their benefit.

By knowing more about the buyer than the buyer knows about their brand, salespeople can anticipate the decision a buyer will make. It isn’t necessarily easy to adopt, but an anticipatory sales model is essential if salespeople want to stay relevant, profitable, and – ultimately – effective.

Sean Burke
Sean is a seasoned sales and marketing executive who's quickly gaining recognition as a social sales pioneer. His belief that companies should be able to measure and cultivate the reach, efficacy and impact of all social connections has caught the attention of Forbes as well as dozens of Fortune 1000 sales organizations. Sean is also a serial entrepreneur and founding member of 9 technology companies.


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