girl by phone

Social Ends When The Phone Rings0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

The reason you need to integrate social selling, traditional phone work, and other elements of prospecting, is to ensure that you are covering all bases the process of converting a stranger, into a bonified pipeline opportunity. This means using the right tool at the right time, not as some would have you believe, using one tool “über alles”; but rather using the right tool for the task at hand along each step of the process.

Social selling, and the use of social media is key to learning about the target industry, the specific company, certainly for understanding the individual you are pursuing, or more accurately the image your target is projecting on social media. Remember the lessons learned from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are. There is no shortage of materials available on how you can leverage LinkedIn, ABM and more, on how to smooth the path to first contact. But for most, especially in outbound sales, there is the point where we must pick up the phone and go direct.

When the phone rings, we enter a different realm, where based on the reality of the situation, “being social” does not play as well, and in fact can be deterrent for the prospect. Whatever interaction we may have with someone prior to the phone, it is usually on their terms, they choose to interact, they set the ground rules, and ultimately pause a conversation, or take it further right away. But when we call them, especially an unscheduled call, at a time we picked, not the target, a different set of dynamics kick in. As discussed here in the past, we are an interruption, and as such, a set of events are set into motion, usually leading to an objection, the bane of telephone prospectors everywhere. Being aware of what we are in the eye of the prospect, we need to take steps to make it easier for the prospect to stay on the call, rather than making it easier for them to blow us off.

There are two things sellers can do, with focus and practice, to avoid being victim of dynamics. Two questions that many feel compelled to ask at the start of the call, that if left out, would help them be more successful on more calls.

girl by phoneThe two questions:

  • How Are You?
  • Is this A Good Time?
    (or any variation of either of the above)

We ask these questions because we have been conditioned to do so from day one; our parents, teachers, and others, have drilled into us that social norm is for conversations to start with one of the above. Well telephone prospecting is different than other conversation we usually have.

I am not suggesting we need to be rude, unsocial, or unconventional for the sake of unconventional, but to take an interruption, where the other party just wants to get back to finishing their seemingly unending days, to a genuine conversation, we need to manage the dynamics of the moment.

The reality remains that the prospect wants to understand “What Is In It For Me”, and that is what we need to lead with. Knowing they are feeling great, or like shit, does not get us any closer to that. Leading with the outcomes they can expect based on your ability to help them achieve their objectives, is more likely to. Being an interruption, and then asking, “Is this a good time?” or “Do you have a few minutes?”, or any iteration, is just stupid by definition.

Of course it is not a good time, they have a ton of stuff to finish, and there is a 90%+ chance they were not thinking about your product or marketing speak. On the other hand, if you lead with specific outcomes, they may recognize their own objectives in the mix. Lead with that, and ditch the “Social Norm” questions, to conversations based in that norm, a cold call is not that.

To close, I know that years of conditioning is hard to shake, so here is a way to transition from the silly questions above, to starting help them understand what is in it for them in your call. Remember, the problem with questions, is that you have to stop and wait for an answer, which relinquishes control of the flow, you are now completely dependent on their answers. If you get a positive response, great. But if you get a negative “I’m busy”, “Not a good time”, “What do you want?”; you now have to deal with that objection, rather than one based on your real value to the prospect. Rather than a question, make a statement, one that allows you to get rid of that social steam you have pent up. Once you introduce yourself, just name, not your whole resume, say “Thanks for taking my call”. You acknowledge that you have interrupted their day, but unlike a question, you can keep going to your outcome statements.

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Stop (640x427)

Pitch – Please!0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Despite the talk, the training, the tools, and everything else sales people have been exposed to and have access to, it is still interesting (disappointing) how fast most sellers, even those who hit quota, will resort to product in a sale. They may want to pretend that they are not, they may want to dress things up, but in the end what they deliver is a Pitch. While many will argue that as long as it gets the job done, except it is that view that leads to inconsistencies in results, rather than predictable outcomes that result from professional selling, rather than professional order taking.

One reason many resort to pitching is their failure to understand the business drivers behind the purchase the buyer is undertaking. This is especially prevalent with many one trick pony companies, where each product, and thereby each sale, is just one singular component in “the stack”. This allows reps to fall into the trap of knowing their slice best, and not having to worry about the big picture. To be clear, this laziness is present and abundant in other sales teams as well, it is just most prevalent with products that address one particular need.

Stop (640x427)The problem is that economic buyers do not set out to buy things. They usually set out to achieve things, at times these can be simple things that do not require a lot of process, like “I need to buy toner”. But with “solutions”, or more involved purchases, buyers are more often driven by a result they are trying to achieve. They often don’t care how that result is achieved as long as it is legal and cost effective. Which is why pitching product, or features, or even ROI’s lead to longer sales.

The ‘pitch” is usually centered on “how, and how well, we do what we do”, just think of your average “elevator pitch”. Some evolve to what makes “the how we do that” by adding what makes their process unique, hence the Unique Selling Proposition, but it is still about what we do and how, not necessarily why that is good for the buyer, just that it is unique from the others doing a similar thing. Still little about the outcomes, and “what’s in it for the buyer”. This leaves the buyer to figure out how well the pitch aligns with their objective.

Some smart marketers figured out that if they change the label to Value Proposition, from selling Proposition, they could catch more fly with that honey. But still a pitch.

To truly be unique, you should define your value vis-à-vis objectives the buyer is trying to achieve, results they are looking to deliver to their business. To do that you have to think more like they do, less like the day to day user of the product, and more like the ultimate beneficiary of the output of your product. To do that, you need to look at the world through their perspective rather than the product or sales perspective. I seriously doubt your buyers are reading the latest sales book, sales guide, or someone’s thesis on resurrecting some secret black art. They are more likely reading business books related to running their business, and the latest in that thinking. For every one of my posts you read, you should read a post written not for sales people, but your buyer, read an engineering blog, consume a journal from the professional association of your buyer. Read anything that allows you to have a conversation with your buyer about their world, not yours. That conversation will take further than the best value prop or USP. It’ll help you avoid driving your buyer to think “pitch – please”.

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right rich

You Can Be Right And Rich0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

I am not sure where it originated, but we have all heard the question/expression: “Do you want to be right – or do you want to be rich?” A question many managers have asked, and fewer reps have answered. While there is no right or wrong answer, most managers tell me they prefer to hear ‘rich’ more so than ‘right’, you decide. There is a variation I deal with daily when working with sales people and how many, not all, but many approach the process.

While most professions seem to welcome the opportunity to be introduced to different methodologies, thought process, etc., it seems to be different. Again, many, not all, let’s go with the crowd favourite: 80/20, so about 80% of reps, actively resist training, development and improvement. Given that less than 60% of reps seem to make quota, you would think there may be a different view.

It seems that as soon as they hear that training is coming, many hear “they don’t think I know what I am doing, so they are bringing someone in to change things, worse, change me.” Whereas the outlook should be, I am good at what I do, this is an opportunity to do even better. What is even more profound is that the 20%, those who are consistently rocking it, have the opposite outlook, and frankly attitude, while participating in training and development; they bring curiosity, and embrace the new techniques and quickly assimilate them into their success.

It seems that many are looking for validation of what they are doing, and how they are doing it, while ignoring new elements they could benefit from. I have spoken to many peers who see a similar reaction, reps spending time and energy defending something that is not under attack, leaving one to wonder what’s going on. It seems many see it as an opportunity for a pissing contest than a way to make improvement to how they sell, and let’s face it, by extension make more sales and commissions.

Unfortunately, it is a contest with few winners. It’s not like we have a choice but to constantly improve how we sell. Next fiscal year will bring an increased quota, more competition, enhanced customer expectations and demands; the one thing you will not see an increase in is time. Whatever you delivered this year, you will need to deliver more next year, in no more time than this year. And while this may be as obvious as day, it seems to be lacking in the day to day, week to week planning of many reps.

I understand the realities of change, but at the core, what we sell is change, no matter the product or service. When you talk to most sellers the thing that frustrates them most is prospects who are close to change, guard and defend things as they are now. They are then approached by sales people, most of whom (80%), are doing things the same way as the other, and the very same way they did last year and the years before.

right richIf the name of the game is change, so if you want to “demo” anything, demo your ability to change to make improvements and win. But if your approach is no different this than last or two years ago, what are you communicating to your prospect beyond the words? “well he is saying some new shit, but he is selling the same way.” The incongruity is too big to miss. Can they help conclude that “They’re selling as they always have, the same must hold through for their product, I am safe to go with the same decision I made last time.”

On the other hand, if you approached things differently, you may get a different result. This is not to say that you need to make wholesale changes every time, but you need to change enough to lead a conversation you can both benefit from.

By not being defensive, and open to adding to, augmenting, enhancing and changing how you sell, you may find that you can be both right and rich.

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dad teaching

Be The Play0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Being a holiday Monday here in Ontario, thought we’d look at something that can get you to think enough not to distract from the sun and water, yet enough to count. So for that our topic for today is that there two views (often more, but at least two) into every issue. As a seller, be that an individual rep, a specific VP or an entire company, must be full cognizant, understand the other view if they are to succeed. Let’s be clear, I am not suggestion you have to agree, but to sell better and more, you have to be aware, and include in your calculations and actions. Failing to do that will cost you sales and time, neither most sellers can afford to lose much of.

Some time ago I post a piece looking at how people sell like they buy, and buy like they sell, this becomes a problem when the leader of the sales team buys everything on price. This was played again recently when I approached a graphics design company. Spoke with the owner and president, we identified some areas to explore, but he wanted to do it through his VP of sales. While this makes perfect sense, it is already an indicator that there are differing views internally, we’ll see.

dad teachingAs you would expect, the VP did not feel that the team needed any attention at all, and was clearly speaking because the conversation started “upstairs”. After performing the customary “Seasoned Team” ritual, we got down to business. My first question was about markets they were currently in, and those they were targeting; his first question was about price. Five minutes in, two of which were introductions, we are down to price. Not what kind of outcomes I have been able to deliver against, not what are the dials he is trying to turn in his sales approach and team, what we do, how we do it; with a hint to any of that, boom, price. Now I know he was trying to take me down the budget path, not so much to blow me off, but to be able to offer a sacrifice other than training: “look at all the other better ways we could spend that money, the team is good.” If only the numbers supported that fantasy.

More importantly, how do you think his team sells? I would bet on price. How much help is he to his people when they come to him with prospect question other than price? Especially since price is such a here and now issue, and leaders need to be forward looking.

This goes beyond the price question, if a leader cannot clearly project the future state of his/her organization, it is difficult to get your reps to do the same with prospects. Which is why many default to asking “what’s your pain point” or some other equally lame question, like “Don’t you agree it would be great if you deliver 11% more widgets?” “Of course it would, except nothing in this meeting thus far indicates you can do that, so let me ask, how much?” Whereas a question about their desired future state, expressed not in the form of a question, but as an outcome, one other customers have achieved and leveraged.

If you are a sales leader, be that VP, or front-line manager, next time you in the midst of making a purchase, ask yourself how you’re reacting, and what would you sales team see in your behavior, and how they would deal with it. If all they hear from mom/dad is price, what do you think they talk about when they are out there on their own?

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Honestly

Lie To Me Like Everyone Else Does0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Revenue, finding it, winning it keeping it, is more than sales, and certainly more than just one says. Winning growing and retaining clients (the source of revenue), may be centered around sales, but involves other key groups. Some like marketing, may not have as much direct contact with prospects/clients as customer support, implementation and others. All have an opportunity to reinforce the relationship, or blow it, making each and every interaction and exchange with a client. I know there were a number of accounts I lost because of an experience a client had with support; just as have landed bigger deals and kept them because of things others did for my clients. All this makes each encounter key, and makes one wonder why some companies have their representatives say some of the things they say to customers, and to know that they actually paid someone to teach these mistakes to their teams.

One challenge arises when there is a disconnect between what people say, and how they act, I guess one can call it incongruity

Empathy Is Not Just A Word

We all know empathy is central to interactions and by extension sales. But empathy is more than a word, it is more than an ingredient you measure and add in the right amounts at the right times during a conversation. It is very much the behavior that defines the word, not just saying it. You can’t say you are empathetic to a buyer or their concerns, and then behave in an opposite manner.

We have all had the opportunity to be screwed by a provider, I am not saying wireless, but as an example. Instead of dealing with the issue at hand they always apologize and empathize, I am sure it is like pages 27 to 32 in the work book.

“no matter what the prospect/customer says, just say ‘I apologize Mr. Shanto, I am sorry you feel, I can understand you feeling that way’ and then let them continue.”

You know they don’t mean, only because they don’t take any action to change things, just agree with your feelings, and apologize for how you feel, but not what they did to make you feel that way.

This is a challenge for sellers, because they too say things the prospect does not see them act on, which just confirms the whole mess.

What’s funny about the whole thing, is many companies, for example wireless, will do this to “how can I help – I apologize and see why you feel that way”; then do nothing, you bring up your next point, and they go right back to “yes, I can see that – I apologize and see why you feel that way”, and keep it going for a long time without resolution, until you drop the F-Bomb. Then it all becomes about that, the F-Bomb. So, it is perfectly fine for them to do it to you, but not for you to talk about it.

Honestly

The other words that cause prospects and buyers to be cautious is when a sales rep or support rep, says in response to a question the prospect/customer has says “Well to be honest,…” Hang on a minute, does that mean everything you said prior to this was not honest?

I know it is just a turn of phrase, but buyers hear these things over and over, and have come to take the words at face value, with the expectation that nothing will result of the conversation.

Why not just leave these expressions out? You want them to feel they are being empathized with, show them, act the part, don’t just talk to it because it is on page 27 of the work book. Align you actions with your words and people will see you are honest, you may not always be perfect, you may not always be spot on, but you will be perceived as being a lot more honest and customer focused, then just talking about it and then walking another way.

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Portrait of a businessman giving a business card

What Do You Sell?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Proactive Prospecting Summer – Part 4

In this part of the Proactive Prospecting Summer series, we look at improving how we communicate early in the call.  Clear concise communication is key to sales, especially in the pressure packed first few seconds of an unscheduled prospecting call, yes, a cold call. Yet it is interesting how many sellers fail to effectively communicate the simplest concepts at this crucial stage of the sale.

Try this experiment, if you are a manager or team leader, next time you have team together in a room, or call, ask them to respond to the following question: “What do you sell?” If you need to set it up, tell them the setting is a trade show and the person asking the question could be a viable prospect, so the answer counts. After a few minutes, you can start capturing their answers.

Go ahead, try it now, we’ll be here, I gotta check my e-mail anyways.

Good, you’re back, gave it a go? Here are the types of answers I get when I do this with teams:

“I sell…

Software
Hardware
Copiers
Transportation services
Marketing Automation
CRM
Recruiting
IT Integration
Engineering

Occasionally I hear:

“We sell solutions”, but when I ask them to elaborate, they do not go to the problem they “solve” (as in solution), they revert to product.

Others will offer up “efficiencies”, a top 5 “Sales Empty Calorie Word”. While it sounds cool, it means nothing to a prospect who has heard a thousand times before. If you don’t shape it in some way that they can visualize in their business, words like efficiency, productivity, solutions, work-flow, and others are devoid of meaning, and can in fact hurt you in a prospecting call.

I recently worked with a leading telco provider, and in doing this and a related exercise answering the question “why do people buy from you and your company?”. The Alpha rep in the group offered up, “We sell productivity, that’s why people buy from us, we make them more productive.” I said “great, give me an example.” Still confident, he fired by “we make them productive through the efficiencies we bring”. I asked for an example of the efficiencies their clients realise, here is what I got “We increase efficiencies for them by making them more productive.” “In what way?” I asked, and it literally circled like that for five minutes. How long do you think a prospect will give him on an unsolicited and unscheduled call (or e-mail, or InMail)? Exactly.

If you look at the list above, it is all correct, but it really relates to what your company “manufactures” or “produces”, or from the buyers point of view, it is literally the “deliverables”, the stuff that will be in the boxes when it arrives on “location”. But buyers are more interested in the impact the “deliverables” will have on their business. Buyers, especially economical buyers, set out to achieve business results, the “deliverables” are just a means to an end, and for most economical buyers (not the implementers, or the people who get to “push the buttons” every day, the means are a distant third to the outcome.

Many cold callers try to explain what they do at the top of the call, and then wonder why “there is no interest”. Likely because that is not what the buyer was thinking about at the time they called. But if you move to defining things in a way that aligns with the outcomes they are looking for, that are similar to what you current clients are already achieving. So go ask them what is different in their world vis-à-vis their goals, issues, risk, reputation, cost structures, market share, anything other than something that sounds like a deliverable.

As a seller, you need to translate the question “What do you sell?” to “What are they looking to achieve?” The answer has to be driven by the outcomes they are looking for. How will their world be different after they buy from you? That’s what you sell.

You can drill down on this exercise, and make it more specific to your business by exploring the on-demand version of the Proactive Prospecting Program on Sales Gravy University.

PPP On Demand

Come Spend Time At Call Camp!2

Red Phone booth

What You Don’t Know about Discovery that Kills Deals

Why should the kids be the only ones who benefit from camp? Here is your invitation to attend a camp you can enjoy that also leads to better sales and selling.

THIS AIN’T NO WEBINAR!

This live coaching based on real discover calls. We will be listen to real calls, offering contextual coaching you can use to improve your discovery calls and results. As the name says, this is call camp that will help you and your reps to conduct more effective discovery calls, leading more conversions to proposals, and accelerating your cycle. Real world calls dissected by three sales leaders:

Mark Kosoglow – VP of Sales, Outreach
Steve Richard – Chief Revenue Officer, ExecVision.io
Tibor Shanto – Principal, Renbor Sales Solutions Inc.

July 19th – 1 PM EST – 1 Full Action-Packed Hour!

Register

Discovery isn’t just about collecting information, it’s about discovering how you buyer can benefit from your offering, and you discovering how to help your customer buy from you.

It’s all about understanding your prospect’s Objectives, gaps, and yes, at times pains, offering a solution, and even walking away if when you’re not the right fit for them – or if they aren’t the right fit for you.

This Call Camp is all about effective discovery that will land you the deal.

Register to learn:

Check mark How to ask questions to understand (not collect data)
Check mark 3 steps to offer the correct diagnosis
Check mark Why shoehorning a customer into the solution does not work
Check mark Advanced discovery techniques
Check mark Changing the narrative your salespeople use

Register

If you want to make it more real, submit your best discovery call – If we play it at camp, you’ll get a $100 Visa gift card.

golden leader in business way

Confusing Choice with Decision0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

We all know the expression “Often a bridesmaid but never a bride”, we see it playing out in sales daily. Sellers who want to believe that if they educate the buyer and help them make the right choice, the buyer will choose to go with them and their product. But we all know that making a choice on a product or solution level, does not always lead to the decision we want or need, namely, the decision to buy from us.

While educating the buyer is a good thing, getting the sale is better; but the two are not mutually exclusive, especially when you focus on and manage both, rather than naively expect that one will lead to the other. Helping them make a better choice (for them) does not lead to them executing that choice with you. To do that you have to sell while you educate.

One way to do that is to take your product out of the mix entirely, and make the whole experience about what the buyer wants to achieve. Contrary to what some will say, prospects, especially Status Quo prospects, do not set out to buy things, they set out to achieve something, usually something specific that is defined by business objectives and impacts, not by specs and price. The fact that it often ends up there is usually the fault of the seller, not the buyer.

golden leader in business way

Leave your product in the car, leave the window slightly ajar so it can breathe, but go in equipped with your knowledge (not info), experience and curiosity. Think of it as you bringing your colour pallet and brushes, the prospect brings the blanc canvas, and together you create a unique outcome, that they can and are willing to buy from you. Not because of price, but because they see how it drives their objectives.

But more than anything, don’t forget that you are there to sell, and the insight you share with buyers needs to help them decide to buy from you, not just to buy. One thing people talk about but execute poorly, is getting the proper Next Step, an actual step. To do that you need to have a plan for each interaction, that helps the buyer understand their choices, but also gets them to commit to taking steps forward with you. I still don’t understand sellers who do not know what they want the outcome each meeting to be, and those outcomes will be achieved. At the risk of overstating things, the outcome you want is a sale for you and your company, not just an educated buyer with choice.

Another way to increase the odds of a getting the decision you want (need), is to limit choice.  Once you and the prospect created that mutual image described above, don’t confuse things by introducing choices, especially ones that add little to the direction chosen. Too many choices impede decision, increases the shadow of potential buyer’s remorse, making people reluctant to make a ‘bad’ decision. So they choose not to make one at all, or they make the safest, cheapest, and most politically correct one. Often leaving the rep who did least walk away with the prize, while the one who helped the buyer make their choice wins the “Informative Congenial” rep prize for helping the chose, but not decide.

Don’t be that seller that helps them choose but is left out of the decision.

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pier

Are your prospecting calls a long run off a short pier?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Sellers are a wonderfully optimistic lot, having drank the Kool Aid about their “solution”, believing that they are indeed the cavalry coming over the hill to heal all that pains their potential prospects. This unbridled optimism and energy works great when you have a willing audience, say a play, where the audience comes with interest and openness to the message. That however is not the reality of a prospecting call, or dare I say, cold call; enthusiasm is not enough, in fact can be your undoing.

In no way do I want to douse your enthusiasm, but I do want to infuse a bit of reality into how prospecting unfolds these days. While I use calls to demonstrate the points, the basics hold true for e-mails, or other forms of “disruptive selling”. You can dress it up any way you like, but if your call or e-mail or other method of approach is not scheduled, and is news to the recipient, then we are disrupting that buyer. Nothing wrong with that, you are practicing Disruptive Marketing; if they taught Sales 2.0 or 3.0 were cool, Disruptive Marketing is just plain Arctic. Take pride in what you do, change the title on your card to read “Professional Interrupter”.

If you are going to interrupt someone, make it count, make every second of the call count, especially the first few. Even in an e-mail, if your subject line sucks, and your opening line is subpar, you’re beat from the start, as the prospect will never take in the real reason you called or they should speak with you. Those first few seconds are crucial, which is why I don’t understand why some many seller, so many professional interrupters, squander those important seconds.

Time after time I hear sales people talk about the most irrelevant things when the prospect unsuspectingly answers the phone. Rather than dealing with and delivering to the most important thing the prospect wants to know, i.e. “What’s In It For Me?” They ramble on about stuff not even their wives care about.

Caller: “Hi my name is Harvey Brown, I am the mid-Atlantic Account Executive for Blah Blah Inc., a Fortune 500 company and award winning manufacture of Machines Learning Widgets”. Frankly who really cares, Mom?

From the prospects’ perspective, you are almost at the end of the pier, and you haven’t even turned the corner of saying anything of interest to the prospect. With this approach, by the time you get to anything they may be able to evaluate and base a meeting on, the prospect has certainly checked out mentally if not hung up. In the case of e-mail, you can bet your last dollar that they have deleted your e-mail by now and have moved on.

What’s in it for them is not who you are, what you do, who you sell for, or what you sell. What’s in it for them are the outcomes and impacts on their business. So, start your call with that.

pier

Start with the very end, and then use your sales meeting to work back to why your product. Lead with the impacts on their business, what it will look like after they buy from you, don’t focus on what they are buying from you. If they don’t see the “how things will be different (better), then they could care less about what you sell. To do this you need to inject it into the call early, and not waste time giving long rambling demographical data that will make you run out of pier long before you can deliver the impact.

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Business Team Working Office Worker Concept

Buyers: Take Your Rep To Work Day0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

I am sure this not unique to Ontario, every November, grade nine students get the day out of school, and are encouraged to join a parent or relative at their place of work. It is an opportunity for the students to get out of their cocoon of academia, and experience a dose of reality. Among the many benefits of the program, and there many, given the career realities kids will face, is the ability to spend ‘a day in the life’ of a working person; highs, lows, warts and all, not just what’s on the recruitment posters.

I was reminded of this while I was reading a piece in the Harvard Business Review, titled: “The New Sales Imperative” by Nicholas Toman, Brent Adamson and Cristina Gomez, the CEB team behind the Challenger Sales and Challenger Customer. It reinforced the need for sales people, and their respective organizations to have a much better understanding of how others “work”, in this case buyers.

Just like grade niners, many sales people have a distorted or unrefined view of what happens at buyers’ place of work, what they face on a daily basis, what they do, how they do it, and often why they do it to begin with. Without that understanding it is often difficult for kids to appreciate what their parents go through, and in the case of sales, makes it hard for sales people to help their clients, and by extension their own companies.

Right from the start – as soon as we enter the buyers’ world, we are confronted by a reality that very much counters one of the most widely help myths in B2B selling today:

Most B2B sellers think their customers are in the driver’s seat—empowered, armed to the teeth with information, and so clear about their needs that they don’t bother to engage with suppliers until late in the process, when their purchase decision is all but complete.

Customers don’t see it that way. They may be better informed than ever, but CEB research shows that they’re deeply uncertain and stressed… Customers are increasingly overwhelmed and often more paralyzed than empowered.

Most B2B sales people, and their extended teams, have for years have presumed the opposite, (encouraged by the pundits), building much of their sales approach on that erroneous assumption. This has inadvertently added complexity to the buying cycle and process. Not that buyers needed help in that, given the numerous internal interests involved in any given purchase, CEB research showing there are up to 6.8 stakeholders involved from the buyer organization these days. Labouring under this misconception has led to B2B sellers/organizations to miss a great opportunity to bring real value to buyers.

The real value sellers can add for buyers by reduce complexity of their buying process and experience. To do that they need to first understand that the many of the struggles buyers face, are often more internal than market related, and certainly not product/vendor related, which is where most sellers focus. While there are a number of ways to do this, sellers should focus on two on their Day at Work With Buyers:

  • Simplifying by eliminating unnecessary choice
  • Illuminating the buyer’s journey

More is not better – it’s just more

One assumption many sellers have is that choices are good, certainly in the selection process and in the actual buy. As the authors describe, choice is one of the factors adding to the stress and difficulty. During the buy cycle, alternative choices will lead to some in the buying group, feeling that the alternative may have greater appeal. This has the effect of not only slowing down the buying process, thereby extending the buy cycle (that means a longer sales cycle grade niners), with 2/3 of customers saying the cycle took much longer than expected or planned. Multiple interests, multiplied by multiple choices, often leads to “lowest common denominator purchasing”.

This lingers in to the post purchase phase, CEB cites research showing that “second-guessing occurs in more than 40% of completed B2B purchases”. Yet despite this, sellers continue to believe that it is there roll to provide (drown) their buyers with more information about their choice or options.

Illuminating the Journey

Many sellers do not recognize how far down the journey the question of product or vendor are really a factor. Long before that, buyers, all 6.8 of them, need to agree that there is something or what, is worth addressing; if so, then are there particular ways to address. Only after that do thoughts turn to selecting a solution and vendor. Yet too many sellers/organizations think it is all about them and their product, leading them to ignore key parts of the buyers’ journey; sellers think of the entire journey is what the CEB calls “customer purchase-from-us journey”; a view that does nothing to address the first two, and from the buyer’s perspective, most important steps.

Prescription

On a high level the answer is to simplify the buying process for buyers, in ways they could learn as a result of their “day at work with a buyer”. Specifically, “a proactive, prescriptive approach”, based around how buyers who buy, buy successfully, actually do buy. Yes, again counterintuitive to many of the mainstream approaches of being “responsive”, where rather than simplifying the process for the buyer, sellers contribute to the complexity of the decision by being “responsive”.

The piece highlights some key ways to achieve this, rather than rehashing, here are some highlights. Starting with some revealing data points:

  • 86% of sales professionals agree that “helping the customer consider all possible options and alternatives is important.”
  • 79% agree with the statement “I remain very flexible to customer needs and opinions throughout a sale, even when I don’t necessarily agree with their direction.”

The reality is decidedly a different picture:

CEB HBR 1

Sellers can achieve this by applying what they learned from their interactions with previous “successful” buyers, and sharing that experience with potential buyers. The good news is that sellers interact with buyers on an ongoing basis. This allows them to have a front-line view of the buying process. Many sales people and organizations will conduct “deal reviews”, but most will bring the usual bias to the review, and end up looking at why they did or did not make the sale, but overlook the opportunity to learn how the buyer(s) made the buying decision, including steps that precede the product/vendor stage. If they did focus more of the review on specifics buyers faced in their entire journey, they can then share that with future buyers, thereby simplifying the process. But a continued focus on why the sales was won, lost, or came to a draw, will not do anything to help buyers avoid or anticipate specific things they will face in the buying process, long before there is even discussion of a product/vendor.

Helping buyers understand and eliminate hurdles and potential roadblocks they have seen others face in the past is an opportunity for proactive sellers. This will include helping buyers map their journey in a way different than the “buy from me journey” mentioned above. Stepping away from your product, and focusing on the helping buyers deal with realities they will face in selecting any supplier, not necessarily just you. Keeping in mind that the buying organization is likely to have 6.8, not always – and at times conflicting ideas of what they are looking to solve, what the solutions may be, both having to be resolved before any talk of specific vendors. Not making it about us is hard for many, limiting choice and avoiding being purely responsive is even harder.

Understanding and articulating the things that have caused complexities for prospects is key, helping clients avoid these across the three stages described is best achieved by focus and specifics sellers have experienced, leads to much greater success in less time than being responsive and facilitating endless choices, in the hope the buyer will find a solution they like. Buyers don’t often find it on their own, leading to the high number of “no decision” results, or a smaller safe decision that does not address the issues at hand, but take twice as long to arrive at.

The pay off:

CEB HBR 2

Understanding why and how buyers bought, critical steps taken, and challenges faced and how those buyers dealt with them; then sharing that with prospects, are key to a seller’s ability to help customers map the complete journey, not just the parts where they are selecting products/vendors. More people (think they) know what to buy, their struggle is “how to buy”. A savvy seller, supported by their entire organization, can help their buyers craft a better buying journey. Helping buyers understand and prepare for specific obstacles they will face, and how to get past them. The alternative is to ignore the buyers’ reality, add to the complexity, and drive more “no-decision” outcomes to cycles.

As the article concludes, those selling organizations that can produce tools, guidelines and other things that simplify the buyer’s journey, will not only sell more, but have more loyal clients, leading to more cross and up sells. All things they could learn by spending a day (or few) with their buyers at work.

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