Sales with a business-to-business (B2B) customer and a solution provider focus can be a long process with a complicated sales cycle. Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman, of Corporate Executive Board have a fantastic article on B2B sales in the Harvard Business Review this month, based on findings from their recent study of 1,400 B2B customers. One key finding is that 60% of the purchasing decision is done before customers even consult with a solutions sales representative. Another key finding is that, in response, the top 20% performing salespeople do things differently than the rest of the bunch.
The findings indicate that the best time to approach an organization with your solution is when demand is emerging (as opposed to when demand has already been established). Organizations going through change are excellent candidates. In contrast, a customer who is ready to buy is not the ideal customer.
Similarly, customers who are unaware of their problems are preferable over customers who have already scoped requests for proposals (RFP’s) and have established needs. Rather than molding solutions to fit within existing demands, high performance salespeople redirect the conversation to an unrecognized need:
“‘Here is our full response to your RFP—everything you were looking for,’ [a top seller] told the assembled executives. ‘However, because we have only 60 minutes together, I’m going to let you read that on your own. I’d like to use our time to walk you through the three things we believe should have been in the RFP but weren’t, and to explain why they matter so much.’ At the end of the meeting the customer sent home the two vendors who were still waiting for their turn, canceled the RFP process, and started over: The rep had made it clear to the executives that they were asking the wrong questions. He reshaped the deal to align with his company’s core capabilities and ultimately landed it. Like other star performers, he knew that the way in was not to try to meet the customer’s existing needs but to redefine them. Instead of taking a conventional solution-sales approach, he used an ‘insight selling’ strategy, revealing to the customer needs it didn’t know it had.”
Star performers recognize and target the people who are able to close the deal—the courageous change agents (the “mobilizers”), while the average performers focus on the more personable and accessible people (the “talkers”). This distinction refers not to seniority or role, but rather personality and work style.
Mobilizers: support ideas rather than people, search for big/disruptive ideas, share knowledge with others, ask tough questions, skeptical and cautious during implementation, influential in their organization. HEROes. Come off as hostile and intimidating.
Talkers: accessible and love conversation, share inside information about their company freely, known as networkers and connectors, build relationships with suppliers, but not necessarily productive or persuasive within their organization. Come off as friendly and approachable.
Because mobilizers tend to steer clear of suppliers, they are less familiar with their company’s purchasing process and policies. The high performing salesperson uses this as an opportunity to take the lead and guide the buy—and they are more qualified to do so than may be readily apparent. Working through similar processes with other companies, they can foresee objections and steer around political motives. In the end, they spend less time and energy talking with their customer about their purchasing process and they definitely don’t rely on them to get it done alone.