By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Image courtesy of Janoon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Since launching CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002, we’ve tried to have vendors take buyer perspectives. In doing so, it is important to be aware of the widespread, unflattering stereotype of salespeople that is largely based upon negative B2C experiences early in our lives.
The perception of both sellers and buyers is that selling is convincing, persuading and overcoming objections. Having commission in play helps drive the logic that sellers willingly commit sins of omission, hype or outright lying to have buyers spend money with them. In broadly applying the stereotype, buyers fail to realize most B2B sellers strive for long-term relationships with buyers and want them to be satisfied with every purchase they make.
Recognizing the buyer-seller relationship is badly broken, from the start CCS® has offered a new definition of selling: Asking questions to help buyers understand how to use seller offerings to achieve desired business outcomes. Inherent within this definition is that a seller’s first objective in calls is to have buyers share business goals they want to achieve (or business problems they want to be able to address). Our clients have shared instances where buyers have complimented sellers in providing superior buying experiences. They prefer being empowered rather than being sold.
The rush of inbound Internet activity caused vendors to assign Marketing the task of nurturing visitors into leads that will be passed onto sellers. In many cases without fully understanding the implications, the integration of Sales and Marketing that had been anticipated for decades started to become a reality. As with most changes, challenges have arisen.
The Internet has allowed buyers to become less dependent upon sellers for information about offerings. My view is that these visitors (more accurately labeled researchers if they can’t fund new B2B initiatives) are dictating how they want to be treated. In the process, they’ve become more sophisticated. Put another way, they are more aware and leery of vendor attempts to manipulate them into buying.
The issue of avoiding stereotypical selling behavior now extends to Marketing’s role in promoting offerings. Historical “push” strategies employed by Marketing organizations attempted to sell rather than empower people. In the same way buyer experiences have become important during buying cycles, the same standard is being applied to Marketing approaches. People want the ability to buy rather than being sold.
Sales and Marketing are often after-thoughts when new offerings are ready to be announced. Product Development (furthest away from customers) creates what it thinks customers want. Marketing and Sales are then told to devise strategies and approaches to achieve market share/revenue targets. Bringing offerings to market this way conflicts with Stephen Covey’s simple and timeless wisdom: “Start with the end in mind.” Having to generate revenue may cause the first concern about: Who will buy and why?
“Pull” Marketing strategies are only possible if offerings reflect buyer/market needs. Now that both Marketing and Sales are shaping buying experiences, it’s time to consider that having enterprises view customers through a common lens is more important than ever.
Centering Product Development on customers and buyers requires a common vocabulary and overarching framework so that Sales, Marketing and Product Development have offerings buyers want to buy. Early in the process all three groups should:
- Create a Targeted Conversation List™ identifying the Key Player titles that will be involved in buying decisions.
- Agree on a menu of business outcomes for each title that can be addressed with offerings.
- Have Product Development focus their efforts on creating capabilities that allow the defined business outcomes to be achieved.
- Gear Marketing efforts toward the business issues of Key Players
- Agree on Sales Ready Messaging® to empower sellers to have conversations with Key Players about only the relevant features to achieving desired outcomes.
This approach can allow reduced friction and finger pointing between the silos of Product Development, Marketing and Sales. It also allows companies to do more than just pay lip service to the critical objective of being “customer-centric.”
The market would welcome this approach. Vendors that deliver it have tremendous upside. With things being relatively equal I always lean toward the better seller as having the best chance to win. The concept of Marketing also being directly involved points toward the overall buying experience being the potential differentiator.