By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Image courtesy of Stock Images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
There is an enormous spectrum of selling approaches and skills being used in B2B sales today. It is disturbing to me that this statement applies within many companies. How odd would it be if members of a vendor’s accounting or manufacturing staff were given the latitude to get creative in how they performed their jobs? Chaos would reign. Bankruptcy would loom.
Having owned the keys to selling approaches, most vendors should be given failing grades for improving buying experiences over the last 15 years. This has been an especially turbulent time given the changes in buying activity. Failure to meaningfully respond to these changes in my mind has caused an ever-widening chasm between how buyers are treated and how they would like to be treated.
About the turn of the millennium buyers were “given the keys” by vendors that posted everything they could about their offerings on websites. When pendulums of human behavior swing there often are over-corrections. While few sales organizations have implemented sales process, buyers haven’t distinguished themselves with their newly found empowerment.
The pervasive negative stereotype (learned early in our lives in regrettable interactions with B2C salespeople) has been applied with a broad brush to all. In fairness there have been abuses by B2B sellers over the years, but by its nature there are significant differences in selling complex offerings costing over $50,000 (SaaS transactions over $4,000/mo.):
- There is a desire by vendors and sellers to have long-term customer relationships.
- Sellers don’t want to sell things that customers don’t need.
- Vendors often must provide services, support, maintenance, etc.
- Vendors are concerned about customer satisfaction and references. The Internet and social networking have put positive or negative word of mouth on steroids.
- Sellers and vendors are concerned about results that clients achieve with their offerings.
The empowerment of the buying community has been fueled by an availability of product information. Primarily non-executives are the members of the buying community that access this overwhelming volume of information. In doing so, they often lock out salespeople based upon the belief that they will try to convince/persuade/manipulate them into buying something that doesn’t address their needs.
Vendors have mistakenly concluded that research represents buying activity. If you step back, however, what percentage of product research (usually done on multiple vendors in a given space) is being done with:
- The knowledge of higher levels in organizations?
- Budget already approved?
- A concern or understanding of potential payback to justify expenditures?
- An idea of required professional services and implementation issues that will arise?
By doing unauthorized research employees can waste a great deal of time. In evaluating enterprise B2B transactions, an early step should be a sanity check to determine the potential value of implementing the offering being considered.
It is a brave new world for companies considering large B2B offerings. With social networking it is no longer necessary to “take a seller’s word” for ease of use, ease of implementation or how significant the benefits realized will be. Buyers have the ability to poll communities of people they trust and get first hand “transparent” information by people that don’t have a vested interest in what vendor they choose. Long-suffering buyers no longer need to fall victim to seller hype, omissions or outright lies.
KEY: It is incumbent upon vendors to up their games in realizing that introducing value discussions early in buying cycles with Key Players is a qualifier for both parties. Whether buying cycles are initiated proactively or reactively sellers should be able to determine early if the payback looks to be sufficient to warrant the time and effort by both sides. The buying community should scale back its paranoia about sellers taking advantage of them. The playing field has been leveled and the pendulum should move toward center. Vendors should consider reducing product training and focusing on more business training.
Buying and selling doesn’t need to be the zero sum activity it often becomes.