Since I began selling, way back when, the challenges that the B2B field sales professional face are different. They are now more complex. The power and expectation is now far more biased towards to the buyer.

There was time when prospective buyers would seek out sellers as the norm.

There was a time when the sales person who could best articulate the features and benefits of their product or service would have an advantage.

There was a time when the sales person who could build relationships and rapport would be in pole position.

There was also a time when the financial pressures on a business were less under the microscope, so there was less pressure on the sales price and solution value.

That was a time that sales people should now forget and start operating in the time that is today’s buyer centric marketplace.

Effective selling can be improved by following a fundamentally simple rule. You really need to understand the Who, Why, What, When and How of your prospects.

Heard it all before? of course you have, but for some reason so many sales people seem to bypass this requirement.

The majority of sales people still have the inability to connect the business value of their offerings to the business issues of their prospects. And not knowing what they need to know is one of the root causes of this.

And there we have it, we’re back at one of the major issues in B2B sales today, sales people don’t ask the right questions.

Questioning should never become like the ‘Spanish Inquisition’. It must form a logical and contextual flow where the prospect can see that you’re trying to help them not just sell to them.

OK, back to the Who, Why, What, When and How. These are applied across the 3 P’s of your engagement. The prospects Problem, People and Process


Let’s start with the Business Problem. This may be something you’ve identified or that the prospect has highlighted to you.

Here’s some things you’ll need to know that will help you to help them as well as enable you to qualify and forecast the deal.

What is the problem that the prospect is facing, now or in the future?

What are symptoms and impact of this problem and Who’s affected?

What’s the urgency to address the problem? Is there a compelling event?

How will they measure a successful outcome by investing in a solution to address the problem?

What happens if they do nothing and retain the status quo?

What are their defined business needs?

How will you identify undefined needs that may add additional value to their thinking?

What are the constraints that they are operating within that might affect their ability to do business?

How and when will they make a decision?

By understanding this information, you can ask yourself questions that every sales person should do with all new business opportunities

Why will or why won’t they do business with you?

How does your solution provide business value for this prospect?

How can I help this prospect?

Now you’ve got an idea of the business problem and pain you need to know more about the people.


In complex B2B field-based sales it’s no longer about identifying and engaging with someone on the C level who can make a decision. It’s about identifying the buyer team and what’s important to each of them.

Buyer teams just got a whole lot bigger due to consensus or committee-based decision making. That’s more people with more opinions that you need to engage with and understand. It’ doesn’t matter if they’re not a decision maker as many a deal has been killed by an influencer who’s a go to person for the top brass.

The bigger the team the bigger you need to spread your net. The bigger the team the tougher it is to get a decision.

Understanding ‘who’ in a complex deal is never done in one visit. You’ll build a picture over a longer sales cycle that could be anywhere between 3 and 18 months. Do this and gradually you’ll build more clarity that will guide you to your next positive steps.

As you uncover and engage with each person in the buyer team take the time to get to know them well.

Who do they report to and what is their role in the team?

What challenges do they face?

What criteria will they use to base their recommendation or decision?

What concerns do they have around making a recommendation or decision?

What are their priorities?

What’s their opinion of your competition?

The more you understand this, the more you understand how you and your proposition can deliver personal, business or functional value to this contact.

That’s the problem and people identified, now the decision-making process.


Sometimes understanding the internal decision-making process is like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling. There is no solid base, it’s something that takes shape and evolves over time.

I’ve previously written a blog post about how sales people fixate on the order date because it’s what personally motivates them and their company. This is a flawed strategy as the process is where so many things can go wrong that result in a no decision or a lost deal.

Complex sales are not only typically longer sales cycles and larger buyer teams but they could also be higher value. And maybe even greater risk associated with the decision. Buyer teams will have organised buying processes for regular transactional purchases. However, complex deals are not transactional and what you’re selling may be something they only purchase every five to ten years,.So there won’t be a well-defined internal process.

Engage with the buyer team to understand the basics:

What are the internal definition, evaluation, approval and contractual stages they will follow?

Who’s responsible or involved in each stage?

When do they want / need to complete them by?

In all likelihood they won’t have all of the answers to these questions, so it falls to you to decide ‘How can I help them’?

Yes, that’s right, prospects will need help. This is not necessarily a top secret above your paid grade special society so stay close. Buyers are inundated with content and communications from so many different vendors. Each of them will be adding to the buyer’s confusion as they don’t include relevant value and context to the buyer team’s problems and processes. Your experience in helping and advising other prospects through the process could be invaluable so don’t waste this opportunity.

So, the takeaway from this article is obvious, in complex sales if you don’t know what you need to know how can you do what you need to do?

Check out my blog 5 common failings of B2B sales leaders

Share with your network