The foundations for effective B2B selling
I read every day about what you need to do to be effective and more successful in B2B sales. There’s this technique and that strategy, this method and those tactics. But in reality, how many of them are executed well and how many of them produce the results that everyone aspires to achieve. Well that depends on the individual and their ability to perform the defined sales skill correctly and contextually.
In my view these things contribute but don’t define the level of results that you can achieve as a sales professional. That comes from the foundations upon which you create and build your sales engagements.
There was a time when your ability to build relationships really mattered. I’m not saying they don’t anymore, it’s just that a recipe for success requires much more in today’s demanding buyer centric marketplace.
Your substance in terms of what you do and how you do it is of paramount importance for high achievement. Don’t just think that carrying out the latest principle for sales effectiveness will be enough. Take a long hard look at yourself in terms of the foundations of who you are as a B2B sales professional.
I’m a very reflective individual when it comes to my own performance, I’m also my own toughest critic. That ability to be self-analytical and self-accountable has enabled me to continually evolve and adapt and not live on past successes from days gone by.
Being the singer who has one hit single and is never heard from again. Or being the golfer who wins one of the majors only to subsequently to miss cut after cut and fall rapidly down the rankings. Being the player who scores the winner in a final only to never achieve greatness again means that this was more about some skill and some luck and being in the right place at the right time. You can’t define a sales career the same way. You can’t rely on some skill, luck and convenient situations to maintain excellent performance across what can be decades in the profession.
The old adage that people buy from people still rings true, but in a different way than before. It’s not just about being known, liked and maybe even trusted. A sales professional now needs to add much more value for buyers to be willing to engage with and even buy from them. Two of my favourite authors, and regular bloggers on the behaviours and habits of good salespeople, are David Brock and Anthony Iannarino. If you don’t already follow them then make sure you do.
I have my own saying that summarises the foundations that any good sales professional should live by.
Know It. Do It. Show It. Mean It.
To me these are far more important characteristics and behaviours than any sales training and methodology could ever provide when it comes to being a sustainable, effective and successful sales professional. That doesn’t mean I don’t value a process, I absolutely do, but not in isolation from character. When it comes to solid best practices I rarely look beyond Mike Kunkle, a fountain of wisdom for all things process related.
What do I mean with this saying?
The days of just having a solid understanding of your product, service or solution is no longer enough. Being an information giver (or what I often refer to as a teller rather than seller) is no longer of value to buyers. Sales professionals have to be subject matter experts, and adding value is the order of the day.
If buyers can readily access the information you have from other easily accessible sources, where’s your value?
It’s now all about ‘Insights’, information that adds value and perspective to the buyer team. Commercials insights that aren’t available to buyers that you and your company can provide based on your extensive domain and market expertise.
The more that you can add value the more you build subject matter credibility with the buyer team.
How many times are we told to uncover the prospects needs? Even that holds little value anymore because more often than not they’re fully aware of their needs and they’re happy to share them with you and your competitors. Those that ‘Know It’ are real the SME’s and will think outside of the box for the prospect. They can add real value by identifying needs that the prospect hasn’t even considered. Do that and they’ll elevate you to a position of somebody they’re happy to spend their valuable time with.
Knowing means you can’t wing it. It’s not just about having a bunch of canned insights you can carpet bomb onto each opportunity. Value comes from the context and timing of the insights that you provide.
I know you’ve heard it all before but professional selling requires extensive preparation and research on a prospect by prospect basis. If you don’t ‘Know It’ they’ll find someone else that does.
Many sales people promise a lot and deliver little. Successful selling isn’t easy. It can require you to go over and beyond the efforts of your competitors.
I’ve lost count of the many times that I’ve heard sales people promise all sorts of follow up actions during sales meetings with prospects and customers only to discover during deal reviews that most have never been completed. Too many sales people over promise and under deliver. This is not just in relation to what their proposition will do for the prospect but also what the sales person will do as an action to help them.
Do what you say you’re going to do. It might be a tough opportunity to win, but real opportunities are hard to come by so suck it up. Don’t not bother because it’s hard, most business is hard these days. Be the difference maker. Be the facilitator for the buyer’s journey.
This requires you to be very organised, and that is not really achievable on scrap note paper or your memory. Use the great tools available to you, starting with your CRM. It’s a hugely underutilised application that can be very helpful in capturing and tracking tasks and actions. If the average B2B buyer team is nearing 7 people and you’ve got an average of between 20-40 active opportunities that a lot of people and a lot of actions that you need to take to improve your chances of success.
If the boot was on the other foot how would you feel about someone who said they would do something and didn’t? You’re unlikely to do business with them. Don’t be that person.
I’ve sat in many a sales pitch or meeting where euthanasia seemed like an attractive option. I’ve sat in others that induce narcolepsy. Selling is not just about expertise and fulfilling promises, buyers also want to be excited during the process.
Don’t be a stereotypical sales person and churn our diatribe blurb that’s lost it appeal to you because you’ve said it a thousand times before. This may be the first time your buyers have heard it and they don’t want to hear monotonous waffle.
One thing I realised early in my career is that enthusiasm is infectious. It’s not just with prospects and customers, it also has a positive effect on colleagues and team members as well.
Be dynamic in your engagements, the more dynamic you are the more they’ll listen intensely. The more they listen intensely, the more they’ll remember. But all smoke with no blast is ineffective, which is why this has to work in conjunction with ‘know it’.
Dynamism needs throttle control, don’t over play it because it has a threshold where it becomes counterproductive. Assess your prospect and adjust accordingly.
The good energy you show will invigorate the buyer team. They’ll see that they’re important to you and not just another notch on your briefcase!
Sales is one of the most distrusted industries along with politics. Buyer perception is often that sales people are untrustworthy until proven otherwise. This isn’t unfair of them as it’s a black mark that’s been heavily painted over generations of business. Buyers often see sellers as individuals focused purely on achieving deal value rather than achieving the value outcomes they need and want.
To help overcome this reputation we’re told to “Be authentic”. This has become one of the most overused clichés in the world of sales. Authentic is just another way of saying be real, genuine, truthful, direct, honest, open, sincere, accountable and by showing integrity. Authenticity is not something you teach someone. Authenticity is not a sales strategy. You are either authentic or you’re not. Take the time to think about what you do by nature during your interactions with your prospects and customers and think about the perception that you create.
It’s absolutely imperative to show genuine interest in the buyers, not just the decision makers but all of the buyer team. Do not underestimate the distribution of power and influence in consensus-based decision making. Work to build a community spirit between your internal team and the buyers team.
Another term that’s been around for a few years that is now in vogue is “Shared Values” which are really important in any trust and value-based partnership. What does this really mean? Well that’s down to interpretation but I like to think of it as understanding what’s important to them and also ensuring they equally understand what’s important to you. This way you can find common ground on which to base a two-way partnership.
Focusing on shared values is a great way to show you’re there to help them and your driven to enable them to achieve their desired future state
If and when the shit hits the fan with the customer, be the one who heads ups up the cleaning party. Don’t just be around for the good times, be there for the bad times as well. Whatever has happened, your fault or there’s, be the person who steps up, be the person who is seen to care about them. They’ll remember you because of it and you’ll build longer lasting and more fruitful business relationships.
What it all comes down to in the end is that buyers won’t believe in what you say unless they believe in you. It’s also not just what you say but also what you do. Finally ensure you say what you mean and mean what you say.
Check out my blog The problem with sales questioning