Buyer Management not Clone Management
I like vanilla ice cream, most of us do, but it’s not my favourite flavour and doesn’t excite me. I’m a massive fan of Rum & Raisin and it hits the sweet spot with me every time. I’m probably in a very low percentage of people that prefer this so it makes me a niche segment. Add some char grilled fresh pineapple and you’re talking my language, my niche segment just got even smaller. But’s that me, I’m not the same as everyone else. You will no doubt have your own individual combination preferences, and that’s you, it’s one of the many things that will make you different from others.
So why do so many sales people sell to buyers assuming that Vanilla is their preference. Why should we think of them as different to us and not talk their flavours? Its madness, if someone tried to make me buy Vanilla instead of Rum, & Raisin I’d buy from someone else. Guess what? Buyers do as well. Just to be clear I’m not talking about the procurement department, I’m talking about the wide range of people that make up the larger B2B buyer teams in today’s consensus based decision making processes.
There are plenty of sales people that talk so much crap that you don’t know whether to offer them a breath mint or toilet paper, don’t be one of them.
Talking crap comes from a foundation of not knowing. It may be not knowing enough about your market or even your product and service, however, in most cases it’s due to not knowing enough about the person you’re trying to sell to.
Sales people are conditioned through habit and by their companies to believe that their product, service or solution is what the buyers need and it’s just a case of getting them to listen to you, the reality is very different. Buyers are also conditioned to expect and reject your Vanilla advances, because they’ve been inundated with misguided offers of Vanilla.
Buyers are not some form of robotic clone programmed to make the life of a salesman difficult. Despite their sometimes hardball and tough outward approach in discussions with you, they’re the same as you, just trying to do the best they can as part of their responsibilities for their company. So treat them as individuals, with individual flavour preferences.
One attribute of some successful sales people is their chameleon like capabilities that allow them to adapt to each individual and talk ‘Rum & Raisin’ to them. How can you talk the right flavour to each buyer?
Taking a one size fits all approach and smothering them in vanilla is sure to generate a curdled response, throwing in some free sprinkles and chocolate sauce if they buy now won’t work either. So don’t. Research in advance, turn off your auto broadcast mode, engage with them in the right way and ask good questions so you can understand what’s important to them.
Getting a meeting with a buyer means making it a good use of their time, not as a means for you to fact find to work out where your product or service will fit. Research as much as possible in advance.
OK let’s start with the character foundation of the buyers in terms of their business communication style and detail requirements.
You’ll quickly learn their preferred engagement style Formal or Informal, so adapt and mirror it out of respect. A word of warning though, don’t open up too informal, show some reservation and start in neutral, let them determine the style and guide you. Get it wrong and you may just experience Newton’s Third Law of Motion.
Secondly think about their preferred information level, try to ascertain if it’s High Level or Detailed. The wrong approach will either induce a coma and they won’t hear much of what you say, or it will switch on a warning light if you minimise relevant information.
Start with these simple techniques and you’ll be engaging with them in a way that makes them comfortable. Get it wrong and the affects will be like adding oil to water.
I don’t just like any old Rum & Raisin, I like mine heavy on both ingredients, that’s more information about me that would be important for any ice cream seller looking to get regular business from me.
Individual Buyer Management
Sales people are obsessed with getting in at the C level and bypassing everyone below in the false belief that it’s the fast track to getting a favourable decision. B2B buyer teams now average 7 people, that’s 7 potential different preferences and 7 mistakes you could make with your vanilla approach.
Each member of the prospects buyer team that you engage with will have a role and responsibility in the buying process starting off with their authority level. The simplest way to define levels is Decision Maker, Approver, Influencer and Evaluator, all of which are self-explanatory, but it’s important to remember that key stake holders are not just within the decision maker level.
Once you’ve identified where each buyer resides you should then sub-categorise them against the functional responsibility they have, this could be technical, financial, operational or logistical as a few examples.
This type of details enable you to start to build an understanding of how you should flavour your engagements with them and not treat them as clone buyers with your predetermined vanilla sales pitch and collateral.
OK you’ve got the basics, now let’s add business context that’s relevant to each buyer. As people we cannot help but have personal wants, needs and agendas, and even though the buyers are likely to be part of a team decision process you need to build a relationship with each them to influence their preference and recommendation for your proposition. To do that you need to dig deeper and understand their ‘flavour choice’. The information you gather relates to their specific requirements for the project in hand, remember this can change from project to project so their drivers for Project A may be different to those for Project B and how you engage with them should reflect that.
As the old adage goes ‘People buy from people’, in today’s’ market this needs to be updated and added to with ‘So what do you know about the people that are buying?‘
Whether its flavour of ice cream or how someone likes their coffee you need to understand what’s important to them, don’t assume, never assume, how many times do I have to say assuming is bad.
Engage with an open mind of discovery, seek to know more about this unique individual and align yourself with them. Selling features, benefits, solutions or value only have substance if they’re relevant to the recipient. Make sure you know what’s relevant to each buyer. Understand the following as a minimum:
- What challenges do they face?
- What are the most important criteria for them in making their recommendation or decision?
- What concerns do they have with regards to making the recommendation or decision?
- How you can deliver value to the individual from a business, functional or personal perspective? (Don’t be tempted to throw a scoop of vanilla to them and hope they like it, if you know your product, market, their business and needs then you’ll be able to put context around it to make it about them).
- What relevant Insights you can provide them that include unique and valuable perspectives on the market, education on new issues and outcomes and how you can help them avoid potential land mines along the way?
This is information over and above what you’ll have already captured regarding the business drivers and process, and by combining knowledge of the greater business needs with those of the individual buyer you’ll be able to flavour your engagements to their taste buds (OK enough of the ice cream references, I think you get my point by now).
Buyers are not clones; buyer management will need to be different from team to team, project to project and from company to company. Engage with them on that basis and know what you need to know so you can do what you need to do to influence their recommendation or decision.
Check out Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer at Corporate Visions guest blog called Speak to Your Buyer’s Situation —Not Their Disposition