B2B Decision Making Process – What about it?
As a B2B sales person you have one primary goal, to secure business from prospects and secure enough prospect conversions to meet or exceed your annual quota. So you’re focused, you know what you’ve gotta do. Unfortunately that’s where the positivity ends because most sales people don’t achieve these goals. That’s right I said MOST B2B sales people don’t achieve them. Statistics vary, but the common opinion is that it’s between 55-70% that fail. Of course this will be different from sector to sector and company to company, some will do better and some will unfortunately do worse. I’m wise and experienced enough to know that many targets are unrealistic because companies allocate them with a top down approach, rather than a bottom up calculation. They work out the number they want to achieve as a business then divide it up between the sales force, to apply even more pain they add some ‘stretch’, a rule of thumb for this is around 10%. So an aspirational dreamer in the business comes up with the best and generally unrealistic wish list for turnover, revenue and profit, and then adds another 10% to it for the sales team. Absolutely bonkers, but it’s the way of the business world so work around it and do everything possible to improve your individual chances.
As an aside have you ever wondered where the expression ‘Rule of Thumb’ comes from? Well during medieval times an English judge supposedly ruled that it was legal for a man to beat his wife with a stick as long as it was not wider than his thumb. If I’d have been a wife in those times I would have definitely married a man with exceptionally small hands.
Back to the subject in hand. The simplest form of creating a sales strategy is Who are you going to sell to and How are you going to sell to them. Sounds simple right? OK I know there’s more to it than that but it’s a great and logical way of developing a plan of engagement to start you off on the right foot. But if you look at yourself, or at members of your sales team, how often are you or they able to articulate this for each target account? I mean actually state the who’s and the how’s?
Now is the time to pull the pin on a couple of grenades
80% of B2B sales people, for extra emphasis that’s 4 out of every 5, don’t identify all of the buyer team, OR what the decision making process is. You’ve got to admit that it’s a blemish on anybody who wants to be known as a sales professional and therefore no surprise why so many fail to succeed. Think about it, a tough quota combined with inefficient prospect sales strategy, the odds don’t look good do they?
Another really simple way I like to summarise a good sales engagement is ‘Know what you need to know so that you can do what you need to do’. Some of you will say how can I find out what I need to know about a prospect, my view is that it’s pretty simple and goes back to the ‘Who’ of my sales strategy. If you don’t identify and understand each member of the buyer team then you’ll never know what you need to know, and therefore you could be focusing on and doing the wrong things based on your assumptions.
Identifying the buyer team is more important than ever, especially with so many sales people failing to recognise that we operate in a business world with consensus based decision making, instead they continue to focus on one or maybe two prospect contacts who they believe to be key influencers or stakeholders. If what you sell is transactional then it could be that the deal is considered of low importance, low strategic value or both, and therefore it’s likely that focusing on one or two people will prove successful. However, if what you sell is of higher strategic importance and/or strategic value to the prospect then we know, based on global and very credible research by Gartner (CEB), that the average B2B buyer teams in these situations are much larger and are often between 7 and 13 people. Of course they’re not all decision makers, but each of them will have a role and responsibility that will contribute to the overall B2B decision making process when the buyer team comes together. That’s a lot of people you need to discover and engage with, no one said selling was easy! But think about it, wouldn’t it be better to make this effort safe in the knowledge that you’re improving your chances of achieving quota?
So you’ve found a good level contact in the target account and engaged with them, well done, but don’t cling to them like a sucker fish to a shark and consider this the safe play. Don’t just use this contact to uncover needs, give an initial pitch and build an embryonic relationship. Use them to discover more of about the internal process and who else is involved in it, to be absolutely clear on this point I’m not talking about what phase they’re at in their modern B2B buying journey (is it me or am I the only one who cringes at this expression? Journey, really?) Your understanding has to be much more detailed than this high level view, try to get a handle on the different internal priorities, dependencies, evaluations, approvals and sign offs, preferably with indicative time lines. Don’t just take one person’s viewpoint, validate the information with the different members of the buyer team that you engage with. Mapping out what has to happen and when will firstly enable you to make an educated assessment of the feasibility and viability of a change from the status quo, secondly you can determine what you need to do with whom and when.
The less you know about your prospects the more you base qualification and forecasting on guess work and gut feel, with a big dose of over optimism. The odds are no better than gambling on long shots, you’re very rarely right and there’s a lot of stress through the process.
B2B sales can be like completing a jigsaw; you need all of the pieces in the right place to finish them, successful sales engagements are very similar. They are no longer one to one; they’re mainly one to many. Engage with many and understand what’s important to each of them and what B2B decision making process they will run. By knowing each of them you’ll know what to do for each of them.
I’ve also written a post called ‘Don’t sell like a Game of Clones’ which addresses the need to avoid treating every buyer the same way.