The B2B Sales Environment – part 1

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The Sales Profession is currently undergoing a remarkable change. In the past, improving sales performance involved the development of new sales models that usually focused heavily on technique. In the past 15 years, we have seen three major models developed and deployed in the marketplace. 

What is different about our environment today is our recognition that we must focus on more substantial change to better support the buying process. In engineering a new approach to connect a company with their customers, we need to combine the use of a more customer-focused methodology with productivity-enhancing technologies to transform customer interaction from an art into a science.

In embracing this new sales mentality, the sales professional must transform from the role of facilitating customer relationships to becoming the creator of improved customer value. To accomplish that task today’s sales professional must have detailed knowledge of buyer purchase behavior; certainly, from the perspective of corporate need, but perhaps more importantly from the personal needs of those involved in the acquisition process.

Studies conducted by the Chally Group have shown that in business-to-business markets, the sales professional has become the leading influence on the customer’s buying process – more important than the offering’s features, more important than the product and service quality, and more important than the selling price. This means that the effectiveness of the sales professionals themselves can be an added value to the customer and a competitive advantage for their employers.

A Brief Analysis: Who Buys and Why

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that to get the things you want, you need to help other people get the things they want. This advice is especially applicable to selling. Focus on the buyer first, and the sales will follow. 

Sales teams and individuals learn how to accomplish this buyer focus by completely revamping the traditional approach to sales. Much of this approach is based on the recognition that knowledge comes before action, so understanding the habits of buyers is a must. Here, we will follow a similar mindset and take a brief look at who buys, why they buy, and what this means to you as a seller. 

Business-to-business transactions are no different than consumer decisions—they’re personal. Why? Because businesses do not buy and businesses do not sell—people do.

This is the first rule of thumb a sales team should follow when selling a product to another company: focus on the perceptions, beliefs, and motivations of the people making the decision. They are in control of the business’ buying decision. It is the seller’s job to connect with the buyer on a personal level.

The Evolution of Customer Expectations

Customers obviously have a different set of needs than do the sales organizations, and they want salespeople who can address those needs. The salesperson’s product knowledge is of very little use to them unless it is put into the context of the customer’s business.

Sales effectiveness, which is based on the competence of the salespeople, and the resources and support provided by their companies, has risen to the top the of customer’s influence list. All the other factors; price, features, quality, service; have become givens or “expected”. They are not a competitive advantage, only the basic requirement for being considered in the first place. In almost every market today, all the major competitors are offering roughly equivalent solutions, which in effect become standard expectations of the customer.

Another reason why sales effectiveness has emerged as the most influential factor in customers’ buying decisions is that the competition among vendors tends to increase the number of choices presented. Sometimes, the more choices a customer has, the more difficult it is to choose the right one, the longer it will take to decide, and the less likely they are to buy. It will depend on how the choices are offered and how well the salesperson helps guide the customer through the buying decision process.

Sales Effectiveness as Defined by the Customer

In today’s sophisticated business-to-business markets, customers are seeking solutions that produce results and that let them concentrate on their core business competencies. They are only interested in products and services in this context. In other words, they are only interested in what you can do for them, not in what you have for them. 

Therefore, it is necessary to see the world from the customer’s perspective, what they are trying to accomplish as well as why they are looking to you for help.

Substantiated Value

Companies view success in financial terms: revenues, net income, operating expenses, and net earnings. They must be able to judge the value of the solution in those same terms. This means that generic or anecdotal proofs of value are not acceptable. They want to know what they can expect, given their specific situation.

Solutions

Companies are interested in operating as efficiently as possible, in fulfilling the needs and demands of their customers, and in meeting their corporate growth and financial targets. Their desire for the solution extends only as far as it helps resolve their problems or take advantage of their opportunities.

Outsourcing Non-Core Competencies

The fact is that regardless of what you are offering, the customer could if they had the will to do so, duplicate it in-house. They could invest in the equipment, personnel, and knowledge-base to produce exactly what your company produces. They could create a division or operating unit to manage and produce it.

However, sophisticated companies seek to outsource everything that is not core to their business, constructively and cost-effectively. In effect, your company becomes the “operating unit” that fulfills the desired function.

As modern sophisticated customers seek to outsource substantial portions of their non-core competencies, it is only natural for them to expect that the salespeople involved will ensure that they receive the value they are seeing. They want to depend on the salespeople in the same way that they depend on any other manager in their company.

  1. 1. Customers expect a salesperson who is accountable for managing the pieces of business they are outsourcing, someone who will not give excuses or get defensive but will take responsibility for delivering the desired results. 
  2. 2. Customers expect a salesperson who understands their business well enough that he or she can be trusted to provide sound advice, as well as make independent decisions that are properly aligned to their needs and goals.
  3. 3. Customers expect a salesperson who knows the politics, processes, and procedures of his own company well enough to ensure that the results will materialize as promised.

 

Look for part 2 of The B2B Sales Environment

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