Buyer-Enabled Selling: The Next Progression In B2B Sales

Social progress has often been a marker defining history.  In the last one hundred years, there are many examples.  Women earning the right to vote.  The civil rights movement of the 1960s.  Legalization of same-sex marriage. These are just a few of many.  Each with a narrative arc progressing from resistance to eventual acceptance.   

In modern B2B sales, we are witnessing the story arc of selling progressing from seller-directed to buyer-directed.  The bending of the arc towards the buyer accelerating during the past two decades.  And, now, especially so as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is felt globally.

The arc is bending strongly from selling to buyers towards enabling buyers to buy.  Causing B2B sales leaders to rethink how their sales organizations engage with buyers. 

In an arc spanning fifty years, we have seen the bending towards the buyer through various approaches.  From the first iterations of Consultative Selling to SPIN Selling to Customer-Centric Selling.  Customer and buyer-centric selling approaches have moved closer to the buyer with an emphasis on understanding the needs and expectations of buyers.

However, they are not enough.  The next progression is underway.

What is really happening is that the role of sales will need to undergo its most significant transition.   From a “sell to” role to an “enabler of” role.    

Progression To Buyer-Enabled Selling

The concept of enablement is expanding and increasing.  Due primarily to where we find ourselves in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.  The timely response is that of pivoting to Buyer-Enabled Selling℠.

Buyer-Enabled Selling℠ is a mindset and a systemic shift towards enabling buyers.  Going beyond just putting buyer needs and expectations at the center.  Such a shift means B2B sales organizations adopt the role of an enabler.  An enabler who is intricately involved in the buyer’s world.

The Buyer-Enabled Selling Framework

A few years ago, we engaged in groundbreaking work with HP whereby we looked deeply at the buying processes of their Information Services clients.  Two key buyer insights became evident.  First, HP’s selling processes were not matching up to their buyer’s purchasing processes.  Clients were found to have eight distinct processes that did not align with HP’s defined sales process.  The second, a realization that they needed to know more than just about the buying processes in order to win over new clients. 

When thinking about a framework for Buyer-Enabled Selling℠, these became important lessons to consider.  There are four key components of a framework that puts sales in the role of an enabler. 

Buyer-Enabled Selling℠ Framework

Goal Enablers:

Buyers are faced with many uncertainties, new problems, and new challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  This means that their goals are changing.  It is even possible that buyers will need help in clarifying their goals.  From a buyer insights perspective, there are many different types of goals and sub-goals.  For instance, in our work with IBM on gaining insights into EMS and population health management, we found that while the larger goals of implementation were clear, many of the sub-goals were not.  Putting IBM in a position to help guide clarification on what was realistically attainable for many health networks. 

Journey Enablers:

Predominantly, B2B sales and marketing have mapped the buyer’s journey in a generic fashion.  The focus is on trying to answer the question of where to create and input their content.  The lessons learned with HP indicates the importance of insights into what the buyer has to actually go through when it comes to buying.  With such knowledge, sales professionals can be enablers of their buyer’s purchasing processes and journeys.  Enabling the buyer to overcome their own internal hurdles during their journey.  Sales professionals can become journey orchestrators and enablers. 

Scenario Enablers:

To be true enablers sales will have to think beyond buying processes and journeys.  Buyers find themselves in unique scenarios where goals, problems, and challenges play out.  Enabling buyers will mean two new areas of skill development.  One is how to understand the scenarios buyers are confronted by.  The second is developing the enabler role as a scenario planner.  Enabling the buyer to perform scenario planning.  In one case, we helped a large virus protection provider reorganize their renewal inside sales/call centers around three distinct renewal purchasing scenarios.  Which were derived from buyer research. Based on a few initial questions, inbound calls were routed to teams equipped to handle those specific scenarios.  Increasing efficiencies and renewal revenues. 

Success Enablers:

Success for buyers can be fleeting.  What is needed are enablers who have similar interests in buyers achieving their goals.  Additionally, enabling buyers to have their ideal scenarios pan out.  We are finding the pandemic is making the retention of customers a top goal for many organizations.  It is good to remember loyalty can be fleeting as well.  Becoming “success” enablers is one way to retain loyalty. 

These four enablement areas provide a framework for Buyer-Enabled Selling℠.  As we have seen throughout history with social progress, resistance eventually bends towards acceptance.  In the course of B2B sales history, the bending of the arc from the seller to the buyer continues its progression.  Powered by advancements in digital technologies affecting how we work and buy in a rapidly changing world.  Now, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Looking ahead to 2021, B2B sales leaders will need to figure out how far they have yet to go in enabling buyers. 

Tony
Article by Tony Zambito
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