For tenured B2B Chief Sales Officers, the world of sales – as they know it – is undergoing its most dramatic disruption in the last 50 years. What worked before no longer works now. Sales organizations are under constant assault by both internal forces and buyers. The demands and expectations of buyers and internal leaders rising each quarter.
As I have written about for marketing, B2B sales now find themselves in the throes of a buyer revolution. The traditional sales processes of the last two decades have been upended and overthrown by newly empowered buyers. The use of conventional sales processes, methods, and strategies are no longer effective.
One approach always counted on when sales faces challenges is to approach it with more vigor. Calling for more sales training, more product training, more motivation, more processes, more methodology, more productivity, and more management oversight. While the approach of vigor has been one to count on in the past, I do not think it will cut it to survive the buyer revolution at hand.
Rethinking Is In Order
Sales leaders today need to begin taking a few steps back from the vigor approach and begin to rethink sales in light of the buyer revolution. Radical and disruptive changes in market and buying behavior dynamics calls for rethinking of strategies, tactics, and the often forgotten but important key – organization. The sales organization of tomorrow will need to operate and adapt differently than the sales organizations of yesterday. Embracing evolving changes in buying behavior, both at the organizational and the buyer level. Leading their enterprises in understanding the buyers of today’s digital age.
Taking Bold Steps
The rethinking and reinventing of B2B sales calls for CSO’s to take bold steps. I recommend Chief Sales Officers consider these important steps:
Step 1: Gather and Lead with Buyer Insight
One of the best selling business books recently has been The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. Dixon and Adamson are colleagues at the Corporate Executive Board. I like the premise of the book, which is about the use of insights to enable customer conversations. The authors claim the big revelation is B2B sales professionals need to “approach customers with unique insights about how they can save or make money.” In the new reality of today, I believe the book oversells a bit concepts which have been around for a while – but – it is still a pertinent message.
I believe the main benefit of the book is the raising of consciousness about insights and conversations. B2B Chief Sales Officers must do two important approaches in this step:
One, invest in buyer insight research. An ongoing gathering from an expert source, which informs you not only about sales strategies, but lays the foundation of critical insights you need to work from to enable customer conversations.
Two, turn your sales force into insight pros, which lead with insights. Earning an elevated level of collaboration involvement from companies and buyers. This is much more than just approaching with insights on how to save or make more money. Which unfortunately have only amounted to cliche’ two-liner sound bites in the past. Leading with insights means strong business acumen backed by knowledgeable training on how to analyze, develop, and lead with insights.
Step 2: Map the B2B Critical Path to Purchase: Know Your Entry Point
We have heard much about the buyer’s journey and buying processes during the past two years. B2B sales leaders must move beyond this and know how to identify their critical buying path to purchase. This is an in-depth understanding versus just knowing stages of a buyer’s journey. Here is why it is important for B2B sales: it helps to identify the exact entry point for sales.
During the past year, the figures of 50% to 70% has been touted by various reports regarding how much of the buying process is completed before the first sales contact is made. Be careful about taking these figures too literally or too gospel-like. Every industry and segment operates differently. It can be 10% or it can 70%. While it is important to acknowledge the shift in buying behaviors towards online due diligence, you must know what it is exactly for your segments.
A case in point, for one organization I conducted buyer persona and insight research for, potential buyers in a mid-market segment made their first sales contact as part of their second step of evaluation. About 15%-20% into the buying process. Had this organization taken a 50% number as gospel, they would wind-up missing opportunities!
Step 3: Empower Sales with Company Personas and Buyer Personas
Today’s buyers and organizations are changing. Along with their own changes, they are resetting their expectations on interacting with suppliers, collaborators, and partners. To succeed at leading with insights and an elevated level of collaboration, sales professionals today need ongoing company and buyer insights at their fingertips. Insights, which help them, grasp how organizations and buyers are changing.
In some cases, best-in-class organizations I have worked with have developed both Company Personas and Buyer Personas. Personas are about modeling behaviors – specifically buying behaviors for our purposes. A Company Persona™ looks at more than the Ideal Company Profile approach. An Ideal Company Persona™ goes beyond frimographics to model organizational behaviors. Company Personas examines processes, procurement, structure, systems, talent, ecosystems, and effectiveness. Companies and buyers expect sales professional to not only understand how to bring value but how to make an impact on improving organizational effectiveness.
Buyer personas give sales professionals the insight they need to know who to interact with inside companies and how to help buyer accomplish their specific goals. In complex company environments, the use of an Ideal Buyer Persona™ can help in anticipating buying situations, processes, and which buying teams are most likely to be formed.
Step 4: Match Sales Representative to Ideal Companies and Ideal Buyers
For most B2B organizations, the hiring criteria for sales professionals have been unchanged for years. The focus has been on matching to sales related abilities and methods. B2B sales leaders have to rethink the approach of territory filling to matching business acumen and capability to the ideal company and the ideal buyers. With expectations now high stakes, this is a crucial new development. I advocate B2B companies now develop a Sales Persona™ (or Ideal Sales Persona™) for specific buying situations, companies, and buyers. Modeling the archetype of the ideal sales representative best matching companies and buyers.
Taking this step completes a new important perspective – a triangular relationship of what “Ideal” now means for sales organizations.
Step 5: Transition from Sales Training to Buyer Insight and Conversation Training
Year after year, sales professionals are subjected to sales methodology training. Just as well, heeding to marketing’s demands to pour product training onto their sales force. It is a cycle, which has continued unabated for a very long time. A bold move by B2B sales leaders is to put an end to this cycle as it exists today. What is sorely needed is researched-based buyer insight training. Specifically focused on two areas:
One, is improving sales professional competency in buyer insight and predictability. Having good intuition, insight, and foresight to know what companies and buyers are facing and how to bring both insight and foresight to a buying situation.
Two, is improving the buyer interaction and conversational abilities of sales professionals today. Interacting with buyers today is conversations and exploration as opposed to old methods of leading questions.
The Ultimate Goal
One of the key success ingredients for sales in the future will be buyer predictability. The ability to have and provide buyer foresight is the ultimate goal to be pursued. The sales organization is the front line to buyers and customers. By necessity, they need to be the eyes, ears, and voice leading their organization on buyer predictabiity. These five steps will help you build and lead an organization designed to anticipate and predict how best to help buyers achieve their goals. And, do more than just bring insight to buyers. Bring powerful foresight, which impacts their own way of operating their business.
(If you are a leader in Sales, I welcome further conversations to help explore these five steps. I am very interested in getting your thoughts and perspectives. Please share widely – your peers and colleagues are trying to survive the buyer revolution.)