7 Misconceptions About B2B Executive-Level Buyers

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Headline: For decades B2B sellers have lumped executive-level buyers in with project-level buyers when it comes to selling methodologies. Perhaps that’s because it’s easier (and less expensive) to train an entire sales force ONE time, using the project-level buyer as the “target” customer role. What a colossal mistake and over-simplification of the buying cycle. In the real world the customer is not monolithic and executive buyers are VERY different, and they cycle through different decision phases throughout the year. Here are some of the myths that have been almost universally accepted by B2B sellers for decades.

My Qualifications

I was an executive-level buyer for many years. My “buy-side” experience convinced me that B2B sellers often misread the persona, mindset and buying behaviors of executives (defined as VP and higher). Here are common misconceptions I observed, along with the implications for B2B sellers who (unfortunately) hold them:

Common Myths

1.Myth: Executives aren’t buyers; they are only influencers. Don’t make this common mistake. Sure, “influence” is a part of what executives can do to support your deals. But as an executive with a 7-figure single signoff authority, I was able (and often willing) to “buy” technology on the spot. Implication for B2B Sellers: Treat executives as prospective buyers and don’t be afraid at the end of an engaging executive conversation to ask for the order.

2.Myth: Executives spend most time solving problems and addressing “pain”. Solution-selling advocates have preached this mantra for over 40 years. What a colossal misunderstanding of the executive mindset and role responsibility. In reality, executives spend most of their time addressing the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) related to new and emerging Key Business Initiatives (KBIs) and the linked Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Implication for B2B Sellers: Conduct smart due diligence and gain business insight into your customer’s KBIs, CSFs, and KPIs before you conduct an executive conversation. Avoid coming across during the meeting as a pure solution-seller/problem-solver. Instead, strive to be perceived by the executive as a “business advisor”.

3.Myth: Executives are interested in learning about the features of your solution. That is not why they might meet with you. Instead, executives are likely interested in the IMPACT of the features of your solution on their KBIs, CSFs, and KPIs. Implication for B2B Sellers: Concentrate your executive conversations on the IMPACT of your solutions, not the features. Focus on deepening your insights into the executive’s company or organization.

4.Myth: Executives are primarily interested in reducing costs. Not true. Sure, cost reduction is important, but executives assume ALL solutions (even those from your competitors) are capable of cutting costs. Cost reduction is table stakes for a B2B seller. What executives are really interested in is how your solutions impact top-line revenue growth and balance sheet assets (the oft forgotten financial statement). Why? Because those metrics are harder to impact than costs, which are relatively easier to reduce. Implication for B2B Sellers: Start executive conversations with revenue and balance sheet impact and follow later with cost reduction impact.

5.Myth: Executives want to be involved at the BACK-end of the buying cycle. Not true. In fact, executives want to be involved in the FRONT-end of the buying cycle (in your discovery and qualification stages). Why? Because human capital are scarce in most organizations. As such, executives don’t want their internal team resources wasting time exploring vendor solutions that don’t align with KBIs, CSFs and KPIs. Implication for B2B Sellers: Target executives in the discovery and/or qualification stages of your sales process and change your conversation with them. Don’t make any promises, but give them a high-level understanding of how your solution would impact their business priorities, key metrics and project ROI.

6.Myth: In the 21st century ROI is no longer important to executive buyers. Completely wrong. ROI has never been more important to executive buyers. Why? Because money is still scarce (it’s a fight for OPEX and CAPEX), competition is greater than ever and investors are demanding for immediate financial results. To an executive, VALUE equals ROI. Implication for B2B Sellers: Financial competence is the ultimate success factor for a B2B seller having an executive conversation.

7.Myth: Executives don’t do due diligence on the credentials of B2B sellers before a meeting. As an executive buyer I conducted due diligence regularly and, sadly, knew more about the B2B seller than they knew about me and my company. “Winging it” is not a smart preparation strategy for B2B sellers going into an executive conversation. Your credibility as a business advisor is at risk if you are not adequately prepared for an executive conversation. Implication for B2B Sellers: Don’t go into an executive conversation unprepared. Bad things might happen.

Questions: Do you agree? Any other myths? What is your experience selling executive buyers?

Image licensed from THINKSTOCK by FASTpartners LLC

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