Have you ever seen the movie “What Women Want”? The main character, Nick Marshall, is a chauvinistic advertising executive who gains the miraculous ability to hear in his head what women are really thinking when he engages them. Nick Marshall is certainly not a genius, but this amazing gift of insight helps him, through trial and error, refine his message until he gets the desired reaction.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could hear what buy-side executives are thinking the next time you interact with them in a sales conversation? You could literally read their minds, making mid-course adjustments in what subjects you raise and the questions you ask. You would have a self-correcting real-time feedback loop. If only it were that easy, but the good news is the executive buyer persona is actually quite predictable.
The Predictable Executive Buyer Persona
Knowing what executive buyers want isn’t obvious at first; in fact they are viewed by many B2B sellers as unpredictable and even mysterious. There is no question that some executives like being unpredictable (for a variety of reasons) and you’ll never completely connect with them. But in my experience the majority of executive buyers are in fact highly predictable, as long as you know what they really want and expect from B2B sellers.
First, let’s rule out what they don’t want? Not surprisingly, executive buyers aren’t interested in your company, its brand, its market share and its products and services (regardless of what your marketing organization tells you). Also, executive buyers aren’t interested in solving problems as their primary job responsibility (they are much more focused on successfully implementing business initiatives). Finally, executive buyers aren’t interested in developing deep personal relationships — they already have plenty of friends.
Executive Buyers Speak a Different Language
Perhaps the traditional “old-school” pre-internet era selling approach will work at lower levels in the organization, but in the 21st century executive-level selling is a completely different conversation and personal dynamic. Stop for a moment and think about how many sales conversations executive buyers have had over the course of their buy-side careers; probably more than you have actually delivered in your entire career. Think also about the immense performance pressures that burden executive buyers 7x24x365. If you walked in their shoes, do you really think the traditional “old-school” approach of talking about your company and its solutions would make a lasting favorable impression? In order to resonate, B2B sellers must get out of their comfort zone and change their conversations with executive buyers.
How Do You Change the Conversation? Think FAST!
This can get overly complicated witness the 6 steps to a Challenger conversation, so my best advice is to simplify the process by thinking like an executive. Plan to put your conversation in context – not your company’s context, but the situational context of the executive buyer and his/her company. Executive buyers want to know what business value you bring to the table that will accelerate the implementation of their specific business initiatives and achievement of financial KPIs. The best way to prepare for an executive conversation is to use what I call the FAST Framework®. FAST is an acronym that stands for Focus Priorities, Analysis Insights, Solution Impacts, and Testimonial ROI. The “FA” reflects your understanding of your company’s world, and the “ST” represents your impact on their world. Here’s a quick explanation of the FAST Framework.
[F]ocus Priorities (GOAL: Convey Customer Acumen) – Facts matter to an executive buyer and they expect B2B sellers to know (or at least have a sense for) company-specific facts, even if they are a privately-held organization. They don’t have time or the inclination to answer a lot of basic fact questions on the company. It sounds unfair, but they expect you have prepared in advance and already have a good sense of their key business initiatives (KBIs) and key financial/operational performance metrics (KPIs). They want you to understand these focus priorities in the context of the broader market forces in the industry in which they compete. They also want you to understand their customer value proposition (your customer’s customer).
[A]nalysis Insights (GOAL: Reframe Thinking) – Beyond focus priorities, executives want B2B sellers to use their critical thinking and analytical skills to develop an informed point of view about 2 insight areas: Critical Success Factors (CSFs) and financial performance. Executive buyers spend most of their time thinking about the CSFs that need to be in place in order to successfully implement initiatives. They appreciate an outsider’s point of view, especially if you have had experience helping other executive buyers implement similar initiatives. And since finance is the language of business, another area where executive buyers appreciate your analytical analysis skills is in assessing financial performance improvement opportunities. They certainly don’t expect you to be a financial expert, but they do want you to understand their financial ratios, trends and KPI performance. They appreciate it when a B2B seller demonstrates business/financial acumen and a deeper understanding of their unique financial situation.
[S]olution Impacts (GOAL: Enable Customer KBI/KPI Outcomes) – Executives want B2B sellers to minimize conversations around solution features/capabilities and maximize time spent talking about the specific IMPACT of those solutions. Impact on what? Impact on the KBIs, KPIs, CSFs, and financial performance of the company or organization. Without sufficient knowledge of focus priorities, a sales person who chooses to throw solution features against the wall risks rejection by an executive buyer. Solution selling, without the context of focus priorities and analysis insights, is dangerous at the executive level. You won’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
[T]estimonial ROI (Demonstrate Unique Value) – Lastly, executive buyers want relevant success stories that demonstrate solution impact on similar KBIs and KPIs at other companies. They also want examples of project ROI impact at other companies, including “hard” quantitative financial benefits. (“Soft” ROI terminology, such as productivity, efficiency and effectiveness, are waste-words to an executive buyer.) Customer testimonials of business value created build trust and credibility with executive buyers who may be unaware of your company’s role in their success.
So the next time you begin preparations for an important executive conversation think about how you will incorporate the FAST Framework elements. Place yourself in the shoes of the executive buyer. Role play the conversation with a trusted manager or colleague. And conduct the conversation with confidence that you are giving the executive buyer what they really want.
•What do you think of the FAST Framework?
•What do you think executive buyers really want from B2B sellers?
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