There’s an obvious conclusion here: sales organisations need to invest heavily in digital assets that directly support and simplify what their customers regard as simple B2B purchases. If those customers do not see the need to interact with a sales person, they shouldn’t have to.
But there’s an opposite conclusion when it comes to complex B2B sales – organisations need to invest heavily in recruiting, training and enabling sales people to support complex B2B buying decisions, most particularly when the purchase is breaking new ground for the customer.
Carving a path through the clutter
Given all the digital clutter that these prospective customers will often have to wade through when they do their research through internet search, I believe that there’s an argument that complex conversational skills, supported by genuine business acumen, have never been more important in high-end new business and new project sales.
And it’s never been more important to start having these conversations at an early stage in the prospective customer’s decision journey. If the first time we engage is after the customer has issued an RFP or tender document, we’ve either probably already lost, or have a very low chance of winning.
The argument for early engagement
Our influence is at its most powerful when we engage while the customer currently appears satisfied with the status quo, when they are starting to explore their options, or while they are defining what their future solution ought to look like and how to choose between their options.
Once they are locked into the selecting phase (often signalled by the presence of that RFP or tender) our room for influence or manoeuvre is dramatically limited. No amount of negotiation training or cute closing techniques is going to help us. Someone else’s fingerprints are already on the prize…
But it’s not as simple as focusing our sales people on engaging early (or ensuring that our marketers see it as their prime responsibility to get the customer to want to have a sales conversation sooner rather than later).
Making good use of their time
We need to ensure – in that all-important first conversation – that our customer sees value in continuing the dialogue. We won’t achieve that by delivering a tedious company or product pitch. We won’t achieve that by talking about us.
The only way we can reliably ensure that the first interaction leads to an ongoing conversation is to share something that proves to be of value to them. Something that makes them think “that conversation was a really worthwhile use of my time”.
That’s why business acumen, curiosity, active listening, context and the ability to share relevant experiences are such important foundations for compelling sales conversations. These are the things that make customers pleased that they decided to talk to a sales person.
It’s good to talk!
And if you want a justification for engaging early, let me throw another average at you: Forrester found that nearly three-quarters of B2B buying decisions went in favour of the vendor that had done the most to influence the customer’s vision of a solution.
Don’t be misled or waylaid by the siren voices proclaiming that customers don’t want to talk to you early on. Under the right circumstances, they do, and they see value in your involvement.
But please don’t destroy their trust by delivering a crude company or product pitch. You’ll screw it up for yourselves, and probably for every sales person that attempts to follow you.
On average, in complex new B2B purchases, engaging early in the right way is the right thing to do. But if you would like a more nuanced conversation about how these principles apply to your own organisation, please get in touch…