For my latest article for Top Sales Magazine, I’ve decided to explore the power of three whys and a who...
When it comes to complex B2B buying decision journeys, things are rarely straightforward. As Gartner are fond of reminding us, our prospective customers’ decision processes are typically complex, involve multiple stakeholders, and are often far from linear.
Simply understanding and satisfying their needs is rarely enough. Having the “best” offering (whatever that means) does not guarantee success. In fact, if a discretionary rather than an inevitable purchase is involved, the odds they will do anything at all are typically no better than 50/50.
In addition to uncovering, developing and satisfying their prospective customer’s needs, today’s B2B salespeople also need to both understand and influence how and why their prospective customers choose to buy - and that involves three whys and a who...
Three whys - and a who
In order to make any significant decision, typical B2B customers will seek answers to four critical questions:
- Why should they change (rather than continuing on their current path)?
- Why should they choose you (rather than any other option)?
- Why should they act now (rather than later)? and
- Who is going to benefit (and how)?
If any of the answers to the above questions are unclear, inconsistent or weak, the chances of them taking decisive action decline dramatically.
Let’s explore each of these in turn...
The first and perhaps most significant question your prospect needs to answer is why they need to change at all, rather than continuing on their current path. This may not be relevant if their purchase is inevitable (for example, buying raw material for a production line) but if they purchase is discretionary (i.e., they could get away with doing nothing), this question becomes critical.
Their motivation to change will be driven by the perceived contrast between their current situation and the better outcome(s) they are seeking to achieve. When this “outcome gap” is small or stable, they are likely to conclude that they can stick with the status quo. But when the gap is large or growing, change becomes much more likely.
To maximise this outcome gap, salespeople need to quantify and amplify the prospect’s pain (the costs and consequences of inaction) and contrast it with the tangible benefits of change. In the absence of clear pain/gain metrics, change is less likely.
Finally, in support of “why change”, salespeople need make the strongest possible connection between the current project and the customer’s key overall corporate priorities - and convince the prospect that they can eliminate any obstacles that stand in the way of success.
If salespeople are to answer their prospective customer’s second key question - why they should choose you, rather than any other option - they need to start by identifying the other credible solution options that are being actively considered and acknowledge that these may not be restricted to the obvious competitors.
Armed with this knowledge, salespeople then need to clearly establish their unique differentiation. It is far more effective to focus in on what sets their approach apart rather than on a long list of capabilities - and they need to avoid claiming what every other competitor will also inevitably claim, such as “we have the best products” or “we offer the best service” unless they have compelling evidence to support these claims.
Finally, this differentiation needs to be translated into unique advantages that are specific to the prospective customer’s situation and their desired outcomes.
Many apparently promising opportunities seem to fade away towards the end of the sales cycle - or result in a decision in principle rather than a purchase - i.e., “if and when we buy, we’ll buy from you - but not now”.
Assuming the opportunity was in fact well-qualified, three factors are normally responsible:
- The internal business case simply wasn’t strong enough to get approved, or the project has a lower priority than other competing projects
- The customer is not completely confident of the need to act, or in the vendor and/or their proposed solution
- The cost of delay isn’t seen by the customer to be significant enough
Each of these factors can be influenced by the actions of the salesperson, and if they haven’t done enough to create tangible urgency, they only have themselves to blame.
Significant decisions usually require a significant level of consensus across all the stakeholders. In addition to the overall benefits to the organisation, every key stakeholder needs to see some benefit for their department or function, and their own personal goals and priorities.
That’s why it’s so important that salespeople clearly articulate both the overall and specific benefits of the proposed changes to all of the people who have a say in the decision. This is the final reason why apparently promising opportunities stall or die - they simply haven’t gathered the necessary support.
Take a look at the executive summaries of some of your recent proposals. Do they convincingly answer all four questions - why change, why you, why now and who benefits? My experience is that many are mostly about “why you” and ignore or underplay the other elements.
And that - if you will pardon the pun - strikes me as a very unwise strategy. If you can fully address all four questions, you will win more deals. It’s as simple as that.
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