The future of B2B selling is collaborative

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LI Roundtables May21I recently participated in a fascinating panel discussion facilitated by Jonathan Farrington of Top Sales World on “Identifying the New Post-Covid Frontline Sales Professional” with Dave Mattson of Sandler Training and Lisa Leitch of Teneo Results. I’ve included a link to the recording at the bottom of this article.

Needless to say, there was a lot of discussion about what the future of B2B buying was going to look like, and what the implications are going to be for the B2B sales profession.

Of course, none of us knows for sure that the future balance is going to be between virtual, face-to-face and automated selling, but it’s probably safe to assume that it won’t involve a complete reversion to the world as it was in 2019.

However, there was a general consensus that - driven by the impact of both Covid-19 and other factors - the future of complex B2B selling was going to be increasingly collaborative, and I believe that there are some profound implications for the sales community...

The decline of the “lone wolf”

It’s been clear that the archetype of the non-collaborative salesperson - the go-it-alone “lone wolf” has been in decline for many years, and a good thing too. These lone wolves often cared about little other than winning a sale, often trampling on both their colleagues and their customers in the process.

No modern sales organisation can afford to employ these sort of salespeople - not just because of their negative impact on both colleagues and customers, but also because they contribute nothing to the collective learning of the organisation. Thank goodness they are a dying breed.

The rise of collaboration

Collaboration between salespeople and within sales organisations is not a new thing. I look back on my first professional sales role at Hewlett-Packard and recall a highly collaborative culture that respected both colleagues and customers.

But while in those days establishing a collaborative culture was a optional choice on the part of an organisation, I believe it has now become an essential foundation for any sort of sustained sales success.

The many dimensions of collaboration

Collaboration comes in multiple forms. At its perhaps simplest level, it involves salespeople choosing to work together to share experiences, to accelerate learning and to develop and implement effective opportunity strategies. It recognises that the collective experience of the whole organisation is far more powerful than the experiences of a single individual.

This collaboration can be achieved through the capturing of frequently asked questions together with their most effective answers, through sharing customer stories and anecdotes, through participating in joint opportunity reviews and through active involvement in interactive training environments where the learning comes as much from the participants as from the facilitator.

And, of course, in environments that involve a partner network or channel, collaboration involves extending these mechanisms and benefits to the whole partner community (and often in learning from them in return).

Beyond the sales team

Collaboration across different functions - I’m thinking particularly of marketing, business development, sales, pre-sales, consulting, implementation and customer success - is another essential foundation for organisational effectiveness.

Traditional siloed structures are increasingly dysfunctional. Shared goals, strategies, priorities and information structures are essential. It’s particularly important that metrics and targets are joined up: for example, there’s no point in rewarding marketing for generating the maximum possible volume of enquiries when what the salespeople actually need is a manageable quantity of well-qualified leads.

The active use of CRM (something lone wolves were never very keen on) is another foundational element. The information salespeople accumulate must be easily captured, accessed and acted upon by everyone else who can benefit. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer to be asked the same question by a member of the implementation or customer success team that they have already answered for the salesperson.

Between vendor and customer

That leads me to the third and probably the most important dimension of collaboration: between the customer and the vendor. Adversarial behaviour has no place in modern customer-vendor relationships (and if the customer is driving that sort of culture, you’ve got to question whether they are worth dealing with).

In complex business to business environments - and in particular if the customer is on unfamiliar territory - establishing a culture of collaborative problem solving both within and between the customer and the vendor is likely to drive the best possible results and lastingly valuable relationships.

Rather than selling “solutions”, sales organisations and their colleagues need to be focused on helping their customer achieve better outcomes. This involves working together to uncover the real problems and identify the real opportunities - which are often not what they might initially appear to be.

Open collaboration focused on achieving the customer’s outcomes is the best way of delivering maximum value for all concerned. Mutual success plans are an excellent way of establishing aligned goals and making the required progress.

Mutual success plans

Many sales organisations establish opportunity win plans – and increase their chances of winning as a result. Making this a collaborative rather than an individual exercise is better. Extending the win plan beyond the sales organisation as a collaborative exercise with other related functions drives even better results.

But this is just scratching the surface. When you elevate an internal sales win plan to a collaborative mutual success plan with the active involvement and collaboration of your customer, you take the process to an yet higher and even more effective level. And when you help your champion or sponsor within your customer to collaborate with their colleagues, you’re selling at a level your internally focused competitors will struggle to match.

How collaborative is your sales organisation?

I'd like to offer a simple maturity model:

[Level 0] No internal collaboration: it’s every salesperson for themselves

[Level 1] Informal sales team collaboration: we encourage salespeople to collaborate, but haven’t formalised the process

[Level 2] Formal sales team collaboration: we have formal and effective processes that encourage and facilitate collaboration within the team

[Level 3] Active cross-functional collaboration: we have formal and effective processes that encourage and facilitate collaboration across key functions

[Level 4] Active customer collaboration on opportunities: we engage prospects in mutual success plans for all our significant opportunities

[level 5] Active customer collaboration on account development: we have established long-term mutual collaboration plans with all significant customers

Where does your sales organisation currently stand, and how are you going to take it to the next level? If you’d like to share ideas and experiences on the subject, please book a call here.

By the way, here’s the link to the “Identifying the New Post-Covid Frontline Sales Professional” podcast. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

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