The Post-Financial Crisis B2B Sales Professional


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We’ve come a long way back from the depths of the global financial crisis. There have been many lessons learned on both sides of the buy/sell equation. For B2B sales professionals, this much should be abundantly clear: it’s a changed sales environment.

A Changed Sales Environment

The business-based, economic buyer has emerged as a dominant force in this changed sales environment. Buy-side executives (VP level and higher) are increasingly involved in influencing purchase and investment decisions, taking over the reins from lower-level buyers. Never has this been more evident than in the technology investment decision-making process.

In a November 2009 report directed to IT sales professionals, Gartner Inc. said, “This deep and prolonged recession has the potential to create a new market environment with stronger spheres of financial and business influence in many industries’ IT buying centers. Vendors should develop and/or expand financial models for project justification and sales training on selling to the financial buyer and business leader.”

For B2B sales professional, selling to “financial and business influencers” presents a very interesting opportunity for competitive differentiation. If you can establish a reputation for helping companies accelerate business outcomes and financial performance, you’ll be given a seat of influence at the customer executive table. Of course, the personal development challenge for B2B sales professionals is building the requisite business credentials to actually do that.

B2B Sales Competency Requirements Are Evolving

Over the past few months, I’ve had a number of conversations with learning and development (L&D) professionals about their B2B sales competency models. These models codify the skills, knowledge and behavior traits deemed present and highly-desirable in high-performing sales reps. They’re used to set new-hire requirements, establish sales management promotion criteria, and create training and development curricula.

Sensing a changed sales environment, L&D professionals have sought my perspective as a former buy-side executive. They were curious about how the post-financial crisis environment has impacted B2B sales competency requirements. My advice to them was entirely consistent with Gartner’s: “Vendors should develop and/or expand financial models for project justification and sales training on selling to the financial buyer and business leader.” In my view, the required competencies for B2B sales professionals should now include the skills, knowledge, and behavior traits necessary to demonstrate deep customer business insights, apply financial acumen, and build collaborative business partnerships with customer executives. After all, if the ultimate goal is helping customers accelerate business outcomes and financial performance, sales competency models need to lighten up on traditional vendor-centric elements and refocus on developing highly customer-centric, business-savvy sales professionals capable of building collaborative business partnerships with their customers.

Transcending “Informational”, “Solution”, and “Needs-Based” Selling Competencies and Methodologies

The disintermediation of the traditional role of the B2B sales professional has been ongoing for decades. The informational sales call (“Let me tell you about my company and our products”) has long been viewed as irrelevant (and disrespectful) by buy-side decision-makers, particularly those at the executive level. Yet, amazingly, many sell-side executives keep doing it when meeting with their customers.

In my view, buy-side executives want more business value from B2B sales professionals. They want a business partnership relationship (for the purpose of accelerating business outcomes) and that goes well beyond simply fulfilling a current “need”. It also transcends traditional “solution” selling methodologies. In fact, I’m convinced that customer executives don’t respond well to solution selling techniques. Many of these formulaic “discussions” are very painful for buy-side executives. Customer business partnerships transcend ‘selling’ as we’ve traditionally come to know it. In a post-financial crisis environment, customer executives don’t have patience for traditional sales methodologies that don’t ultimately hold the partnership promise.

The Ultimate B2B Sales Competency Model – Giving Customer Executives What They Want

In a post-financial crisis, customer executives are seeking B2B sales professionals with the competencies to enter into business partnerships for the purpose of accelerating their business outcomes and financial performance.

Sales thought leaders who command the customer-specific facts and analysis will rise like cream to the top. These next-generation B2B sales professionals embrace the notion of helping their customers achieve results – financially, operationally, and personally. They also understand the nature of the performance pressures on their customers and they leverage that knowledge to bring best practices that have meaningful impact on business priorities and performance metrics.

A post-financial crisis B2B sales professional leverages customer business insights and applies healthy doses of financial acumen to home in on the specific emerging strategic initiatives that are on the radar screens of their customer executives. These business priorities are usually funded and budgeted. Importantly, executives accountable for success are under pressure to perform and the next generation sales professional aligns with that results-oriented mindset.

Take Charge of Your Personal Development

If you believe, as I do, that the financial crisis was a trigger point for change, I encourage you to act now to improve your future value to customers and prospects.

Here are three specific performance improvement areas for becoming a fully-qualified, post-financial crisis B2B sales professional.

  1. Improve Your Insights of Customer Business Priorities and Financial Performance Metrics – Start by identifying emerging business priorities and performance metrics for your customer. If you want to review examples, subscribe to a complimentary resource offered by my company, FASTpartners®. It’s called the Customer Catalyst Quarterly newsletter. In the most recent issue, our research identified 63 specific sales catalysts (emerging funded business initiatives) in 22 companies operating in 9 vertical industries.
  2. Improve Your Financial Acumen Skills – Before you take any action to improve your financial acumen, seek recommendations from your learning and development colleagues. They are in the best position to match your current skill level with the appropriate learning solution. To keep your learning relevant, make sure to apply newly acquired skills to your customer’s financial disclosures. The good news is you’re not expected to be a financial expert. But you are expected to interpret customer financial performance and be fully capable of articulating the financial value of your solutions in language understandable to your customers.
  3. Improve Your Customer Collaboration – First, collaborate with your internal account team to improve the collective understanding of your customer’s business priorities and performance metrics. Consider how you would map attributes of your solution to both elements. Then, implement a “learn by doing” strategy by setting up a planning collaboration session with one of your trusted customers. The goal: building a partnership to help them accelerate business outcomes and financial performance.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jack Dean
As co-founder of FASTpartners LLC, Jack brings extensive technology buying experience as a Fortune500 Chief Financial Officer to the B2B technology sales training industry.He has facilitated client-sponsored business acumen training for 15,000 B2B technology sellers representing 150 global technology companies.Participants in Jack’s business acumen training have produced directly-attributed revenue of over $1 billion (in the 3 months after training) and training engagement ROIs averaging 500%.


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