A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I used to sell computer networking equipment to large enterprises. The pressure cooker sales environment was replete with war stories of every hue. Perhaps the one that used to inspire us more than most was the “Legend of the CEO Meeting”. The story goes that each time a specific senior officer used to visit our office he would ask for a meeting to be fixed with the CEO of a specific large corporation. The guy on that account, like most sales people, would put it off thinking there was no real opportunity there. Eventually he caved and set the meeting up – what followed was a sales masterclass by the senior officer. Legend has it that over the course of a single, repeatedly-extended meeting he got the CEO to identify his key business pain points, worked out a monetary amount that was acknowledged to be the business impact of not addressing those problems, proposed a networking based solution to those problems and walked out with a purchase order for a value of Rs.xxx (insert absurdly large amount here).
These days I look around for the pinch of salt the story obviously needs to be garnished with but there is great instructional value there too. Here are the steps the super salesman followed:
- Identifying and getting in front of the key decision maker
- Helping him (or her) define the business problems and
- Making a clear assessment of the impact in terms of cash (or time or effort) being wasted
- Proposing his organization as possessing an appropriate solution that specifically addresses the business problem and
- Then closing the deal by handling all objections
This is a great process to follow in complex sales. In these days of the ubiquitous reach of social media would this process change at all? Is the impact positive or negative?
For starters finding or getting into the eye line of the decision maker can be less of a hit-or-miss effort through #socialselling. Examples abound of companies mapping the social media habits of key influencers or decision makers and then engaging with them in a subtle but sustained manner. The approach is to follow them on Twitter, show genuine interest in what they care about, read and comment on their blog and build a relationship with them by interacting with them on their terms.
Customers today are uber informed – research shows that anything from 55-60% of the buying process is done by the time they start engaging with individual vendors. Customers turn to the web to help them define their problem areas and find potential solutions and vendors with the capability to offer those solutions. The B2B sales guy used to heavily leverage this stage of the sales process to establish credentials as a “trusted expert” – no longer as easy when the customer knows as much as you. The emphasis has shifted to #contentmarketing – creating content likely to prove useful to customers seeking information and making sure it is found by them when they need it. The most useful content is likely to position the vendor providing it as the “trusted expert”.
The role of content
Lastly Since the content in the online world will speak for an organization chances are even at the very first interaction with the customer they will have a reasonably well-formed opinion of the vendor they are talking to. The opportunity to tweak the positioning to fit the possible opportunity is perhaps less than was available in the story above. The onus on the B2B vendor is to ensure that the content they create talks very specifically to the target customers and addresses their specific concerns even before an opportunity arises for these to be stated.
The changed B2B sales cycle
There is a legitimate expectation that the duration of the sales cycle can be shortened as customers run the initial part of the pipeline themselves – this is partially true or at-least the visible portion of the cycle can be reduced. Key will become the ability of the B2B sales organization and more critically the B2B sales professionals to adapt their time tested ways to the demands of the digital marketing and #B2BSocialMedia world. Sales guys are nothing if not instinctively attuned to identifying shifting tides and correcting course to sail though – my own expectation is the best sales guys will still come out smiling at the end.