In this blog, I would like to continue the discussion of how technology can play a much greater role in actually facilitating the right conversations between buyers and sellers. Let’s explore the first of three attributes essential to any software and technology solution—facilitating collaboration between the buyer and the seller.
Collaboration: From the English / Oxford Dictionary
- the action of working with someone to produce or create something.
Given the above definition, just what exactly should both sides be working to produce or create? I believe there are three key opportunities for collaboration during the sale: creating the potential for value, capturing that value in the right deal, and finally delivering the value after the sale.
This is the most important step in selling (some would argue it is the definition of selling) as it involves determining the expected outcomes if the seller’s products and/or services are bought. Everything else in the ongoing relationship logically flows from a common understanding of these expected outcomes. How the outcomes are measured is simply how value is measured. Are we trying to increase something, decrease something, do something faster or do it at a lower cost? This can’t be determined in a vacuum by one side or the other. It must be collaborative since the buyer must live with the results and the seller is committing to producing the results!
It is truly amazing how often this critical step is missed and the current state of technology in sales does not help the situation. Most platforms are designed to serve the needs of one party or the other. Sellers typically rely on their CRM system with perhaps some additional linked apps to assist in the sale. However, all of the data is generally entered by the sales rep or account team, which makes it second hand data at best, and little if any is actually shared with the customer. Buyers have various vendor management systems (though most are not nearly as advanced as the corresponding CRM systems) and, again, all of the data is typically entered by procurement and the buying organization and little if any is shared with the sellers. In short, not much collaboration is facilitated on this front.
Closing the “Right Deal”:
Once the outcomes are determined and agreed upon, the next step is to identify the “right deal” that should be closed. By “right”, I mean a deal that is acceptable to the buyer as well as the seller but also a deal that has the right mix of products and services (as well as volumes, pricing, close date, lead times, terms and conditions, etc.) to deliver the outcomes. Again, this can’t be done in a vacuum by one side or the other.
Sellers should not simply throw offers against the wall to see if they stick. The offer or offers should be relevant to the desired outcomes and this particular situation. Likewise, buyers should not be playing the role of Caesar giving the thumbs up and thumbs down to various aspects to the seller’s offer. Both sides should collaborate on what constitutes the right deal for this situation. Does technology today facilitate a collaborative process of determining the right deal? Not to my knowledge, but it could and it should.
Delivering the Value:
It doesn’t take much imagination to see that if both sides have not collaborated on the desired outcomes and have not collaborated on the right deal to achieve those outcomes, the odds of actually delivering the value become vanishingly small. And yet I find this to be the norm for most B2B business relationships. No wonder customers are routinely price shopping and sellers are struggling with anemic sales pipelines and high customer churn! It’s baked into the recipe!
As I’ve written about many times, the elements of a value delivery plan should be:
- Mutually defined outcomes with agreed upon success metrics
- Clearly defined steps for getting from here to the outcomes by a certain timeframe with mutually assigned responsibilities
- A scorecard for reporting and measuring progress
- A communications plan for meeting regularly to discuss progress and the Past Value Delivered (PVD)
None of these steps can be done alone by the seller nor can the buyer tackle them alone, but too often that is exactly what is happening. Collaboration is called for and that very collaboration can be facilitated by technology. Designed correctly, the data is populated by both the buyer and the seller and has a higher probability of being both correct and relevant. Next time we’ll explore the much overused term of transparency and how it would apply to any platform that facilitates collaboration.
Until then, good selling!