In the previous post, we discussed why B2B selling is getting so much harder – because B2B buying is even more challenging. One reason is that most of the “selling” is occurring internally within the customer when the salesperson is not present. Only 17% of a customer’s total buying process is spent with supplier sales reps (Gartner). If you are 1 of 4 competitors, then you’re only getting 4 or 5% of their buying time (they still have day jobs).  Thus, our champions and other internal stakeholders are the ones doing most of the heavy lifting – and it’s not in their job description, nor are they experienced at it…

Perhaps that explains why NO DECISION has an enviable win rate of 43% (Forrester). In this post, I want to explore how we might address our customer’s buying challenges. I believe that is the right target to aim for – and a huge opportunity for those sellers that get it right. Fair warning, this is a pretty long post.

A Poor Representation?

Every model is nothing more than a caricature of what it is trying to describe (much like a map can’t give you the sense of the real topography on the ground). But they are useful in gaining our bearings and determining where we should head next in order to reach our destination.  Below is my take on the five key questions sellers must help their customers answer in order to address the primary tasks of B2B buying.


Five Simple Questions Customers Need Our Help Answering

Note at the center of everything is the customer’s success (both business and personal). I think it’s safe to say they’re more focused on that than our products or services. Also, the model depicts these questions in a clockwise sequential fashion, but they are not necessarily asked or addressed in that order. Rather they get revisited multiple times by multiple people during the buying process as customers endeavor to validate and gain internal consensus.

I’ve had many interesting and lively discussions over the years with my sales enablement friends about “What exactly are we enabling?”  Gayle Charach, Tim Ohai, and Nick Gregory, I truly appreciate your patience with my “dumb” questions and your willingness to humor me.

Today, I believe the research tells us we are trying to solve for a second or even third order problem (channel?). Is it really about which sales skills, collateral materials, processes, methodologies, platforms, tools, etc. we’ve “standardized” on? Or, is it actually about how best to enable customers to more easily sell internally and confidently buy? This is a complex problem, because it is a human behavior problem – magnified by the number of humans involved in a typical B2B deal. Let’s look at these customer questions and some personal recommendations I humbly offer to help address them.

Question 0: Why Engage with You?

I call this “Question 0” because if you can’t answer it, you’re not even in the game. Why we need to clearly answer this question early on is self-evident. Customers are overwhelmed by their priorities, confused by the amount of conflicting supplier information available, and short on time to engage with any new supplier. Get this right and at least the door is opened for a chat. Hopefully, your marketing program helps…

I do a lot of work with clients in developing their Potential Value Statement to clearly articulate the most important customer outcomes they help deliver in order to gain the attention of ideal prospects (and I like to think I’m pretty darn good at it). However, I must humbly defer to my recent connection, Mike Weinberg as his work with the “Sales Story” and his book “New Sales. Simplified…” are the best in breed.

Question 1: Why Change Anything and Who Can We Confidently Buy From?

I know this is a two-part question, but please bear with me. Regardless of what you sell (products, services, or both), selling is about asking the customer to change – and who likes that? At first blush, lucky for you if there is a funded project, “compelling event” or the customer has determined “the pain of same is greater than the pain of change…”

But what if the customer is not convinced they need to change? My work with buying clients tells me this is best tackled in a collaborative fashion with the customer. In other words, you co-create the case for change, so that the customer will “own” it. For a world class approach and scalable platform, I highly recommend you reach out to Chad Quinn at Ecosystems.  I believe their “Interactive Business Case” in partnership with Bain’s “B2B Elements of Value” is the very best solution around.

But the case for change is not enough to result in a purchase. The key word in the second half of this question is “confidently.” As Gartner’s latest research shows, this is not confidence in you as a potential supplier (that’s now table stakes and why you’re in the mix). Rather it is confidence in their decision to move forward with you. Did you help them determine the right questions to consider? Did you help them sort through and identify the most important information? Did you help them anticipate all the implications and risks of changing? In short, are they making the right choice?

This is the reason we will always need talented salespeople. The most important question any customer has is who really understands us, what we’re trying to accomplish and can best help us get there? And they can’t Google an answer to that! As you will see, the remaining customer questions further advance making it easier to buy while building the customer’s confidence in their decision.

Question #2: What Are We Paying for and How Hard Will It Be to Sell Internally?

Too often sellers confuse what a customer is paying for (our products and services) with what a customer is actually buying (improved outcomes). Assuming we’ve mutually established the customer’s desired outcomes, we’re now tasked with translating those outcomes into the right mix of products and services. In other words, “connecting the dots” between those outcomes and the right deal structure for this customer (unfortunately, I see this key step missed by most sellers). If we do connect the dots, now our champion can simply go sell that internally to the other 6.2 stakeholders, right? Whoa, hold on a minute!

What do we arm our champion with? Brochures, case studies, white papers and even ROI calculations won’t cut it now. We’ve got to get specific to this customer, what they want to accomplish and what they will pay for to get there. Obviously, the answer is our Proposal and that’s the next place where things go off the rails in the buying journey.

I’ve written extensively on the abysmal state of B2B proposals here, here, and here. So, I’ll try not to repeat myself. Will a two page quote with indecipherable acronyms, SKUs, volumes and pricing cut it for an SVP of Ops, CISO or a CFO? No? OK, then how about a professional four color, spiral bound tome with all sorts of charts, tables, graphics and text (that’s all about you)? Do they have the time or inclination to read that? No?

Like Goldilocks, we need something just right. First, the purpose of any proposal is to bridge from the “selling” to the “negotiation” and then the “closed deal.” To effectively accomplish this, our proposal should be structured to achieve the following objectives:

  • Reinforce the Trust we should have been building all along
  • Set up the “Right” Negotiation that surely will follow
  • Establish Credibility by showing where we’ve “been there and done that”
  • Manage the Uncertainty that’s inherent in any complex B2B deal that has so many diverse players and lasts on average over 7 months

It should ideally also be co-created with the customer (seeing a common theme?) and straightforward to allow for our champions to easily use it to sell internally. Finally, it is best presented as early in the sales cycle as possible, so your champion has the time to sell on your behalf. It can be done with just seven simple slides or seven sheets of paper. My clients have used this approach on deals from $20K to well over $1B. I’ve seen VPs take this proposal to the CIO, SVPs take it to the CEO or even CEOs take it to the Board to sell.

It’s simple and I can show you how to do it. But making things simple is really hard (it’s much easier to complicate things) and only two slides are about you as the seller. It’s ironic, because with all the information available about themselves, most sellers can’t easily complete those two slides. Meaning the five remaining slides are about the customer… Very soon, this too will be automated and on Ecosystem’s platform.

Question #3: Is This the Right Deal That’s Also a Good Deal for Us?

If we’ve “connected the dots” between the customer’s desired outcomes and how the key components of our proposal support achieving those outcomes, we’ve gone a long way towards solidifying in their mind that this is the “right” deal. Furthermore, we should have presented the customer with Options in our proposal in order to manage uncertainty and risk. By allowing the customer to participate in co-creating and structuring the best deal for them, it suddenly becomes “their deal,” and they no longer question whether it is the right one. They’re literally chomping at the bit to get it closed.

But what about whether it is a “good deal” for them? Now we’re clearly into the realm of negotiating. And if you’re selling into an enterprise of any size, you will be passing through Procurement before you get a PO issued. However, the negotiation is much more than the “moment” when you are across the table from Procurement. The good news is we’ve actually been “negotiating” with the customer all along – it just didn’t feel that way.

We’ve co-created the case for change, mutually established the outcomes and success metrics important to the customer and co-created the right deal to achieve those outcomes. In negotiation theory, we’ve been “anchoring” or framing the negotiation all along. By doing so, we are ready to deal with Procurement. When purchasing starts asking to change something like quantities, services or pricing, they are in effect, asking us to change the deal. Which we’re happy to do, as long as they acknowledge that changing the deal will necessitate changing the outcomes that can be achieved.

This is how you keep the “business” involved in the negotiation by getting the customer to negotiate against themselves and their best interests. Something they quickly decide is not fun nor a good idea. I realize I’ve simplified the process in the interest of brevity, but this is essentially how you negotiate the “right” way.

I can’t over emphasize how important your actions and behavior are to the customer at this critical “pressure point” of the journey. You will either reinforce in their mind they are dealing with the right supplier, or you can literally make them question everything you’ve done up to this point (think offering a significant discount at quarter end or throwing valuable services in for free). I happen to be pretty good at this “negotiating thing,” but if you’re looking for a scalable platform to support this type of negotiations, the very best out there is by Think5600. I recommend you reach out to Brian Dietmeyer as he and I go back many years in developing this approach.

Question #4: What Did We Get for the Money We Spent and Why Buy More?

Congratulations! You’ve just landed the deal, received the PO, cashed the commission check and are having a party! If you’re in Sales, I’m lucky if you stayed with me this long (I warned you this was a long post). If you’re in Renewals, CX or CS, I hope you’re cheering because you’ve just been handed a customer where you actually know a) why they bought from you; b) what they expect the purchase to produce in terms of outcomes; and c) how you and the customer will mutually track and report success. Kind of sounds like a dream customer scenario, doesn’t it?

But if you happen to be the customer who bought, you’re probably saying it’s about damn time we got to the part they really care about.  All the “sausage making” of our selling motion is simply a necessary evil to them, but hopefully they’re at least grateful that you worked very hard to make it as easy as possible. OK, now on to what I call the “killer question.”

Question #4 is the “killer question” because, if left unanswered, will “kill” any opportunity for customer growth. And this question is getting asked more and more by customers. Why is it so critical we actively help the customer answer this question? Gartner’s research shows that delivering a great product with outstanding service will double your odds of a renewal versus poor service and product performance. However, it has zero statistical impact on a customer’s desire to buy additional products or services from you. Zero…

Rather, the single biggest driver of existing account growth is delivering customer “improvement” (verifiable outcomes) – period. Which makes sense when you think about it. When you’re asking a customer to upsell, cross-sell or buy net new, you’re asking them to change what they are doing today. And that puts us right back at the beginning… As a bonus, delivering verifiable outcomes is essentially just as effective in generating renewals.

What about your champion when he/she gets asked what did we get for all the money we spent with XYZ Company? What happens when they can’t answer it? Does it make them look bad? You bet! Do they want to go out and “sell” some more for you? Not very likely. But when they can clearly answer that question, they look like a hero within their company. And they’re much more likely to “go to bat” for you and your company again.

This question also “kills” in a good way when our customers can answer it. It kills any competitor that tries to steal our business. Why would a customer entertain removing a supplier that is delivering valuable outcomes? They generally don’t because they’re not in the business of buying – and why risk changing?

How do we ensure we have delivered the outcomes (value) and gotten credit for doing so? With Customer Success Plans and regular Customer Value Reviews with key decision makers. If you are looking for a highly scalable platform, then again, I highly recommend you reach out to Chad Quinn at Ecosystems and check out their “Strategic Business Review” as well as their partnership with Gainsight.

What the Future Holds:

A caveat – I’m reluctant to predict the future because I’m no better than anyone else. I’m sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but I should always be in great doubt. However, humor me and envision this scenario.

All the scary statistics and studies I’ve referenced are based on today’s selling and buying environment, where sellers at least have some face to face time with their customers and champions. What happens if, God forbid, travel and group meetings are eliminated and all of this “selling” and “buying” must be done virtually? Now how are you going to enable your customer’s buying journey and help them answer their key questions? Because those questions are not going away – and neither is your quota.

Certainly, you’ll need to use technology to help solve this problem (have you seen Zoom’s stock price lately?). Here are the three additional things you’ll require, at a minimum, to enable your customers to more easily and confidently buy:

  • An interactive business case platform that allows for collaboration and co-creation – that your champion can easily share within their organization
  • An interactive business proposal platform that facilitates presentation and dialogue – that your champion can easily share within their organization
  • An interactive business success platform that allows for collaborative data population – that your champion can easily share internally and demonstrate the outcomes and value they have delivered
  • (I’m not even addressing how you will upskill your teams and enable sales managers to effectively coach opportunities in this potential environment)

Fortunately, we can do this today – if we choose to. I would argue it couldn’t hurt our current selling efforts, even if the worst case doesn’t materialize.

Good Selling!


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