Prior to COVID-19, Gartner reported that only 17% of any B2B buying team’s time was spent meeting with all potential suppliers. Additionally, over 70% of these “meetings” between buyers and sellers were not in person (Forrester). In other words, most of our conversations were already using the phone or video teleconference, so the current pandemic has only served to accelerate the trend.

In the current virtual environment, most sellers are reporting more sales calls with customers, but less than 50% believe this approach can be effective at B2B selling (Bain).  Yet the same poll showed that over 70% of B2B buyers believe the “new normal” of video teleconferencing is as good or even better than in person meetings. I think you can see where the future of B2B selling is heading…

Who Is Doing The Selling?

In my previous post, I gave you the less than stellar results for both buyers and sellers. One reason is that most of the “selling” is occurring internally within the customer when the salesperson is not present. If you are 1 of 3 competitors, then you’re only getting 5 or 6% of their buying time (they still have day jobs).  Thus, our champions and other internal stakeholders are the ones doing most of the “selling” – and it’s not in their job description, nor are they very good at it.

This is one reason that “No Decision/No Award” had an astounding win rate of 43% (Forrester) – before COVID-19.  We can argue over whether this is really the buyer’s fault, but there is no question that this is the seller’s problem! Is providing more information the solution? No, because 44% of buyers were already overwhelmed by conflicting supplier information (Gartner). The answer is simplifying the information provided.

Making It Easier To Buy

Selling harder and selling more on our part is not going to solve the buyer’s challenges.  Rather, our job is to make it easier to buy. Regardless of what you are selling or who you are selling to, what is the one document required for all B2B buying decisions?  It’s your proposal, and done right, your proposal could be a strategic tool that effectively sells when you aren’t in the room.  It should answer, at the very least, the known and predictable questions your champion will get every time as he/she maneuvers through internal stakeholder alignment and up to decision makers.

Objectives Of Your Proposal

Most sellers treat their proposal as a “check box” exercise when they get to that point in the sales cycle. They’ll dust off their “lucky” proposal template, make a few changes and their proposals show it. About half of my work is with buying organizations, where I help position and close critical deals with key suppliers. A normal part of this job is to review supplier proposals—a task I truly despise. Why? Because I can already tell you what virtually every proposal will say. It will be all about the supplier and their products, services, features (sometimes benefits), office locations, growth, recent acquisitions, etc. I don’t know how the math works, but somehow each supplier is #1 in their field. They’re all innovative, world-leading, Gartner upper-right quadrant, etc. It’s no wonder customers have a hard time choosing one supplier over another and often simply don’t award the business to anyone!

The problem is that these proposals are constructed more as marketing documents than ones meant to close a sale. Therefore, the theory (the marketing rule of more views) is that the more “stuff about us” the better. More pictures, more diagrams, more tables, etc. They are self-defeating because they end up making it harder for the customer to make an informed decision: nothing in the mountain of data is directly and clearly linked to the outcomes the customer wants to achieve. As a result, decision makers begin to question why certain elements are in the proposal, which requires our overwhelmed champion to spend more energy simply trying to justify the confusing contents of our proposal rather than closing the deal.

The solution is a compelling proposal that makes it much easier for the customer to make an informed decision—and feel that it is the right decision for them. The objectives of the proposal should address the key questions we know our champion will get. Let’s look at what objectives a simple proposal could accomplish:

Reinforce Trust

Customers trust us not because of what we know about ourselves – but rather what we know about them.  The most critical question a customer has is “Who understands us and what we’re trying to accomplish?” – and they’ll never be able to Google the answer.  Simply answer these key questions for the customer:

  • Remind us again, why are we doing anything (the BIG WHY)?
  • What outcomes should we expect from working with this supplier?

Set Up The Right Negotiation:

No matter how good a negotiator you are, if you’re having the wrong negotiation, you’ll end up with a poor deal.  Answering these questions for the customer will at least ensure you will have the “right” negotiation:

  • How does the supplier’s offering clearly map to these outcomes?
  • What’s important to the supplier in a deal with us?

Establish Credibility:

Credibility is different than trust. You are credible when you’ve “been there and done that.” Too many proposals include the obligatory NASCAR slide.  You know, the one with all those logos on it… How is that relevant to this customer and what they want to accomplish?  Simply give a few targeted examples that answer:

  • Where has the supplier done something similar before?
  • What outcomes did they produce for those other customers?

Value Proposition:

You win deals because the customer sees the value in doing business with you.  You lose because they don’t. It’s that simple. Your value proposition should be very clear in your proposal (as well as to your champion), because these are the questions that will get asked every time:

  • What other alternatives have you considered?
  • Why is this supplier the best choice for us?

Managing Uncertainty:

If there was ever a time when uncertainty needed to be managed, it’s right here and right now.  There will always be uncertainty in any complex B2B deal because none of us will have perfect information…ever.  And things can change quickly!  That’s why we will present the customer with options that allow them to participate in choosing the best path forward for them.  In essence, we are inviting them in to help construct the “right deal,” which then becomes their deal. And these deals close quickly.  Often with little or no negotiation.  Simply answer these questions:

  • How might we move forward with this supplier?
  • What are the pros and cons of each option?

Would it surprise you that these questions can be asked with just seven simple slides?  Believe me, your customers will thank you for making their decision straightforward and thus making it easier for them to buy from you – when you aren’t there in the room.

Good Selling!