Earlier this week, a former colleague and I were discussing the challenges of “virtual B2B selling” and he quickly declared the real issue was “virtual B2B buying” – with which I absolutely agree. The pandemic has only accelerated buying issues on the customer side. Let me explain why. This conversation reminded me of an experience from the beginning of this year. Prior to COVID-19 (and my current position), I ran a series of workshops for the sales managers at several clients during their annual sales kickoff.
The objective was for the sales managers to develop their version of the right questions to ask account teams when coaching and inspecting opportunities. Senior executives were concerned with inconsistent (and insufficient) adoption of the questions they were given in previous sales training. In short, these executives wanted the sales managers to develop and then own the questions, which would increase the likelihood they would consistently ask them.
Each workshop session was divided into teams of four to five. Each team was then given the role of their customer champion and told they would be presenting to an internal executive Buying Committee consisting of the CFO, SVP of Operations, CSO and CIO. Furthermore, the previous time they presented a supplier’s proposal for approval to the committee, it did not go well. They were unable to answer the committee’s straightforward questions and funding for the project was declined. That was not a career enhancing moment and this time, they want to be fully prepared.
Each team developed their questions and presented to the group at large. The group then organized, reworded and rank ordered the top questions. The results were amazingly consistent across hundreds of sales managers from different companies. Below is a recap of the questions these sales managers expected the Buying Committee would ask:
- Why do we need to do anything?
- If we proceed, what do we want to accomplish?
- Specifically, how will this supplier help us achieve these outcomes?
- Where has the supplier previously attempted this and what results were delivered?
- Who else have you considered and why did you choose this supplier?
- What is the best and/or lowest risk approach to move forward with this supplier?
Note how these questions apply to virtually any B2B buying situation – meaning they are independent of the product or service being purchased. What do you think of these questions? Are they the right ones? Are these questions asked within your organization when considering a purchase? If so, what usually happens when they can’t be answered?
Now comes a tougher question for you and your team. How well does your current selling motion empower your customer champions or mobilizers to answer these questions within their organization? If we believe the customer will likely ask these internal questions, then it stands to reason our selling efforts should be directed at helping answer them.
Please don’t misunderstand as the fundamentals of selling are just as applicable to today’s “virtual” sale. However, what has significantly altered the landscape is they must be executed in a changed buying environment. This is the “new normal” in B2B sales and the challenges your customers face:
- Since early this year, uncertainty reigns and priorities have changed, which means…
- Spending money is harder than ever to justify, therefore…
- More decision makers are being involved in the buying process, and yet…
- Too often, customers are attempting to do this when they are also operating virtually
Taken together, this significantly increases the probability “do nothing” will win the day. How can we make our value clear and compelling while helping customers to answer their key questions?
Regardless of the sales process, methodology and technology stack (there are lots of good options for each), there is one thing that is common to every B2B sale. And that is at some point you will submit a proposal for consideration. The time has come for the B2B proposal to be elevated to a strategic imperative – especially when it comes to enabling customers to quickly and easily answer their questions and sell internally for you when you aren’t there.
Customers don’t need more information about us. Studies show they are already overwhelmed by the volume of supplier data. Rather they need the right information about them organized in an easily shared and consumed format. In the next post, we’ll explore how a well-structured proposal can help your customers answer their questions and make it easier to buy from you.