Author: Stephen Giese
June 17th, 2019
As the best salespeople learn time and again, enterprise selling is a battle of attrition.
The endurance and persistence required to get through multiple stakeholders and constituents drains even the most type A personalities.
And yet a surprising number of enterprise sellers are prone to sabotaging their quarterly numbers by, paradoxically, doing too much selling. Let me explain.
Talking Yourself Out of a Sale
Think about how much time your customer spends actually buying from you in a year. It’s probably less than 2%. But why only show up when they are ready to buy? Then all you are doing is selling to people who are not familiar with your approach, don’t fully appreciate your value proposition, and have likely made up their mind to go with someone else months before, when the pressure to buy was not acute.
The most effective B2B salespeople do their best work long before locking in a sale. They take a long-term view of their role in their customers lives, and act accordingly.
Principles of Selling Less
The principles of selling better by doing less selling are pretty simple: listen better, understand where you are in your customers hierarchy of needs, and play the role of problem solver and confidante rather than bold, brisk seller.
1. Research and Listen
No one is going to buy from you if they don’t already trust you, but earning trust is incredibly hard. The seller ultimately wants to win the contract and might be prone to inaccurate, grandiose statements to get there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a salesperson assume they know what their customer is dealing with at the outset of a call and dive right into pitch mode. Classic case of over-selling.
Instead, intuitive sellers with a tactical methodology will spend a lot of time researching the company. Gathering data points on the customers organizational structure, recent news, team culture, their customers and partners, their drivers and challenges, and so on are all valuable indicators of what they need, and how to approach them.
Then, when it’s time for a meeting, a conversation can be had with confidence. The essential tactic in a first meeting is to let the customer’s challenges and areas of interest guide the conversation; a relaxed, inquisitive nature helps the customer feel at ease and enter into exploratory discussions.
Keep in mind: it’s no use barking up the wrong tree. The prospect must acknowledge that they have the issue you have a solution for. If they don’t, then it’s not likely that you will be able to convince them on the phone or in person. Trying to convince is a tell-tale sign of over selling.
2. Understand Where You Are in the Hierarchy of Needs
Earning the opportunity to engage in further discussion is hard. Really hard. In order to make a good first impression – and increase the chances of getting to a second meeting – salespeople need to understand where they are in their customers hierarchy of needs. They can do that by gradually zeroing in on drivers and challenges their customers are facing, and aligning a solution to fit.
The evidence for where you are in your customers hierarchy of needs is usually found in early conversations. For example, take a customer who does not think they have a problem or deficiency on their hands. They have not hit the awareness stage yet and therefore should not be a primary focus. But a customer who is aware of an issue, has expressed interest in solving it – even researching potential solutions already – and is willing to discuss the issue further? These are folks for whom you, as a solutions provider, are near the top of their hierarchy of needs.
Getting this right will save countless hours of research and failed communication efforts. Once again, sell better by selling less.
3. Position the Fit —> Realize the Value
A third and final principle of selling less is positioning the fit and realizing the value. These describe different stages, to be sure, but are none-the-less closely related. Positioning the fit is all about communicating the value of your solutions in so far as they are aligned to the issues your customer is having.
Focusing on the internal challenges you know they are facing is going to underscore how valuable the solution is to their organization’s growth. The key here is to acknowledge that value for your customer is probably not the fancy features and customization of the product (it’s technical specifics), but rather a solution that helps them achieve their business objectives. In this final stage, talking less about gadgets and more about value usually works better – and the more they articulate the value instead of you, the better.
Tactics for a Customer-Centric World
All these principles revolve around the fact that, in B2B selling, it’s the customer that makes the world go round.
For B2B enterprise sellers, this means looking beyond individual sales towards partnerships that solve critical problems for customers over the long-term. It means putting together a sales strategy that is flexible enough to adapt to customer needs, but process-driven enough to build effective pipelines.
Getting to the sale takes a lot of time, but if you take the right approach then your customer lifetime value is going to be strong and everyone in the supply chain wins. In other words, if you spend more time learning about your customers issues and earnestly trying to help, then you will be more informed – and more likely to win – when it comes time to pitch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Giese is Head of Morgan Hill Partners’ Minneapolis / St. Paul advisory and consulting businesses, working with client technology and tech-enabled companies and investors to help maximize value. Stephen has 20 + years experience working in senior management positions at technology-enabled companies, including Account Management, Global Sales Management, Sales and Marketing Strategy, as well as CEO and COO positions. With a particularly keen eye for sales strategy and operational management best practices, Stephen has a proven track record of unlocking value and propelling growth within a company. Learn more about Stephen.