Business-to-business sales have changed over the years. Nowadays a different set of techniques is required to be successful B2B salesman compared even to a few years ago. How has the B2B landscape changed?
In essence, B2B sales have been modernized and now require those involved to be literate in social psychology and technology. Sales are no longer a matter of convincing a potential customer to buy something (as they have already researched it) but rather of being a source of useful and relevant information. Manipulation is old-school, and relationships between buyers and sellers must be built on trust and comfort if there is to be success.
Below, we have prepared a compilation of advice and strategies which can help you in becoming a better B2B salesperson. Towards the end, we will also discuss how we at PGN Global can help you with this in a more concrete way.
Without further ado, let us get started.
Understanding the Modern Buyer
The first and foremost thing one must understand when dealing with B2B sales in the contemporary era is buyer psychology. It has completely changed in relation to what it was even a few years ago.
In the olden days, the way a salesperson formed a relationship with a buyer was built around information. It still is to a certain extent, but in a much more different way than before.
Before, the main goal of a seller was to provide the customer with info relating to the product. The buyer called or met up with the seller to learn about the product as there were few ways they could do so otherwise. The salesperson would then proceed to "sell" all the great (or allegedly great) features of the product they were trying to… well, sell.
Today this relationship has changed significantly. Instead of the slightly sleazy, vaguely manipulative, and overall aggressive role of the stereotypical salesperson of the past, the modern seller acts more like a consultant than what would typically be considered a salesperson. They are there to provide the customer with answers, yes, but more significantly, they are there to ask questions.
This is because a modern customer, according to studies, has already made 60% to 90% of their purchasing decision before even getting into contact with a salesperson. They have already gathered lots of info from websites and word of mouth, and they do not need somebody to assault them with the pros of a product or service as much as they need someone who understands their concerns and is willing to help them go through the buying process.
Empathy is the name of the modern sales game. Customers want to feel like they are being heard, not badgered and overwhelmed with info they already have. This is why it is important to have the right tools at your disposal.
To help us in understanding these concepts in a more concrete and practical way, Douglas Burdett, writing for salesartillery.com, has given us six amazing steps to keep in mind when conducting a modern business deal, which we will give a summary of now as we feel that they are an invaluable resource for the modern salesperson.
Research - Every potential buyer that calls you needs to be researched. This will help you moving forward because the more info you have, the more equipped you will be when it comes to asking the right questions and giving the right info. Even if you have never heard of a lead which has called you, start researching them as soon as they call. Every little bit of information helps, and information is something which is at least in abundance nowadays.
Ask - As mentioned in the last step, getting information from your customers is key when it comes to knowing how to properly converse with them. With the right information, you can help them properly, add value, and differentiate yourself from your competition. Ask questions (with words like what, how, why, where, when and who). This will encourage the buyer to speak more about themselves and give you relevant information on how to assist them. Avoid yes or no questions as they tend to do the opposite.
Listen - Do not just ask questions to ask questions. Once the potential buyer starts answering, listen to them! Instead of simply waiting for your turn to speak, focus on their words, even repeat back what they have said back to them. This will make them feel understood and will create a large amount of trust between you which is so important in the modern business landscape. Aim to do only 30% of the talking. No matter how awkward it may feel at first, you will soon get used to it and it will become second nature.
Teach - Instead of obsessively trying to pitch your product to your potential buyer, try and teach them instead about the product which they are considering to buy. This is not simply giving them info about it, but rather educating them on its proper uses and applications. Sometimes what a customer wants might not be what they need. This is a time for you to be as objective as possible. Avoid talking about your own products but rather help the customer zero in on what they truly need. This goes a long way towards building preference and loyalty.
Qualify - In the old days of sales, the mantra used to be "always be closing." This no longer really works, so if you are still using it you should stop. Nowadays your mantra should be "always be qualifying." This will help you zero in on the customer's needs and how you can help them fulfill those. When qualifying, follow the popular GPCT and BANT approaches:
Goals - Try to find what their quantitative goals are. What do they need to achieve?
Plans -What are strategies and tactics are they going to use to achieve those goals?
Challenges - What is standing in their way?
Timing - When are they supposed to achieve their goals?
Budget - Do they have a means of funding a solution to their problem?
Authority - Determine what person within the company has influence over the purchasing decision.
Need - Does the buyer have a specific pain point you can solve?
Not having good answers for GPCT and BANT is the reason why most sales opportunities fail.
Close - If you have done the previous five steps correctly, then closing should feel more like an agreement than, in Burdett's words, an "arm-twisting manipulation." The latter tends not to work anyway. The buyer will feel more comfortable with their decision, be aware of what they need to do, have fewer questions, and will face less buyer's remorse.
Note that with the exception of closing, the other five steps can be repeated at any point during the sales process.
With that covered, we will now move on to discuss some further adaptations which can be useful in dealing with a modern B2B buyer.
Adapting to the Modern Customer
In this section, we will further explore some more indirect ways in which you can make your B2B products and services more accessible to your prospects. Previously we have mentioned how the B2B buyer has changed and the things a modern seller has to keep in mind. You may have interpreted the parts about easy access to information and the empathetic approach to be something negative.
We will show you how that is not at all the case and how you can utilize these new ways customers approach purchases to your advantage.
Firstly, when it comes to the Internet, Stephen MacDonald writes for superoffice.com, a content library is a great thing to invest in. It will allow your prospects to get a good look at your products in an environment that you can control and customize to your heart's content. Just because your potential buyers will get a lot of their info from the internet does not mean you have no say in how that happens. A good content library will provide them with the right info and make the purchasing decision go smoothly for them. This will work much to your advantage in increasing the number of sales you close and will make things easier when your prospects inevitably call you, as they will have already learned a lot about what you are offering.
Secondly, you or your sales team can position themselves as experts for your product or service and act as spokespeople as well. This means doing everything from tweeting about your products and services to writing full-length blog posts. This will again play into the pool of info prospects have when researching what you are offering, but it also can make them feel understood when they see a question they had being addressed in these kinds of publications. To do this successfully, you should keep an ear out for all the common questions and issues potential buyers bring up and address those in your posts. It will create trust and attract more prospects.
And, thirdly, make sure that the sales and marketing teams are synced up in terms of what they are doing. Many sales deals can fall through because the prospect is simply confused. What is being advertised is out of alignment with that is being sold. Perhaps the marketers do not have the proper info and data in the content library that they can successfully forward to potential buyers. Potential hazards spring up very quickly if there is a disconnect between these two teams. Make sure that they have good communication with each other in order to maximize the effectiveness of both and the number of your sales.
Knowing Which Questions to Ask
In the first section of our strategy compilation, we talked about how listening and asking the right questions is a key component of being a competent B2B seller. In this final section, we will go over exactly which questions will strike the best chord with customers and make them feel like you really empathize with them. It will also give you key info when it comes to the practical side of the sales deal.
It can be tough knowing which questions one should ask exactly, but luckily for us, Steli Efti, writing for close.com has prepared an amazing list of thirteen questions which we also think are great. Without further ado, let us get started with them:
1. How did you hear about us?
This question allows you to understand why the potential buyer has contacted you in the first place and gives you insight on what to focus and from which angle to approach the conversation. Ask this question early on as it will help you have a more targeted conversation by revealing info about their wants and needs.
2. What are your must-haves, should-haves, and could-haves?
Early on in the sales process, you want to qualify your prospect in order to find out what their needs and wants are, what is essential and they would like to have but is not necessary. Prioritizing is of key importance because it does not matter if you have most of the items on their checklist if those are their could-haves while you are missing the crucial feature they require. These sorts of deals will never come to fruition and asking this question you do not waste your time and risk missing out on other, better opportunities.
3. What's your decision-making process like?
If you know what your potential customer's decision-making process is like, you can take steps to move the deal forward while respecting their unique personality traits.
4. Who are all the stakeholders involved in this deal?
If you do not know who the players are, you cannot effectively play the game. This question lets you know who will be affected by this transaction and will turn regular deals into true success stories. Make sure that you make the implementation of your product smooth for everyone involved and let your customers experience the value they signed up as soon as possible.
5. Who else are you comparing us with?
Each prospect will have alternatives, be those competing vendors or developing their own in-house solutions. Sometimes the alternative is to not change anything at all. If you know their alternatives, you can position yourself more favorably and frame the deal so that you emerge as the most viable option. This works particularly well if you have the answer to question #2.
6. What's the timeline for making a decision?
This question will help you understand how much investment is needed to make the deal happen and whether or not there is some urgent need for immediate attention. Forecasting opportunities and revenues more accurately will also help you allocate your time and resources more effectively.
7. What's your budget?
If the answer to this question turns out not to be a concrete number, do not worry. The purpose is to start negotiating the price, the key to which is to talk value before price. If they are going to get large returns on their investments, does this mean they are going to make the purchase? The case could also be that they are under financial constraints which makes purchasing above a certain price point impossible even if the investment will pay off tenfold or more. Do they want the best or the cheapest solution?
8. When was the last time you made a purchasing decision for a solution like ours?
This question will help you close a present deal using the past. It is easier to deal with active buyers, those that have recently bought something. If the last time they bought something was some twenty years ago, however, it will make it difficult to get them to make a buying decision. Likewise, if their last purchase was a success, that is a good sign and you want to associate with that. Otherwise, understand why the last purchase did not work out and distance and differentiate yourself from that.
9. What will it take to win your business?
This question will gauge their interest and provide an opportunity for follow-up questions. If they are positive, ask what they are most excited about. If they are negative or neutral, find out what their main concerns are and address them.
10. How do you see your business grow, and your needs changing over the next one or two years?
This question will help you anticipate how a relationship with this prospect will evolve. Selling need not end after the sale. It is possible to increase the business with a given customer manifold by smelling out big opportunities that lie just around the corner and working with them on those.
11. What are other products/solutions you’re currently using that our software has to integrate with?
This question helps you understand the environment in which your solution will have to operate. Do not invest weeks or months into a deal before finding out if it is possible to integrate it. This question is crucial to ask early on in the sales process.
12. What kind of support/service/help do you need to become insanely successful?
This question allows you to find out whether or not the prospect wants to be left alone or wants to be involved in a more collaborative relationship. Both are fine but it is important to know their expectations to provide them with the experience they want.
13. Is there anything that could stop this deal from happening?
This question can often help you get around roadblocks and close the deal sooner.
14. (Bonus from Trish Bertuzzi) Was there a compelling event that caused you to reach out to us?
Asking this question allows you to see how much of a sense of urgency the prospect has.
Overview and Synthesis
You will probably have noticed that these strategies apply to people on several levels of the corporate ladder. The goal is to provide you with a broad spectrum of advice which can be applied to both managerial and positions which deal directly with prospects. The key here is to realize that everything within a company is connected and it is impossible to influence and work on one part in isolation.
All of the pieces of advice presented in this article are solid on their own, but really take effect when used in conjunction with the others. To do this, a good way to integrate and apply these strategies is necessary, as well as a way to find the right people. That is where we at PGN Global come in.
How PGN Global Can Help
Specializing in tech solutions, we provide aid to a plethora of diverse businesses. What we offer is an innovative platform that connects skilled professionals with those who need them. We work both ways: if you are a company owner looking for expert sellers which are in the know about the latest B2B sales methods, we can help you with that; if you are a competent seller well-versed in the methods mentioned in this article, we can connect you with the right people.
If you are thinking of expanding your sales talents or hiring competent employees, do not risk doing it wrong but rather contact us so that we can help you.
B2B sales are not what they once were. It has evolved and transformed from a contest of who can badger the customer into a tentative purchase to a landscape of information provision and empathy. The modern seller can no longer think of prospects as money dispensers but rather must look at them as what they are: people.
In this article, we have provided you with several strategies and approaches you can use when interacting with a modern B2B potential buyer. They contain advice for both people in managerial positions and the sellers themselves.
When transforming your business to be better at B2B sales, it is important to have some sort of help. Similarly, if you are an expert seller, you need a quality service to connect you to potential employers. If this article has struck a chord with you and you fall in either of these two categories, then we at PGN global will be glad to help you. Feel free to contact us, and happy selling.