Sales September 08, 2014

Winning at B2B sales today

How the outperformers outperform

By Maarten Poot, Marketing Manager 

Closing deals in today’s B2B world is more difficult than in the past. Markets, industries, businesses and even buyers are changing quickly – and significantly. It’s tough out there. So how are top-performing sales people getting it right? Let’s take a closer look.

What’s changed?

Studies confirm what outperforming sales professionals already know – yesterday’s strategies just don’t cut it today. These days, you need to make more calls to reach prospects. And fewer of these calls result in deals. The percentage of proposals that get the go-ahead is dropping. Sales people need to do a lot more than before to reach their targets or to exceed them. In fact, a Harvard Business Review article estimates that only one in 250 sales professionals actually exceeds targets.

This challenging environment is the result of various factors – economic instability, product and service commoditization and unrelenting competition. However, a major factor is the availability of online information.

A new type of customer

Now there’s a new breed of internet-savvy B2B buyers who actively research products and services online and come to the table with solid knowledge about their markets, competitors and their industry’s best practices. Before sales people used to give them these insights.

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In a global study by Avanade, a business technology solutions provider, 61% of decision makers said that other information sources were more important than conversations with sales professionals. When making their purchasing decisions, they look to third-party sites and input from business partners, industry peers or social channels. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that 57% of these decisions are made before buyers even talk to suppliers, as an international Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study discovered.

Some experts even claim that the age of “solution sales” is over. This recognized and popular sales method involved sales people asking open ended questions to understand customers’ needs and then matching them with suppliers’ solutions.

How to win nowadays at B2B sales?

Although researchers highlight the challenges, they’ve also uncovered why some sales people are still successfully closing deals. These individuals are radically different from their less successful counterparts.

Contrary to common sales wisdom, they aren’t “Relationship Builders”, as defined by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, authors of The Challenger Sale. They describe “Relationship Builders” as sales people who work to meet customers’ needs, while focusing on building relationships.

In today’s world, it’s the “Challengers” who get better results, especially when it comes to complex B2B sales. According to Dixon and Adamson: “They learn everything they can about their customers’ businesses and industries, and use these insights to guide customers to operate more effectively and become more profitable. Challengers are excellent debaters, and they push customers to think in new ways.”

Research done by McKinsey&Company, reveals that customers want a rewarding purchasing experience. They found that inadequate product knowledge and contacting customers too frequently accounted for 55% of the behaviours that ruined the experience. B2B outperformers create a fulfilling sales experience and are rewarded over 50% of the time with strong customer loyalty.

Today’s top B2B winners know how to avoid the pitfalls. Their strategies are clear:

1. Use social media:
Winning sales people harness social media platforms like LinkedIn to identify prospects, build connections and share their insights.
2. Talk to the right people:
B2B winners look out for companies in transition or with emerging demands. They focus on buyers, who don’t have a clear understanding of their needs yet.
3. Share relevant information:
They provide customers with new, valuable market insights – information that they won’t find through other sources, such as challenges that similar companies and/or industries face. Even better, they benchmark data, enabling companies to compare their performance with competitors.
4. Provide a unique perspective:
Successful sales professionals challenge customers’ assumptions and objections. By providing new insights, they help them look at situations differently. It’s a way of commercial teaching.
5. Make a solid case:
They build strong business cases, highlighting the financial impact if customers don’t make the necessary changes. Furthermore, they demonstrate how the unique strengths of their offering will support their customers’ businesses.
6. Coach customers:
Winning sales people take control of sales calls, develop a constructive sense of urgency and coach their buyers.

Selling successfully requires skill and practice and these methods may not come naturally to everyone. They are also not a recipe for success. But they do demonstrate that the winners are adapting to the changing business environment and that it is possible for anyone to learn these skills and win at B2B sales.

 

Sources:
The Challenger Sale
• HBR, infographic: Do you really know who your best sales people are?
The new breed of B2B buyer
• Avanade, Mobile and social technologies complicate b2b sales processes
• McKinsey: The Basics of Business-to-Business Sales Success
• Forbes, study: 78% Of Salespeople Using Social Media Outsell Their Peers
• LinkedIn Sales Navigator presentation

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