Three significant trends are re-defining Sales and the role of Sales Reps in the 21st Century:
- Commoditization of products (and services) is diminishing their value as differentiators and empowering customers; they can now buy most of what they need where they like;
- The Internet. Buyers can do their own research, they are no longer dependent on Sales Reps for product information like they used to;
- Personalization of Business. Buyers are people with feelings, needs, likes, dislikes, bias etc and now because of (1) they expect to be treated as such; and they can of course easily share their views. B2B is becoming increasingly social.
Today how you sell is now more important than what you sell and and it is driving what is know called Sales Transformation.
Sales success relies on knowing who’s who in the zoo and interacting effectively with those that have power and influence in buying decisions.
Herein lies the problem with B2B CRM; it is not well adapted to a social business world, simply because they see organizations and not people as the customers. Current business systems (with the possible exception of HR) have no concept of human beings, yet they decide, write checks, use products, call support, complain and so on…they are the organization!
As CRM systems have no concept of people nor of how they relate to and influence each other, they are not suited to working with Social Networks; nor can they manage the type of ‘soft knowledge’ critical to today’s B2B sales teams.
The New Reality of B2B Selling
Despite my earlier comments, there are of course still differences between products; it’s just that commoditization means they’re less obvious than they once were. Technology has been a principal driver of commoditization. Products can be easily replicated; differentiation occurs more quickly than buyers can absorb and differences are often less obvious and/or harder to understand. Increased sameness masks differences; buyers are less likely to notice them when comparing your products to others, particularly if there is nothing that compels them to look.
Unless compelled to do otherwise, buyers make decisions based on their perception of their reality. But perception is not reality; it is merely how we see and feel about things. Today’s effective Sales Reps help buyers bridge the gap between perception and reality. In fact, successful Reps have always done this; the difference today is that it is no longer just one of many techniques; it is now the only one that produces consistent results.
Extensive research by the Corporate Executive Board, published in their book The Challenger Sale, shows that in complex sales today, the ‘Sales Experience’…the buyer’s perception of what Sales Reps do, has more impact on customer loyalty than all other factors combined (e.g. company, brand, price etc). Their research also revealed that the most effective Reps, by an order of magnitude, are what they describe as ‘Challengers’, an apt expression when you consider what it is they do that makes them so effective:
- Take Control
Clearly, being a Challenger involves more than simply having a rapport with buyers. Challengers build partnerships that cause buyers to respect them as Trusted Advisers and so they are able to influence them.
The challenge for B2B sales teams is to build trusted relationships with the people that have power and influence over sales decisions. The need then is to supplement CRM with information management tools that help them do that.
What is a Complex Sale?
Complex sales are those that involve a number of decision makers or buyers; which typically means B2B and high value. By the way, the complexity is not to do with the products or services being sold, it’s about the sales process itself, the need to deal with many buyers (people).
Because selling is personal, there no difference between B2B and B2C at the level of buyer interaction; a person is a person after all, which has been the whole point here. It’s just that in complex sales there are more people, which involves managing the dynamics typical of group or consensus-based decision-making. In addition, the stakes (value of sale) are usually higher and so it’s worth doing it well. That’s really the only difference…in B2C, the payoff often isn’t big enough to make it worth the same time and effort to do it right, but if it is, then of course you should.
The Systems Bias
CRM systems, in fact all business systems, have a ‘contacts’ or position/role-based (rather than people) view of the world. They have no concept of human beings or relationships between them. If you doubt that, consider what happens when a given person is the contact for two organizations e.g. as a director of each. S/he will be two different contacts in a CRM, not a single person performing different roles, like in the real world.
A role bias can be a real trap for reps as it leads to a view that a person’s job title says everything about their role in buying decisions and even worse defines the type of person they are e.g. ‘s/he is a typical CFO, Purchasing Officer, CIO’ or whatever. When that happens objectivity goes out the window, as does the sale!
Sales Reps are often exhorted to get to the C-Level executives as that’s where the power is. It is another example of role-bias. Sure, you must (at the right time) cover those bases, but it can lead to a sales myopia, where you don’t see the influence for the power. The difference is, people in power sign the order…but the influencers get it signed!
People in power invariably rely on other less powerful people for advice. That’s why they appoint them! As sales reps, we overlook those Influencers at our peril. Our job is to both discover ALL the bases and to cover them ALL. We need to know who buyers are rather than what they are. Their opinions, ambitions, needs and behavior says a lot more about how (and how much) they Influence than their job title does.
Remember, buyers (People) are now making decisions based on the ‘Sales Experience’, the quality of interaction with Sellers; put another way it’s about how they personally feel about you and your colleagues. Those types of insights typically aren’t kept anywhere in sales organizations e.g. in systems, where you can easily get to them.
Sales organizations of course keep a history of sales, the products and services purchased by their customers; but what of the people that influenced the decisions? When buyers leave an organization, they are removed as contacts in your system and so the record of their influence goes too. A memory of them and more particularly the role they played may remain in the heads of some people (ready to leave when they do), but as far as the corporate memory is concerned, the CRM or other information systems, they no longer exist. Now when another sales rep encounters one of those buyers in another company s/he starts from scratch in understanding them.
I am strongly of the view that CRM/SFA has a reinforced a systems-view of the world that doesn’t reflect the reality that sales reps inhabit.
Sales isn’t a world of contacts but of influencers, people that are Sponsors, anti-Sponsors or Fence Sitters; of User buyers, Technical buyers and Economic buyers; Mobilizers and Talkers etc. These aren’t job titles but our perception of the roles people play in buying decisions or the behavior they exhibit. For sales information systems to be truly helpful in supporting sales reps they need to see people the same way.
I will be exploring this further in my next post.