Selling is about Buying

In earlier posts we looked at how B2B selling is becoming increasingly personal, so much so in fact that it now about ‘buying’ rather than ‘selling’, which reflects the ongoing shift in power from sellers to buyers. This is driving ‘Sales Transformation’ (the move to buyer-centric sales approaches) in enterprises. However, organization culture and systems e.g. CRM, still have a way to go in gaining and using the personal insights these new approaches require, as exemplified by the general confusion about ‘Social’ in B2B.

Selling is now about interacting with people as people, not simply as contacts that reflect job positions in organizations, as who a person is impacts their decision making as much, if not more so, than what they are. That’s the theme of this post, but first let’s quickly review how selling has evolved to this point.

Up until the 1980’s selling was product-based. Customers were seen as consumers of products and selling concentrated on product features/benefits, rather than customer need. That then gradually morphed into solution-selling where product pitches became more individualized by customer, which was/is still essentially a product-centric approach, as vendors considered ‘solutions’ to be a function of their product, rather than customer need. Eventually for many vendors, selling did become less product and more need focused, but the need was that of an organization rather than of individual buyers.

‘Solution selling’ is arguably an oxymoron, as by definition, there can be only one solution in a sale…whatever it is the buyer buys!

It is not a little ironic that the shift to personalized (high-touch) selling is substantially driven by technology (low-touch). But that’s the point; technology is leveling the playing field and so differentiation is increasingly down to people, not products and services. In fact, research by the Sales Executive Council revealed that the ‘Sales Experience’ i.e. Sales Rep/Buyer interaction, now has more impact on customer loyalty in B2B complex sales than all other factors combined e.g. product, company, price etc.

Similarly on the buy side, buying is of course about people too. An organization to organization sale is essentially a combination of many personal one-on-one sales, or rather ‘buys’. Let me just reiterate that as it is a critical distinction…a B2B buy is not a decision made by an inanimate ‘organization’, but a consensus of individuals each of whom has their own opinions and biases.

People that Buy

The good news is there are typically relatively few people within an organisation involved in each buy decision. The bad news is; it is often not obvious who they are or should be. It is the Sales Reps job to discover and then cover them.

Setting aside CPO’s and other purchasing professionals whose roles are self-explanatory, most people involved in making or influencing buying decisions don’t wear badges telling you that’s what they’re doing…nor the roles they’re playing. That is a problem when relying on traditional information systems perspectives e.g. organization charts, for insights into how organizations decide and buy. It leads to the perception that a person’s job title (power) says something about their impact on decisions (influence); effective reps know that is rarely the case.

Human insights gained through personal interaction are essential to understanding and influencing how decisions get made. As I discussed in my last post, power and influence often don’t go together, yet many sales organizations assume organization charts say something about decision-making. They focus on power e.g. C-level execs, and overlook influence. The reality is though that people who make decisions often don’t come up with the answers; they rely on others to advise (influence) them. Effective sales reps understand that and create environments in which people (anyone with power or influence in an opportunity) will buy.

From ‘Products’ to ‘Interaction’

Organizations are implementing Sales Transformation projects to transition from traditional selling to personalized or interaction-based methods. These new approaches involve understanding individual buyer needs, what s/he thinks or feels, how s/he is influenced and how best to interact with him/her, none of which appears in their Job Title.It means interacting in a way where you are clearly providing value by helping him/her to be more successful.

These approaches are not actually new, the best reps have always sold that way. What has changed is that the product-centric methods that may once have worked for their less effective colleagues are are now ceasing to do so; so the how you sell vs. what you sell approach is now becoming the only way to sell. The skills intuitive to top performers need to be learned by their colleagues. In addition, support systems for all salespeople need new capabilities that provide the personal insights essential for effective interaction with people of power and influence.

…that’s the subject of my next post

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