This article was originally written for and published in B2B News Network.
There’s no shortage of excellent B2B sales tips out there. Here are a few I believe in:
- Listen more than you talk.
- Empathize — put yourself in their shoes (this one is very near and dear to me — it’s what I named my business).
- Stop pushing. Start helping.
- Sell benefits …. not features — an oldie and a goodie.
- Ask a question and then (gently) probe the response to learn more. Lather, rinse, repeat. Find out what is really going on.
But there’s a way of looking on the sales process that I like, rather than the generic behaviours above. It’s an approach based on risk and timing and the actors involved — step by step, person by person.
Let me illustrate with a story, loosely based on a recent successful sales experience. By the by, in case you didn’t know me, I run a marketing consultancy in Toronto. Which means a large portion of my job is in B2B sales.
From Rosa to Julie
Say you have been introduced to Rosa, a manager at an organization, as an expert who might be able to help.
You have an introductory call. Rosa invites you to a discovery meeting with her broader team, including her boss (the VP — Julie). At the end of the meeting you commit to writing a proposal, which you later present in person.
After signing part of the proposal, you’re invited to talk the bigger picture with a broader team. This time with the CEO — or maybe representation from the board for the final decision.
During all of those meetings everyone comes to the table with their own biases and pain points. Which you have to be mindful, and address. That’s a given. But another way of thinking about this is to determine what the decision is that you want the person to make and work to minimize the risk of that decision … in that moment.
Let’s go back to Rosa and Julie and their team, and elaborate on this one.
The intro call
You are talking to Rosa the manager, a.k.a the gate-keeper. You’re looking for one simple yes decision: open the gate, invite you in to see if/where you can help.
Some of the biggest risks here — reasons for a ‘no’ — could be:
- They discover you’re not a subject matter expert. They look foolish and incompetent in front of their team.
- You turn out to be not personable, and/or a poor listener. We’ve all been at that party, right? Where we introduce one friend to another and instantly feel and hear the gears grinding. It may not be a direct reflection of your judgment, but it sure is uncomfortable.
How do you minimize risk for this one?
Go back to basics. You’ll be judged by your online footprint, your common friend, your past performance, and your knowledge during your conversation. Make sure all of your ducks are in a row; each one can help position you as the go-to person, making Rosa feel safer about the invite.
By the same back-to-basics token, active listening and practicing empathy will make you more likeable. There’s a ton of information online on behavioural techniques for salespeople. I’m no expert on those, and this article isn’t about that, but it never hurts to keep up on the topic.
First meeting (the brief)
Great! you’ve landed the first meeting. Congratulations! You’re meeting Rosa’s boss — Julie the VP — for the first time.
What do you want Julie to do? You want her to invite you to submit a proposal.
Possible risks? You may be wasting her time, always a scarce resource, by:
- being outside of her budget ballpark
- not understanding the problem well enough
- any number of other reasons.
How do you mitigate? Ask questions. Take notes. Listen carefully. Be in the moment.
Now, what about her teammates? The risk for them could be that their concerns and deliverables will not be addressed in your proposal.
So make sure to give everyone an opportunity to speak and be heard. Actively ask the more quiet ones to voice their opinion (you may be surprised at how much they have to say!). A genuine team “yes” is much better than a top-down, “you-have-to-do-this” yes.
Of course, all this gets more complex as you move deeper into the sale cycle. As you pitch Julie, who is your gateway to the CEO, some of her concerns might be:
- Can they deliver?
- How big of of a commitment is this — what percentage of my budget am I asking to be entrusted to one vendor?
The rest of the team still have their own concerns. And when you do meet the CEO, she also has her own risks to consider. For example, if my senior team leaves, can you maintain the strategy?
Make it visual
At one point you might consider drawing a risk matrix. I find it helps keep me focused and on my best game through the sales process.
This tool can help you crystalize the possible risk factors that each individual carries and it gives you a better chance to address them in a planned, structured fashion.
As always, it’s personal
Ultimately, B2B sales is one of the more personal areas of business.
If you can help people in organizations do their job better, faster, or more effectively AND make them look good in front of their bosses, you become a value-add and an easy hire.
Next time you’re following up on a good lead, make it your job to understand what the risk is to each team member, throughout the sales cycle. It’s an excellent way of increasing sales success.