Over the previous four months, Scale Your Sales Weekly Podcast has had fantastic guests that have generously given their knowledge, experience, and insights. I founded the Scale Your Sales framework to help growth companies scale through leverage their customer relationships and accelerate sales revenue through customer experience. I asked the guest of Scale Your Sales Podcast how customer-centric the B2B selling environment is? The guest also offered practical strategies to enable buyers to buy and built a long term trusted customer relationship. So, let get started:
First, on the shifting to be buyer and customer-centric, this is what the experts had to say:
Nikki Finucan does not think B2B sales has shifted nearly enough to make it more customer-centric. You can see that through the phone calls you get, through the LinkedIn messages. Everything they write or speak is wholly about them and their company, rather than a problem they can help a potential client or even existing client solve. This comes from top-down behaviours as well.
Kristie Jones thinks we are making strides, but we are not where we need to be as professional salespeople. Sales reps must understand the need for discovery; they are doing a better job of asking better questions to uncover pain. However, the issue is that sales reps think that discovery is a one-time event and are not weaving discovery into every step in the sales cycle. For example, most demos Kristie Jones sit in on are me, me, me! She recently did a demo with a CRM vendor with a client of hers for an hour and not only did they not ask one question, but the Sales Engineer was the only one on the call, the sales rep did not even bother to show up!
Although we have made great strides says Bev Hancock, we could still be far more effective in this space. Customers are looking for a personal and integrated experience. A great sales experience is integrated with the employee experience through the entire organisation. Leading the customer experience journey is at the heart of sales leadership.
Tom Williams says every organisation claims to be customer-centric and many have a nice diagram that they show to their customers to prove it. However, most organisations do not understand how their customers buy, so they follow their sales process and then they are surprised when customers do not buy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused all messaging in sales to be scrutinised, reviewed, and pivoted, says Lori Richardson. There are still a good percentage of sellers out there who are more like order takers and price-droppers. They do not understand consultative selling or selling value. The consultative sellers will keep doing what they have done – listening to their buyers and solving problems.
Leigh Ashton says it has had to shift because the client/customer/buyer is so much more informed. There are still many old school corporates and sales professionals out there, but they are not as successful as they could be because they focus on the numbers rather than the human relationship and the long term.
Colleen Stanley says, do not focus on what has changed as much as what has not changed in sales. Sure, buyers are more educated; however, they are also more overwhelmed with data. A professional salesperson still provides value by helping buyers cut through the clutter and focus on the sales levers that are genuinely going to make a difference in sales outcomes. The modern seller still needs to develop good old fashioned selling skills such as listening and diagnosing the real business problem, not just presenting the problem.
Today, customers want us to meet them on their terms, make it personal, and keep making it better for them says Rakhi Voria. Customers want an experience that is channel-agnostic and consistent. They want to self-serve and know that we can meet them where they are and engage at the right time. They want a more personalised, streamlined experience, designed to meet the specific needs of their business. Sellers need to bring real value to the conversation to drive successful business outcomes and build trust. Finally, Agility is key to customers’ expectations of services – they expect Sellers to anticipate their needs and be ready to produce solutions tailored to them.
B2B used to be all about the solution sale, based on fulfilling your organisational objectives. The way the world is now must focus on a deep understanding of the client’s needs, said Enza Burgio. If you do not have that synergy and joint vision, there is no place for you. Your words, actions and services must support the client and them alone. What works is understanding your client before you approach them and knowing what they want. You should already know if you are a fit for them – this will come across as genuine authenticity when you start the dialogue.
Tom English said, there has been a shift towards customer-centricity since he started working in B2B sales. With the higher engagement of end-users when their needs are met is an example of customer-centricity. A massive win-win for you and your customers is ensuring that your buyers’ buyers get maximum value from our products.
Discussing what practical strategies would enable buyers to buy, or sellers to build long-term trusted customer relationships:
The first thing in this climate you want to do is breathe, said Lisa Earl McLeod. You need to identify how you helped customers in the past and ask. Is that still valuable? Is that still helpful, or has it changed some? When you have a super clear story in your head about how you could make a difference to your customers, only then do you have the right mindset to reach out.
Rakhi Voria said having a digital platform that is a one-stop-shop for all our customer needs is critical. We have the IBM marketplace. In one place, customers can find products and services to fit their needs – analytics, blockchain, cloud, AI, Its infrastructure, etc. they can search by technology, by business needs, by type (i.e. software vs hardware), customers offers and trials.
Sales begin with a trusted customer relationship said, Carole Railton. Body language is a way of understanding both the customer and yourself better. When you are in sync with your own and your customer’s body language, says Carole, you have a much better chance of influencing and building a lasting relationship. The first sale becomes easier your time with the client is reduced because you are speeding up communications working on the same wavelength as the client.
Enza Burgio said you must have a plan for your client and yourself, creating a joint vision that will be good for both parties. If you have something new to offer, then be direct but humble about it. Hidden agendas do not work these days.
The strategy of asking more powerful questions and listening to the answers, said Lori Richardson, solve problems and helps to up-level buyers.
Tom English said you must understand the job that buyers are ‘hiring’ your product/service to do. As Theodore Levitt put it, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
Bev Hancock suggests using conversational strategies that build loyalty and retention – the pot of gold for sustainable business. These strategies are designed to move customers (both internal and external) from resistance to co-creating value and innovation. Conversational techniques quite literally rewire the brain and are designed to build trusted relationships which are the heart of culture.
Colleen Stanley said the most effective strategy that is talked about a lot and used little is customising the prospecting approach. We all receive one-size-fits-all prospecting messages every day that end up deleted. Customising requires empathy and delayed gratification skills, which is why so few sellers conduct effective outreach.
Trust is earned and not given, says Kristie Jones. Trust between a customer and a company starts day one. Kristie suggests:
- Everyone at the company walks their talk.
- They show up for appointments: On-time.
- Get prepared for meetings with client’s – respecting their time.
- They do what they say – sending follow up emails/resources.
“ownyourownsh.t,” says Kristie Jones, everyone screws up now and then; it is how a company/employee handles those issues that make or breaks the relationship with the customer. Own it and ask the customer how we can make it right?
Leigh Ashton said it is always the human element. Help them achieve what the customer really wants in a way that is super easy for them. Really understand their map of the world and not just from a business perspective but a holistic perspective that takes in all pieces of the jigsaw!
One of the things we have used for years is a Collaboration Plan or Mutual Action Plan, said Tom Williams. It is a plan between the buying and selling organisations to explore the joint feasibility and benefits of a partnership. It is a sharing of ideas, concerns, capabilities, and obstacles that must be addressed and overcome in formalising an agreement. The Plan guides the buyer and seller through a complex decision process that otherwise might be delayed, stalled, or set aside. From the seller’s perspective, the Collaboration Plan keeps selling activities buyer-focused and connected to the needs of the customer. For the buyer’s position, the Plan ensures joint efforts navigate the hurdles and barriers and ensure that the buying organisation is change ready.
Next week I will post part two of this article discussing diversity in sales and they also offering practical tried and tested strategies and top tips to help you Scale Your Sales. To not miss it this rich advice from influence and experts in sales.