Facilitating the B2B Buyer JourneyFeb 02, 2022
By Mike Bosworth
Statistics tell us that 50% of all non-technical graduates of four-year colleges will spend some career time as salespeople. There are over 4000 colleges and universities in the United States. Among them, only about 200 have more than two courses in selling or sales management. Making matters worse, most college business schools that teach marketing and sometimes sales teach B2C sales and marketing — business to consumer. The vast majority of business graduates have no concept of operating in the B2B enterprise selling world.
I love guest lecturing (Zoom these days) at colleges and universities. So many of the kids I meet have a similar drive that I had when I attended Cal Poly, Pomona – I was majoring in business because I was tired of being poor. I wanted to qualify for a job where I could make money. I ask these college kids the question, "how many of you would like to make some serious money while you are still in your 20s?" Many hands go up. I then explain that if you want to make some serious money in your 20s, you will have to start your own successful business or learn how to sell productivity and profitability improving systems and services to the enterprise. If you go into law or medicine, you won't make any serious money until your mid-30s.
If you decide you would like to venture into the enterprise B2B world, you will find it challenging to find a firm that does it well. Today, the vast majority of companies selling productivity improvement to the enterprise are imposing their sale cycles, their sales processes, their time-sensitive goals, their product features, their demos, their pipeline milestones ON TO their suspects and prospects. Most bad seller behavior results from management pressure at the end of the month, quarter, and year to "close" more sales! Offer a discount! Ask more closing questions! Get them to buy before the end of our quarter.
If you want to learn how to facilitate the enterprise buying process, you will face some resistance from your 'old school' sales management. This is because so many 'old school' sales executives have no clue how to help you initiate a human connection with your buyers. Are you able to learn and practice human connection on your own? Are you able to consciously modify your behavior? How capable are you of assimilating advice and coaching from others? Parents, managers, friends, coaches, therapists?
Modifying your mindset.
It is a significant change in mindset for most' salespeople to transition from seller to buying facilitator. This transition scares many salespeople because they (in their minds) feel like they will have to give up control to their buyers. However, giving up control of their sale cycle or sales process allows their buyers to control their natural buying process. Most people hate to feel sold to, but LOVE to buy. Buying feels so much better because we are taking action to satisfy our own needs when we buy. That feels good for most of us.
Coaching behaviors your sellers will need to succeed.
Most salespeople need expert help to transition from product pusher to buying facilitator. In theory, this help should come from their first-line manager. Sadly, most first-line sales managers were hired or promoted to their positions because they are really good salespeople. Most outstanding salespeople get frustrated as managers when they realize they cannot teach their sellers to do what they did intuitively. It is a significant change in mindset for most sales managers to transition from driving activity and numbers to pre and post-sales call coaching. Coaching their sellers on building and using selling stories, coaching them to tend their buyer's stories – stories about the buyer's pains, reasons, and buying visions, coaching their sellers to document buying visions, and managing their buyer's corporate buying methodologies and coaching their sellers to provide expert proof. Coaching their sellers to get ready for and anticipate price objections. And so on….
Who is looking at you?
In our workshops, we ask our participants to "tell us about your sales territory." Most sellers are pretty good at telling me the details of their territory – "all organizations in specified SIC codes with a minimum of x employees, in the State of Michigan." They usually have a pretty exact number – "4320 potential suspects." The next question I ask gets more interesting. I ask them, "right now today (I give the current date), what percentage of those 4320 organizations have an active evaluation going on right now, looking for what you offer?" An active evaluation where they have published an RFP/RFI with specific detailed requirements. In the B2B world I have operated in for so many years, the most frequent answer is 5%.
Who should be looking at you?
If 5% are actively looking, there is some market awareness of the capabilities you offer. Over the years, I worked with many start-up organizations offering new, disruptive "solutions" where no one was looking.
Still, even if 5% are already looking, this means that 95% of your targeted buyers and organizations are not looking for what you bring to the market. The primary reasons for not looking are ignorance and rationalization. Ignorance about what capabilities you bring to the table and rationalization that the problems you help solve are unsolvable. Some "not lookings" are burn victims – they tried to solve that problem and failed. Also, there are probably some 'not lookings' that have purchased capabilities like yours in the past 18 months and are still implementing.
This analysis leads to your real market opportunity – What percentage should be looking at you?
There is a big difference in prospecting techniques for sellers looking for people already looking versus looking for people who should be looking.
Getting people who should be looking at you to look.
Once we have the mindset of helping people buy – helping people see how you can help them make money, save money, achieve goals and or solve problems – then initiating new enterprise buy cycles is surprisingly easy. The first step for potential buyers moving from should be looking to looking is curiosity. Peer curiosity. Most enterprise buyers are very curious about how one of their peers has already figured out how to solve a problem they have not yet figured out.
Professional peer curiosity is a powerful emotion in most professional adults. If I meet you at a networking event and your badge tells me you are a VP of Sales, what if I say to you, "Oh, you are a VP of Sales! Can I share a quick story with you about a VP of Sales I have been working with for the past 18 months?" the odds are about 99% that you will say "yes!" I get you (a stranger) to grant me 60 seconds of storytime in ten seconds because you are curious about your peer. You are now anticipating a story about one of your peers.
What if I can tell you that story conversationally in 60 seconds?
What if that story had a 'setting' where I introduced your peer character to you? – Background, resume details, type of organization, and a funny detail about her?
What if that story had the professional struggles of your peer? Her struggles with not enough in her pipeline to cover her quota. Her struggles with a small number of reps having to carry the whole group. Her struggles with long ramp-up times for new reps.
What if that story had a scenario where your peer (my customer hero) discovered that my organization could give her the help she needed to fill her pipeline? That she decided to give Story Seekers a shot at helping her become a hero?
What if that story has current business metrics around her successful use of our skills training? And some emotional benefit too? – more time with family, potential promotion, etc.
The focus of this story is how your peer became a hero at her company. I am not the hero; my organization is not the hero, our training workshops are not the hero – SHE is the hero!
When sellers tell well-crafted customer hero stories to targeted buyers, in 60 seconds, a stranger can come to some emotional conclusions about them:
This person gets me – this person understands how hard my job is.
This person has helped my peer solve a challenging problem.
Hope for a solution
Wanting to know more
At this point, after 60 seconds, a stranger can become a prospect by admitting pain to the seller. At Story Seekers, we call such a story a Customer Hero Story.
Sellers can now execute intelligent discovery with discovery resistance (resistance to feeling sold to) eliminated by their Customer Hero Story. With long times from hire date to achieving solution expertise, we recommend that our client organizations get their top situational experts for each targeted buyer persona to write intelligent discovery prompters for sellers.
A prompter for each targeted buyer persona:
Potential reasons for each pain
Potential solution capabilities (deliverable by their product) for each pain The goal of intelligent discovery is to help our prospect(s) develop buying visions.
A prospect has a buying vision when they can verbalize solving their problem using a capability provided by the seller. Intelligent discovery prompters make it much easier for new sellers to effectively tend buying visions while developing their own solution expertise over time.
When selling complex, expensive, intangible "solutions," most sellers realize that their buyers will require actual proof that the seller's offering can deliver on the capabilities in the buying vision. Ideally, at a scheduled proof session, the seller introduces her pre-sales engineer to her buyer by verbally summarizing the elements of the pain, reasons, and buying vision to the engineer. Most pre-sales engineers I have known want to see the buying vision letter before the proof meeting to prepare. With a well-developed buying vision, the sales role of your product expert becomes proof. Not education, not interest 'arousal' – no more 'death by demo.'
Selling to the rest of the buying committee.
Ideally, our prospect volunteers to sponsor us to the entire buying committee by sharing the buying vision letter with all interested parties, including necessary C-Level approvers.
Now, the seller can negotiate and facilitate the prospect's proposal process.
A critical qualification step for lengthy, expensive, resource-intensive campaigns is getting a mutual agreement between seller and buyer on the definition of a 'proposal.'
Will you want a proposal from me?
I recommend asking the entire buying committee (ideally all in the same room or Zoom meeting) this question:
"If we get to a point in time where it looks like we want to do business together, will you want a proposal from me?" (I have yet to hear a 'no' in answer to that question.)
I then get out a notepad and ask: "What will you want to see in a proposal from me?"
After I record and clarify the proposal requirement of each committee member, I then fill in the blanks. By fill in the blanks, I mean that if the buyer didn't mention a particular item that I know I would encounter 80%+ of the time, I can then start asking, "will you also want/need a _______?"
Following is a starter list off the top of my head, based on selling to the enterprise for 40+ years. Your list should be a combination of what the buyer said they would want in their proposal along with your list of "will you also want a _______?" or "will a _______ review be required?" questions.
Proof of buying vision
Vendor and buyer resources defined
Purchasing department review
Implementation support requirements
Return on investment calculated and agreed on
Success metrics defined
Legal review (who is liable for what)
Date for pre-proposal review
Date for signed agreements
Date for the first implementation meeting
Mutually define the purpose and content of your proposal
Once you complete your list, say to your buyers, "I want you all to know right now that there will be no new information in any proposal I deliver to you." I clarify that you will know it as soon as I know something (like cost, for instance). I am not going to make my prospect wait for the proposal to learn anything!
"The purpose of a proposal from my (our) point of view is to document and confirm all the key elements of our agreement to do business together."
"I would like to meet with all of you one week before I owe you your proposal so I can review all my notes, all our correspondence, and verbal agreements before I go to press on your proposal. I call this a pre-proposal review. A pre-proposal review allows me to complete your proposal right the first time. I hate doing version control on proposals."
Get agreement to the proposal definition and pre-proposal review before going any further with this prospect.
Verbally confirm your list and end the meeting with, "I will compile these events into the first draft of a written evaluation plan." It will have columns for the event, timing, person responsible, who should attend, and most importantly, multiple Go/NOGO decision points. Each go/no go will be marked with an asterisk (*). At the bottom of the proposed plan, the asterisk is defined, "After each of these steps, we will pause and mutually agree to proceed to the next step or to 'pull the plug.' If it does not feel right for both of us, it ends. "Print it, read it, mark it up, and at that point, we can have a Zoom meeting to agree to the elements of your evaluation plan mutually."
The beauty of this approach is that you will rarely produce a proposal you do not win. If the buyer has said 'yes' multiple times for multiple events, the contract signing almost becomes a 'non-event,'
In our workshops, we coach sellers and sales managers in preparing for and handling price negotiations and Phase III risk mitigation.
Don't miss a beat!
New moves, motivation, and classes delivered to your inbox.
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.