Ever thought to yourself, “Am I in a conversation, or a jousting match…?”
We’ve all been there. A ritual of “feeling each other out” takes place when you first meet someone. Whether it’s being introduced to someone at a conference, standing up a team of people to tackle a project, or even a first date, it feels like a competition. Sometimes there’s a bit of alpha-ness at play as one tries to assert their authority by outwitting the other with clever conversation or having the firmer handshake. Those with the loftiest titles or most commanding presence are usually given deference. Pecking orders are often established, with one person coming out “on top” and assuming “control” of a conversation.
In sales, the concept of “control” over a conversation is often emphasized. As I’ll explain in a moment, that concept is correct, though not for the reasons usually given when being trained how to sell. Put yourself in the shoes of the beta in a conversation rather than the alpha, as I’m sure you’ve experienced in the past. How did it make you feel, being out of control? If you’re an executive and used to being the alpha yourself, how does it make you feel when a seller comes off as being self-important or overly pontificative? Many companies claim to be customer-centric, but is controlling a conversation really in keeping with the tenet of putting the customer first?
Walking that tightrope between the seller or the buyer “controlling” the sales conversation can be tricky. However, you don’t need to be a member of the Flying Wallendas to effectively navigate a conversation with your clients. And yes, by doing so you are in fact helping your clients and staying true to a customer-centric approach. It helps to first understand the basic dynamics at play.
Deal Velocity Matters
Generally, sellers want a sale to move faster while buyers want to slow a sale down. This is especially true if the seller has made the overture and is attempting to point out why the buyer needs the seller’s solution. The buyer feels as though the seller is simply trying to separate them from their wallet. So, positioning the conversation around an issue that can be examined dispassionately and objectively is step one. This still doesn’t change the fact that buyers want to feather the brakes a bit.
It’s said, more or less accurately, that time kills all deals. It’s usually said from the self-serving viewpoint of the seller, especially when the seller’s manager is breathing down their neck to make their numbers for the quarter. Well, the truth of the matter is that time really is the enemy much of the time, for the client as well as the seller. Why the client, you might ask?
Meet Your Main Competitor – ND, Inc.
Consider that somewhere between 40% to 60% of all opportunities are “lost” to the competitive firm of NDI, or No Decision, Incorporated. Why do you suppose that is?
Think About How You Purchase (B2C)…
Think back to a non-business (B2C) purchase you may have considered where it seemed to take forever to decide and, ultimately, you opted to not purchase at all (or at least not at that time). See if any of these reasons ring a bell:
- It was something you wanted but, when you thought about it, didn’t actually need it.
- You didn’t have the budget.
- You needed to “do more research”.
- When you Googled the product category or problem, the seller’s company didn’t pop up as one of the first few listings. Worse, didn’t pop up until the fourth page of results.
- You discovered other items that looked prettier, sounded better (as described by the marketing material), and had better advertising.
- You looked at so many different options that you got confused and decided to just come back to your research later.
- The 1-star customer reviews you started looking at, even though there were only a few, made you hesitant.
- You wanted to talk to someone who had purchased before and couldn’t find anyone who you knew.
- There’s a good friend whose opinion you trust that you wanted to run it past, even though they’d never purchased anything like that before.
- You wanted to run it past someone you know has had experience in the general category of purchase you’re thinking about – a trusted advisor.
- You wanted to run it past your significant other – someone with the ultimate power to say “no”.
… Then Translate Your B2C Experience to B2B
All of these come into play when you’re selling B2B as well, except you can replace “significant other” with “CFO”. Add to that the fact – FACT, mind you – that many businesses simply have a poor or non-existent decision-making process. A decision-making process might involve the following:
- Understanding and articulating the problem that is trying to be solved – which is a larger issue than most understand.
- Identification of alternative solutions. If you think about it, when there are no alternative solutions, then there are no decisions to be made…
- Listing of criteria, both objective and subjective in nature.
- A review of and consensus on the necessary criteria.
- A weighing of the criteria – everything can’t be equally important.
- A scoring of criteria among all the alternatives.
- Making the decision – which is an emotional activity, not a rational one.
How imperative it is to solve the problem QUICKLY (or right this very instant) rather than later can significantly throw the decision-making process for a loop, if not kill the process altogether. When you’ve just been in a car accident, for example, and are being rushed to the ER, you don’t typically take the time to ask what ER you’re going to, what your treatment options are, and research your alternatives – you just want that pain to stop, yesterday. If the problem you’re solving is an emergency to your client, then you focus more on an emotional purchase than one driven by a rational decision-making process. This also leads to a discussion about business ethics (read: ambulance chasing), but we’ll save that discussion for another time. More often than not, however, there’s time for a proper and rational decision-making process.
Get Comfortable with Applying Pressure
The main point is this: As a seller, you need to be comfortable with applying pressure for the benefit of the client. You should think about your “coulda/woulda/shoulda” story, and if you don’t have one yet then trust me, you will. Mine is a missed opportunity to get in on the ground level of a certain office supply company before it took off like a rocket ship. I heard the subtle offer, was busy with some other project, decided I couldn’t be bothered to research it a little bit more, and whoosh – that opportunity passed me by. I could have, would have, and maybe should have had a very different life right now. As Marcus Tullius Cicero is once said to have opined, “More is lost by indecision than wrong decision. Indecision is the thief of opportunity. It will steal you blind.”
So, buyers resist and sellers push. However, sellers need to push gracefully, kindly, and on rare occasions with a bit of “tough love”. Understand that buyers are dealing with a tremendous amount of noise. This is especially true since the turn of the century and the advent of the Internet; a veritable avalanche of information appears in every Google search. They’re being pushed and jostled to purchase by two primary things: SEO (search engine optimization) and pay-to-play rankings, neither of which translates directly to good quality of offering or the optimal solution to a customer’s problems. Buyers are less confident in their buying decisions today as well. This is mainly because human contact – a.k.a. face-to-face meetings – has been sidelined in favor of virtual or asynchronous purchasing methodologies (Zoom, virtual marketplaces, etc.).
The Right Way to Push
Try the following to get yourselves and your clients unstuck:
- Help them precisely identify and articulate the problem they’re trying to solve. Their perceived problem may be the symptom of a deeper problem which is the actual cause of their issues. It may also be a problem that your offering won’t help solve. If this is the case, then you should bow out of the sales pursuit gracefully. As the saying goes, “Win fast, and lose faster.”
- Ensure a business case exists. In B2C, you can sell on want alone – nobody needs a Ferrari, after all. In B2B, however, there must be a business need, or the probability of making the sale drops to nearly zero.
- Determine if your client has a decision-making process in place and offer to help them develop one if they don’t. You’d be surprised how many don’t. You’ll be equally surprised at the amount of trust and goodwill doing so will develop.
- Coach your clients when they appear to be slowing down or are stalled. Use a simple methodology like GROW, apply SMART goals, and work with your client to clear their log jam.
- Ensure the value your solution will bring is being understood by all the decision-makers. It’s 100% guaranteed – 100% – that the rational argument you’re making to your champion is being filtered and diluted each time it’s discussed behind closed doors. Mitigate this by packaging your offering as a story, with emotion, and with the decision-makers as the heroes. Good stories don’t change much in their retelling, so the messaging will likely be more consistent when retold.
- Most importantly – ask for the sale! Believe it or not, most sellers don’t, mainly because they’re afraid of the answer they’ll get.