One of the early questions I ask prospective B2B clients is:
“When you go-to-market through your marketing and sales functions, what percent of your target prospects are actively looking for what you’re selling, and what percent are unaware of their problem or your solution category, and so you have to create the opportunities?”
I refer to this as “find vs. create opportunity selling.” Ever since I became aware of this distinction it has informed my thinking and approach to all B2B sales and marketing strategy and tactics. It provides a critical context. Most B2B leaders either are unaware of this idea, or don’t give it the consideration it deserves.
“Find opportunities” are where prospects know they have a problem. They have a good understanding of the problem and it’s impact or cost on the business (reason to change).
They understand generally what they need to solve the problem. What they are looking for relates to your product or service category in the market. They also have a pretty good idea of what they expect to pay.
Find opportunity prospects are actively searching. Marketing tactics such as advertising, inbound and content marketing, and SEO are effective here. On the sales side, B2B sales teams use business development reps (BDRs), to find and qualify opportunities for sales reps to work with, through the close stage.
Find opportunities could also be those where:
- Awareness can be easily triggered
- Prospects can switch products
- Renew services
- A new but clear problem develops
- New solutions are developed for significant but we’ll known problems
Unfortunately, at any given time for most B2B segments, only 3 to maybe 10% of prospects are “find opportunities.”
Create Sales Opportunities
Given this setup, “create sales opportunities” seem pretty clear. But there are many nuanced and challenging factors that complicate create opportunities, especially if they aren’t distinguished and carefully considered. This is the case in most organizations I meet.
This distinction does help explain why lead generation results, sales prospecting effectiveness, sales win rates, and new customer acquisition targets routinely are missed.
Let’s look at three related factors associated with create opportunities:
Understand the Business Problem:
Buyers aren’t actively looking possibly because they aren’t aware of the problem. Business problems often aren’t surfaced to levels where awareness leads to a decision to act.
Everyone lives with problems. Problems compete just like products compete. And budgets compete. So only the most significant, well understood, and prioritized problems get addressed. If buyers don’t understand the magnitude of the impact of the problem on the business it won’t get attention.
Understand Solution Approach and Capabilities:
For any problem there are many possible causes. This is why we find the Problem-Cause model so helpful. Create sales opportunities require buyers and sellers to identify core causes of the problem that when addressed, will materially resolve the problem.
Even when buyers are aware of the problem they may have mis-diagnosed the causes of the problem. This might have them looking for solutions in another category from your offer.
As CEB have shown in their Challenger Customer work (see Unpacking Challenger Customer), B2B buying teams (average 5.4 stakeholders) must reach consensus about both the problem and the solution approach for effective decision making.
Sellers create opportunities when they help buyers understand their options and agree on a specific solution approach. This applies also to capabilities required to execute that approach. Sellers must help define and prioritize capabilities that relate to their unique or high value features.
Understand how to buy, deploy, and get results from the solution:
Often buying teams made up of cross-function stakeholders don’t actually know the best way to procure a solution. They may not even be aware of basic company procurement procedures.
Perceptions about potential difficulties, from acquisition through deployment and result realization, can derail the initiation of an active buying process. Other mitigating factors that must be addressed in create opportunities are team competencies, motivations, political factors and other biases.
For B2B create opportunities there IS NO buyer decision process — to start! This has implications for lead generation and prospecting approaches. It should affect lead definitions. It might refine your definition of sales ready and forecast ready opportunities (see below).
Find vs Create Approaches
The marketing and sales process for find opportunities tends to be the more traditional, product-feature-benefit approach. Product marketing tactics work here. Sales is demo oriented. The sales process is fast-paced. Sales value conversations are based on product and feature comparison to direct competitors, and price.
Where find opportunities tend to be an “inside out” product sale, create opportunities must be an “outside in” approach. It must start with the problems buyer “must solve” (vs. nice to have).
This is why developing a deep understanding of buyers through buyer persona, buying decision process modeling, mental models and other techniques, is so important.
It’s also why innovative insights (CEB calls this commercial insight) are essential. Buyers believe they understand their current situation. Unless and until new and compelling insights are introduced, the tendency of the buyer’s business “system” to remain at stasis will persist.
Initiating Create Sales Opportunities
So how do you begin to create sales opportunities?
- Use the “find” approach, of course! Only instead of finding people who want your kind of product, find:
— Companies with the problem you solve
— People who get the problem
— People and conditions where they are open or ready to solve the problem
- Engage more as a “buyer of customers” than an active seller. Be skeptical and patient. Qualify — quietly but aggressively.
- Be ready to educate and support buyer stakeholders.
- Adopt a 3 separate sales approach.
This is another area where I think the Challenger Customer work is useful. The first “sale” is to get stakeholders with different objectives, biases and viewpoints to agree on the nature and cost of the problem. (A – breaking down the status quo.)
Create opportunities, by definition, mean this problem may not have an owner, plan or budget. These have to be created.
The second sale is to gain consensus for the solution approach and capabilities that map to your key features and capabilities. (B – build up the solution approach.)
Unless and until these two “sales” are completed in ways that meet your winning sales criteria, YOU DON’T HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY.
This helps explains why:
- Sales pipelines and forecasts are not reliable. Sales teams are pre-mature in defining opportunities. Buyers are still in investigation stage. It might also explain the 27% “no decision” data.
- Marketing and sales collaboration is so important.
- We believe key sales conversations need to be designed (tested and continually improved.) It naturally results in many complex and different conversations. It’s impractical and ineffective for each rep to have to figure out each conversation.
- We believe a new sales competency is the ability to use content to educate buyers. Often, in Challenger Customer parlance, this is to “unlearn” buyers who have self-educated to sub-optimal perspectives.
Unless marketing and sales organizations have a clear, effective, and coordinated strategy to create opportunities with prospects, new customer acquisition performance suffers.
Start this conversation in your organization by asking: “How do we market and sell differently to find versus create opportunities?”
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