This article introduces the discovery of a simple and practical approach to improve B2B sales effectiveness. It is especially important for B2B selling organizations with, or trying to adopt, a value selling model. And it’s an approach few organizations have thought about.
The Sales Effectiveness Problem and Core Cause
For B2B selling organizations, there is only one primary sales problem …
… the inability to predictably, reliably and profitably hit your revenue (growth) number.
There are numerous causes.
The cause that seems most pervasive, and not well addressed, is …
… the inability to deliver effective knowledge, conversations, and information, in context, at scale.
These factors are each important and inter-related. But the core cause is ineffective sales conversations. Specifically, the inability to engage new prospects effectively, to speak with insight about the prospect’s business issues, and to create value through how you sell as much as with what you sell.
These are not new ideas. Ineffective sales conversations are a frequent complaint when discussing causes of the overall sales problem. I’m often asked what makes conversations poor, what is missing? Three primary factors are:
Ineffective sellers follow the outdated belief their job is to persuade customers of the strength of their companies, and compelling features of their products and services. How many sales conversations start with the “chest-pounding” recitation of company accolades? How quickly do reps want to get to the product/service explanation, or worse, the demo? They are still showing up with the mindset to “make the sale.” Missing is a deep customer-centric approach. The most effective B2B sales conversations focus on helping customers to better understand and resolve their business challenges, and to make good buying decisions.
Skillset — Questions
It’s a well acknowledged selling principle that conversations should be spent asking the right questions, the right way, and listening. Ineffective sellers lack curiosity and good questioning skills. New or immature reps don’t know what questions to ask, and in what sequence. And that leads to the next factor.
Toolset — ContentS (and Content)
B2B solution or value conversations are inherently complex. Reps need to know a lot of “contentS”: how to open the conversation, the questions to ask, insights to deliver, key points, answers to customer questions, messages that are customer-value-relevant, supporting stories or proof points. It takes too much time through trial and error to learn the specific contentS of every quality conversation. The ability to figure this out is not a common sales trait. This knowledge quickly atrophies if not immediately and regularly used.
Often situation-specific content is needed to support conversations. Think visual support (on screen, paper or whiteboard) in conversations. Content supplements, reinforces and continues every conversation. (See The Most Under-served Content Requirements)
Perhaps you share my experience. More than product, territory, enablement, content, or even luck, the most successful sales people are generally those who conduct the best conversations. And ask the best questions.
Given that, you may wonder why so many organizations still have this challenge? It may be confusion about the best solution approach.
The approaches that are being tried are all over the spectrum. They resemble the “whack-a-mole” experience. Many are expensive and require too much time to meet tight improvement opportunity windows. Over the last two years I discovered and evolved an approach that resolves these issues.
If you have this sales problem, and experience the unresolved sales conversation cause, I invite you to consider this practical approach.
The Solution Approach
“Small moves, smartly made,
can set big things in motion.”
The approach is simple: Design “conversation frameworks” for each key sales conversation.
To design conversations is different than a “messaging” initiative. It will, however, help you identify if, where and why you need to do more work on your core or missing messages.
As John Hagel, with Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, has pointed out in his article Small moves, smartly made, small moves can be a leverage point. But they must be the right moves, executed well. Below are three simple moves that, smartly made, resolve not only the sales conversation core cause, but the pervasive issue of poor and missing sales knowledge and situation-specific content.
Move One — For each stage of the B2B buyer’s decision process define and document the:
- Micro-decision being made at that stage
- Information required for that micro-decision
- Questions buyers ask to acquire that information
- Conversations buyers conduct at that stage
This information provides context and input for the essential next move.
Move Two — Design Conversation Frameworks for each key conversation.
This work figures out the best way to conduct each conversation. Best performers are interviewed. A framework guides this process. Conversation design experience helps. The linked article provides more detail on the activity within this work.
It’s important to note, this is not scripting conversations. Frameworks provide guidelines and important details relevant to each conversation. To develop these well requires time, experience, and focused thinking. They include:
- Pre-call preparation guidance — see Step One above regarding buyer objectives and expectations
- Conversation structure and recommended sequence
- Questions to ask buyers
- Answers to buyer questions
- Key points and value factors
- Support to use: stories, proof, and content
The bonus value of implementing this approach is the identification of the specific support elements that will make your sellers — especially your “B” and “C” grade sellers — even more effective.
So, how do you know your sellers have the all the right knowledge, communication and conversation support, and “content” they require for optimum performance (and no excuses)?
These elements will “fall out” of the work in Move Two. You should be clear about what to look for, and listen for, and how to capture and document the requirement details.
The links above will take you to articles that explain each more thoroughly. These elements form the basis for your sales information and content strategy. (See Why You Need a B2B Sales Information and Content Strategy)
Who Are Conversations Designed For?
Well, sales reps, of course. Yes, but …
Why would you require each member of a team of sales people to figure out the most effective way to conduct every key conversation so it creates value for buyers? Is this really the core competency you hired for? I’m pretty sure it’s not even feasible.
And what about your …
Sales managers who have the same conversation support needs, but also need a coaching framework,
Business development reps, sales engineers, account managers and customer service people. How do you get them to conduct, consistent, effective conversations?
Business partners, or channel sellers,
Your most important constituents who desperately need well-designed conversation frameworks?
The conversations your customers conduct are the most important, make-or-break-the-deal conversations. Why not enable them to conduct the most effective conversations on your behalf?
You will design conversation frameworks for: every sales rep, manager, BDR, SE, AM, CS person, business partner rep, re-seller rep, and customer / buying decision member. Seems like a lot is at stake.
Design once, deliver more consistently in every conversation, acquire feedback on the baseline, iterate and improve, rinse and repeat.
What Isn’t Resolved in This Work?
This isn’t a panacea for all your sales effectiveness issues. The insights you gain through this approach will inform, but not specifically resolve all that impede selling success. You may still have work to be done on your:
- Sales people: their mindset, skillset, training, practice, and discipline to execute new approaches
- Sales prospecting activities other than the conversation
- Sales process alignment and changes to specific selling actions
- Onboarding and training programs
- Sales coaching — (this analysis and documented frameworks makes coaching easier, more effective, and I would say, possible)
- Sales content
But the design conversation frameworks approach is the best way I’ve seen to realized immediate improvements quickly. In addition, This work clarifies the important areas above that still needs attention.
“The money is in the feedback loop.”
Through the process, you will have thought deeply about each constituent, their objectives and challenges, and how best to support them. Their knowledge, conversation support, and situation-specific content requirements become clear.
You will have a framework that is ready to receive and act on experience-based feedback for continuous improvement. Indeed, “the money is in the feedback loop.”
One Sales Reps’ Experience
I knew about planning for meetings, but I had never planned my conversations. The elements of every important conversation has to be mapped out.
We have to be able to guide prospects through a thought process, not a buying process.
Once these conversations are prepared they must be practiced, recorded and coached. I record myself. And what I hear is, I need to talk less. I can hear where I’m not clear, or I’m uncertain. I bring the recording to my manager, or a product manager, for example. They help me work to make it better.”
Vincent Messina – Sales Professional