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The Trend That Can Kill Your B2B Sales Efforts

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Oct 28, 2013 8:13:00 PM

keys_to_successWelcome to the new home of The Demand Creator (formerly The Fast Growth Blog). I can’t think of a topic more interesting to launch as my first post here than addressing the single trend that is wreaking more havoc than any other on small and mid-sized (SME) B2B sales organizations.

It’s both trite and an understatement to say that over the last 10 years the buy-sell relationship has been transformed. Whether it’s the Internet that, in Dan Pink’s words, has flipped the information balance from one heavily favoring the seller, to one giving the buyer complete control, or the fact that buyer’s are typically completing 65% of the buying process before they even consider engaging with a salesperson.

Yet, the most damaging trend facing most sales organizations is the reaction to today’s new workforce structure. As layoffs and reductions-in-force continued through 2011, the mid-level executive, who has historically been the lifeblood of small and mid-sized B2B companies has either disappeared or become completely disempowered.

There used to be three basic levels of customers:

  • The executive level was responsible for setting the overall direction of an organization and had the authority to make major purchases, or to make purchases that would require a change in the direction of the organization.
  • The front line was responsible implementing initiatives and typically had the authority to manage transactions that fit the status quo within a clearly defined budget. If they could find the same or equal product at a cheaper price they often had the authority to buy.
  • For the most part, those two levels are still in tact. It’s the third that is devastating sales efforts. There used to be a middle level of management whose primary job was to interpret the strategic intent of the executive level with the on the ground needs of the front line. They used to have discretionary budgets and the authority to make and manage reasonable purchases and to make incremental changes.

The Missing Wisdom In B2B Companies

The problem with this shift for you is that it was this middle level that had all of your customer's wisdom. They were the ones who actually understood what it is that you do and how it’s different from the competition. They could translate your features and benefits the impact you could have on their business, and further they could champion your solution through the company.

Today, in the unlikely event that person is still there, the best they can do is to turn it over to procurement, or, if you’re lucky, make a weak introduction to the executive level.

Here’s the second half of the problem. If (and it’s a big IF) they make an introduction to the senior level, it's highly unlikely that level will enage, as they neither understand, nor care about how your solution works, why it’s better or what your unique qualifications your have. They’re overwhelmed with complexity, and probably came from a different discipline than your industry. If they have to think about your product/service, you’ve lost them.

Making The Adjustment In Your Business

We’re in a new world and to succeed you need to play by new rules. You’ve got to choose between three alternatives:

  1. Make a commodity sale to the front line. If this is your choice, you must radically change your sales model, and that means eliminating the sales team. The economics of this model simply don’t afford one.
  2. Position yourself to live in the world of RFPs. This also means that you must radically change the makeup of your sales team.
  3. Position yourself to sell to the executive level.

This means you must change your customer acquisition approach. As I’ve written for more than 10 years, you must stop talking about your solutions and instead educate and provoke about problems.

From a marketing perspective, you must widen your definition of lead generation. You need to understand the context of your prospects, and adjust your marketing and cultivation approach accordingly.

From a sales perspective, you must stop employing salespeople and become businesspeople-who-sell. You must learn to speak the language of results, and you must focus on creating value through the entire sales process.

You must accept the increased complexity, focus and discipline needed to consistently make sales. And, while the journey is certainly challenging it beats the alternative.

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Topics: B2B Sales Strategy