B2B sales: how do your prospects approach risk?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 6-Oct-2009

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Jill Konrath's "Selling to Big Companies" website is a must-read resource for anyone concerned with improving their sales performance.  In a recent blog, Jill asked her readers to share their experiences of dealing with their prospect's perceptions of risk.  It's a key challenge in today's risk-averse buying climate.  Here's what I wrote:

Hi Jill

Great question - and one that’s incredibly relevant in today’s market, where the avoidance of risk may well be the predominant emotion driving buying behaviour, and where so many buying journeys end in a decision to hold off and do nothing for the moment.

RISKI’m speaking from the perspective of complex B2B buying processes, where it seems that having a strong ROI is not enough to win the prospect’s confidence.  Successful vendors are having to prove that they offer the lowest risk of all possible alternatives, including - this is critically important - the decision to simply “do nothing”.

Sales people can’t hope to emerge as the lowest risk alternative through some last-minute slight-of-hand during the closing process.  The foundations need to be built from the start of the buying process.  Rather than diving in to premature (product) elaboration, when a prospect acknowledges an issue, the top sales performers I’ve been able to observe seize the opportunity to explore:

  • What has caused the issue to become important at this point?
  • Who else is likely to be affected by the issue?
  • What would be the cost/impact of not dealing with the problem?

Handled well, these and similar questions can open the door to identifying and connecting with the other affected stakeholders early on in the sales process.  Just as important, they can lay the foundation for helping the prospect identify the costs and consequences of not dealing with the problem.

In fact, I advise the clients I work with to think very hard about qualifying out opportunities where the prospect cannot easily articulate the consequences of inaction – because in today’s risk-averse climate they run the risk of doing all the hard work of eliminating the competition, and getting chosen, but not getting bought.

Vendors who are able to help their prospect clearly balance the benefits of solving the problem against the costs of doing nothing, and to present this to the financial approval process, will be in a much better position to address the risk issue – and will have truly earned their role as “trusted advisor”. 

What's your experience?  How importance is risk avoidance in your prospect's thinking?  And how have you been able to help them alleviate the perceived risks in making a buying decision?

Topics: Complex Sales