Complex B2B sales are usually characterised by lengthy, high-value buying decisions that involve multiple stakeholders and frequently end in a decision to do nothing and stick with the status quo. But that doesn’t mean they have to be complicated - far from it.
Over-complicated responses to managing the complex sales process have a woeful success rate. Sales people simply don’t see the value in having to enter reams of information into CRM systems that they doubt management will ever pay proper attention to - or conform to processes that they see as doing nothing to increase their chances of winning. And they are right to rebel.
I believe that the evidence is clear: mastering three deceptively simple principles turns out to be critical to winning the complex sale…
First, and at the risk of stating the obvious, your sales and marketing activities must be laser-focused on identifying, engaging and qualifying the opportunities that are most likely to want to buy from you. It sounds like a simple principle, but many sales people and the organisations they work for nevertheless manage to squander enormous amount of time and energy pursuing “opportunities” they have little chance of closing.
Focusing on the right issues requires that you identify and target critical pain points that - once they recognise them - your prospects will be forced to address, and for which you have a demonstrably superior solution.
Focusing on the right organisations involves much more than the classic demographics of size, sector and location: it requires a profound understanding of the common characteristics of your most promising prospects and the trigger events that will cause them to act.
And focusing on the right stakeholders involves identifying and targeting the people who are most likely to act as catalysts for change (also known as “mobilisers”) within these target organisations.
Any failure in any aspect of focus simply sets the foundations for failure.
Even if you're focused, you can’t afford to leave sales success to chance. That’s why today’s most effective sales organisations have defined dynamic sales processes that mirror the way their prospects make buying decisions. These systems reflect the winning habits of top sales performers, and offer a simple but effective guide to all sales people as to what they need to know, do, use, share and avoid at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
This emphasis on the buying decision process is critical: it forces the sales person to think about what the prospect needs to achieve in order to achieve consensus around the need for change.
The best of these sales systems are based around simple, flexible frameworks rather than rigid guidelines - and they dynamically evolve to reflect the latest learning about how sales success is best achieved.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of having an effective sales process - they can help to dramatically bridge the performance gap between the best and the rest, and ensure that new hires become productive quickly.
Over-complicated or inadequate systems inevitably mean that your sales people will spend much of their time on things that fail to advance the sale.
This leads neatly to the third key principle: no matter how clear your focus, and no matter how effective your systems, you can never achieve your full potential without the right people on board.
It’s disturbing to observe how often new hires with apparently highly relevant experience fail to make their mark in their new organisation. It’s particularly apparent when people get hired out of large corporates into start-ups or expansion-phase companies - the cultural differences often prove to be unbridgeably wide.
Hiring for experience alone clearly isn’t enough. In fact there’s a wealth of evidence to suggest that, faced with a choice between hiring for aptitude, attitude or experience, experience is the least reliable predictor of future success.
In fact, aptitude and attitude turn out to be so important that they simply cannot be left to chance - and this explains the dramatic rise in assessment solutions for both hiring and employee development.
Without the right talent, any complex sales environment will surely fail.
ELIMINATING AVOIDABLE ERROR
When you think about it, these three principles are less to do with striving for perfection than they are about eliminating avoidable error: they are about not pursuing opportunities that are a bad fit, they are about not doing things that fail to facilitate the prospect’s decision process, and they are about eliminating poor hiring or staff development decisions.
Striving for perfection may be an inspirational goal: but eliminating avoidable error (and simplifying your focus, systems and talent management) is usually a far more practical - and effective - strategy.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the February 2016 Edition of the International Journal of Sales Transformation.