There’s a short article in the latest McKinsey Quarterly on “the basics of business-to-business sales success”. It captures the conclusions from their survey of more than 1,200 purchasing decision makers in small, medium and large organisations across the US and Europe who are responsible for buying high-tech products and services.
When McKinsey asked them what drove their buying decisions, although these buyers might have initially suggested that price was key, the two most important factors actually turned out to be product/service features and the overall sales experience. No great surprise there, probably.
Destructive sales behaviours
But then the question turned to the “most destructive” sales behaviours – the ones that were likely to cause vendors to lose an otherwise winnable deal. And that’s where I become concerned that the survey – although useful – may not be reflecting the complete picture in the complex high-end B2B sales environment in which most of my clients operate.
According to McKinsey, the greatest sales sin was “too much communication” in person, by phone or by email, followed by lack of knowledge about either their products or those of their competitors. More than 6 times as many respondents complained of “too much communication” than those who complained of too little contact.
Can you over communicate?
So how are we to interpret this data? First, I need to introduce the caveat that the survey appeared to span simple to complex products, and I think we all know that complex sales have important nuances that don’t apply to commodity purchases. Second, the number of options open to those surveyed seems to have been restricted.
But even with these reservations, the conclusion that you can over communicate with your prospect appears troubling in a world of multiple touch points. So I went back to the quantitative buyer research I’ve conducted in behalf of B2B clients – all of them involved in high-value complex sales – and I think I have at least one probable explanation.
Ensure that your prospect feels they are learning something
In almost every conversation with people involved in the B2B buying decision making process, I hear something along the following lines “for as long as I’m learning something, I’m prepared to listen. But as soon as I detect a sales pitch, or feel I’m being chased, I switch off”.
So I’m coming to suspect that the real problem is not the frequency of the communication – but the relevance of the message to the buyer. Repeatedly contacting the buyer to ask if they have made a decision yet is likely to be counter-productive. But sharing some potentially valuable insights with them is likely to be taken in a completely different and more positive light.
Building rapport - ensuring relevance
So when I’m coaching sales people I strongly advise them to build a level of rapport with their prospects that allows them to understand what they are interested in – and to selectively identify insights and news items and to share learning from other similar customers that is likely to be of interest to their client and can help to sustain a continuing dialogue.
So – do you think that it’s possible to over-communicate with prospects, and what techniques have you found to avoid being seen as a bore?
Best Practices Checklist
Do you work for a B2B software developer or solution provider? I've captured many of today's best go-to-market practices in a 20-point self assessment checklist. You can download it here. Please take a few moments to complete it. I think you’ll find at least one idea that will help you create an even stronger foundation for the future.
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