In today’s business climate, you would think that few organisations could afford to invest large amounts of sales and marketing effort in pursuing opportunities that are never destined to close. Yet I continue to come across examples of sales people chasing deals that they have no chance of winning and - equally frustrating - loosing otherwise well qualified opportunities to either the competition or to “no decision” because of a failure to identify, understand or address the key decision-makers’ motivations and concerns…
Identifying your ideal prospects and customers isn’t simply about company size, sector or location. Most B2B organisations are finding that these traditional demographic-based approaches to segmentation are proving an increasingly inadequate and incomplete means of describing the common characteristics of their most valuable customers and prospects.
I strongly recommend establishing an Ideal Customer Profile for each of your key product or service offerings. Whilst it’s still useful to capture the core prospect demographics of size, sector and location, I urge you to to pay particular attention to structural, environmental, behavioural and situational factors - the “softer” values that often have a huge impact on your chances of doing business with the organisation.
In fact, I haven’t yet come across a single B2B sales environment where these factors weren’t far more important than size, sector or location when it came to accurately qualifying potential sales opportunities.
Every complex sale involves a group of key stakeholders in the prospect organisation. These stakeholders each have an important role to play in the prospect’s buying decision process, and while each sales opportunity is unique, every opportunity involves a number of core stakeholder archetypes whose likely responsibilities, motivations and concerns can be anticipated.
These stakeholders will typically fall into one of the following categories: Operational Champion (the person most likely to drive the project), Executive Sponsors (the people most likely to fund the project), Technical Gatekeepers (the people who have to approve your technology) or Financial Gatekeepers (the people who approve financial and legal terms and conditions).
Understanding these common archetypes can help ensure that your messages, materials and sales tools address the most common issues facing each type of stakeholder as they play their role in the buying decision process. But archetypes are only ever “averages” - but the same thinking can be applied to profile the specific attributes of named individual stakeholders within each qualified sales opportunity.
Putting these Principles in Practice
I recommend that you systematically review a representative cross section of your recent sales opportunities and identify both the common characteristics of won/lost/no decision deals and the most common stakeholder types in each of those transactions.
This is often best achieved by running one or a series of internal workshops with key representatives of your sales, marketing and other customer-facing organisations. These workshops can help to build up a series of provisional profiles for both your ideal customers and your key stakeholders.
It’s often helpful to validate these draft profiles by holding a series of “Voice of the Customer” conversations with a representative sample of your recent customer base. These conversations should seek to validate the assumptions you’ve made about the issues that are most important to these recent customers, who was involved in the buying decision process, and how and why they went about their buying decision process.
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I recommend that you invest the modest amount of time required to apply the principles to your own organisation - I’m confident that you’ll find the effort highly worthwhile. Let me know how you get along.