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The Inflexion-Point Blog: VALUE SELLING STRATEGIES

Video: Key Challenges Facing B2B Sales People

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 25-Jun-2019

I had the chance to work with The Marketing Practice at a recent event at Worcester College Oxford and one of the by-products was the opportunity to make a short video highlighting a few of the many challenges facing today's B2B sales people.

We covered widely-recognised issues such as longer sales cycles, increased price competition, and why so many deals end in "no decision".

We also touched on changes in the buying process, the involvement of multiple stakeholders, and the rise of the consensus buying decision.

We also highlighted a few of the available remedies - such as the need to reinforce the need for change before we sell the benefits of our solution, and the importance of identifying the structural and behavioural characteristics of our Ideal Customers.

It's short (less than 3 minutes) but to the point. You can watch the video by clicking on the link below...

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Familiar vs. Unfamiliar Purchases

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 27-Mar-2019

Sales consultants often make the distinction between transactional and complex sales. Transactional sales - whatever their value - tend to have a relatively simple buying journey, are associated with lower decision risk, and involve fewer stakeholders. The decision is often regarded as tactical rather than strategic, the information required to support their decision is often straightforward and based on specification, price and delivery and the decision-making process itself is typically linear.

Complex sales, on the other hand, tend to be subject to a complicated and often non-linear buying journey, tend to have a higher decision risk, and involve a larger decision team. The decision is often regarded as strategic, the information on which decisions are based is usually complicated and sometimes contradictory, and there is a very real possibility that the potential customer may - after devoting significant effort to the exercise - simply decide to stick with the status quo.

But after observing a large number of complex sales environments, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is another significant factor at play - and that is whether the customer is involved in a familiar or unfamiliar purchase...

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Understanding Your Customer's Decision Journey

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 26-Mar-2019

It’s falsely comforting to think of selling as a process in which one step follows logically after another. But although rigidly defined processes might be the best way of running a manufacturing production line, they completely fail to reflect the reality of any moderately complicated sales environment.

It would be convenient if things were simpler. But the truth of the matter is that in complex B2B sales your customer’s buying processes are rarely linear, compounded by the fact that they are sometimes poorly defined or even if they are well defined are often not well understood by many of your customer's decision team.

As Gartner have identified, rather following a perfectly straight path, complex customer decision journeys typically zig and zag, go backwards as well as forwards, find themselves way off-piste, struggle to achieve consensus, can be redirected on the whim of a single powerful individual or can be abandoned at any stage along the way.

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Why your pipeline doesn’t need any sales stages

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 27-Nov-2018

This is a subject I’ve referred to before, but an excellent article by Don Mulhern has prompted me to promote a concept that deserves far more attention - and which is driving impressive success in the growing number of sales organisations that have embraced the idea.

Most CRM systems - and most sales methodologies - are based on the idea of the pipeline reflecting a series of sales stages which are assumed to be progressively completed over time. It is also assumed that the further we have progressed through these sales stages, the more likely an opportunity is to close.

Many systems go even further: applying the same default probability to every deal that has reached a certain stage. Even worse, many CRM implementations take the “out of the box” default percentages without ever giving any thought to their accuracy or relevance.

But complex B2B sales are - unsurprisingly - far more complicated than that, and it’s yet another example of how simplistic, statistically derived assumptions that can be made to work in straightforward transactional sales environments don’t apply anything like as effectively to complex buying decisions.

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The illusion of the expert buyer

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 12-Nov-2018

One of the most dangerous mistakes we can make as sales people is believing that our customer – and particularly the sponsor we have been working with – knows how to buy.

This might be a reasonable assumption if our prospective customer is buying a familiar solution in a familiar way – for example a repeat purchase from a well-known source.

But if our prospective customer is looking for an unfamiliar solution: something they have not had to buy before – from an unfamiliar source: a vendor they have no previous relationship with, the assumption of buyer expertise is very dangerous.

Buyer unfamiliarity can represent either an opportunity or a threat – depending on how we choose to respond to it...

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4 key factors influencing B2B buying behaviour

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 20-Sep-2018

In any high-value complex B2B sales environment involving new projects with multiple stakeholders, the buying behaviours and motivations that drive your customer’s decision-making journey are inherently complicated and may be impossible for the average sales person to ever completely understand.

For anything other than inevitable purchases, your customer typically has a number of potential options - each with their respective pros and cons. Each of the individual stakeholders are also likely to have different personal motivations, priorities and decision criteria - often making it hard to establish consensus.

It’s perhaps no surprise that so many apparently promising sales opportunities end with the customer either deciding to do nothing, or to postpone the project until some often-undefined future date. And it’s no wonder that many studies have found that “no decision” is now the most common outcome for such projects.

There are four key factors your sales people need to be aware of when it comes to understanding B2B buying behaviour: status quo bias, loss aversion, decision paralysis and the impact of early influence. Let’s consider each of these factors in turn...

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The non-linear world of B2B buying

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 28-Aug-2018

It’s falsely comforting to think of selling as a process in which one step follows logically after another. But although rigidly defined processes might be the best way of running a manufacturing production line, they fail to reflect the reality of any moderately complicated sales environment.

It would be convenient if things were simpler. But the brutal truth of the matter is that in complex B2B sales our customer’s buying processes are rarely linear, compounded by the fact that they are sometimes poorly defined and even if they appear to be well defined are not always well understood by the customer themselves [by the way, you can click on the above image to see a larger version].

Rather following a hypothetically straight path, many customer decision journeys zig and zag, go backwards as well as forwards, find themselves way off-piste, struggle to achieve consensus, can be redirected at the behest of a single powerful individual and can be abandoned at any stage along the way...

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Is sales “process” really the right metaphor?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 31-May-2018

The term “sales process” has become an almost universal cliché (and yes, I have been as guilty as the rest). Research is regularly published to prove that organisations with a defined “sales process” outperform their less well organised competitors.

In simple, high-volume sales environments - where success is often seen as a numbers game, and where sales people do not need to be overly sophisticated in their approach - I can see how having a process can help.

But in complex, lengthy, high-value sales environments that require sophisticated sales skills, the idea of a rigid, universally applied and consistently implemented step-by-step sales process seems increasingly inappropriate and ineffective.

I’m writing this article today because I’ve just listened to a video that likened a sales process to the step-by-step, corner-by-corner instructions we might get from a satellite navigation system. This seems to me to be an entirely inappropriate metaphor, and here’s why...

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Decoding your prospect's buying decision mode

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 23-Jan-2018

Are your prospects Satisfied with the Status Quo, Painting by Numbers, Pursuing a Vision, Busy Going Nowhere or Searching for Guidance?

I recently wrote about the phases B2B prospects tend to go through as their buying decision process evolves, and the need to align our sales and marketing tactics accordingly. Of course, our prospect’s journey is rarely linear: at any point they can choose to move forwards, revert to a previous phase, go around in circles, put the project on hold, or abandon the journey altogether.

But the phase our prospect has reached in their buying journey isn't the only thing we need to be aware of when it comes to understanding their likely buying behaviour: we also need to determine whether or not they have a clear goal in mind, and whether or not they have a clear process for deciding how to achieve that goal.

This isn’t as crazy as you might think: one of the primary reasons that so many buying journeys end in “no decision” is that the exercise either lacked a clear goal, or a clear buying decision process, or both. Or the ultimate decision makers in the customer might actually have been satisfied with the status quo all along…

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Critical to B2B sales success - stakeholder assessments

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 29-Nov-2017

One of the most common reasons why apparently promising B2B sales opportunities get derailed - often at a late stage in our sales cycle - is that we have failed to identify all the key stakeholders or to understand how to get them all to support our approach.

There’s a similar explanation for why many accounts fail to realise their potential - we end up becoming over reliant on a few regular contacts and fail to identify or engage with the other stakeholders that could enable us to maximise our opportunities.

It’s a sad fact that many deals that are currently being forecasted to close before the end of 2017 will fade away or be lost for the same reason. So, this is probably a timely opportunity to remind ourselves of the critical importance of identifying, understanding and engaging all the stakeholders that our sales success must ultimately depend on…

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