Note: This article has been adapted from the latest fully revised and updated version of my “Introduction to Outcome Centric Selling” - you can download the full document here.
Complex B2B buying journeys are inevitably complicated. Your customer’s decision process is rarely straightforward or linear. Multiple stakeholders are involved, often with widely different perspectives and priorities. Without strong internal project sponsorship, consensus is unlikely and without consensus, action is unlikely.
These challenges have been compounded by the current coronavirus epidemic. And yet despite all this, a significant number of customers are still investing in new projects, but only when these investments satisfy three key criteria: the project must be strategically relevant, tactically urgent and be capable of delivering rapid time-to-value.
Today’s business buyers need to be convinced that any project they invest in will deliver worthwhile business outcomes.
This has profound implications for today’s B2B sales organisations:
- Rather than simply thinking in terms of their sales process, they must also seek to facilitate the prospect’s buying journey...
- They must establish a consensus for change before they promote the benefits of their solution...
- And they must measure their progress in terms of tangible, measurable advances in their customer’s decision process, rather than by the activities their salespeople have completed...
The evolution of B2B sales methodologies
Business-to-Business selling has already evolved through one significant transition - from selling products to selling ‘solutions’.
The first era of B2B selling was characterised by a product-centric sales approach that focused on features, advantages and benefits, with little regard for the customer’s objectives. During this period, sales training was largely focused on transferring product knowledge and on teaching manipulative sales techniques with an emphasis on ‘closing’.
The transition towards ‘solution selling’ started several decades ago and is characterised by a consultative, problem-centric sales approach that focuses on uncovering and solving customer problems. Most of today’s most common B2B sales methodologies, including SPIN®, Challenger, Strategic Selling, Sandler, Customer-Centric Selling and many others can be regarded as variations on this common theme.
Unfortunately, customers buying these so-called solutions often fail to achieve the expected results. And in a world where business customers increasingly prefer to consume things ‘as a service’ rather than as an outright purchase, the inevitable impact on customer loyalty and on renewal rates will prove toxic for vendors that fail to pay the appropriate attention to customer outcomes.
An outcome-centric perspective
That’s why I - alongside a growing number of forward-thinking sales organisations and sales experts - have concluded that we need to shift gears again and transition from a problem or solution-led mindset to an outcome-centric approach to selling.
This is not just a minor semantic difference. Today’s prospects are not looking for generic ‘solutions’. Before they are ready to commit to change, they need to be sure that they are going to achieve the specific business outcomes they are expecting, within their expected cost and timeframe.
If they cannot be convinced of this, they are likely to stick with the status quo. And if they are persuaded to sign up for the proposed solution and yet fail to achieve their expected outcomes, they are unlikely to renew or expand their relationship with the vendor.
Focusing on outcomes rather than needs
It’s worth making a distinction between the ‘needs’ that most solution-centric methodologies encourage salespeople to uncover and develop and the business outcomes that today’s customers looking for.
Needs are often expressed in terms of the features, functions or capabilities the ‘solution’ is expected to offer, and many solution-centric selling methodologies emphasise this aspect of the discovery process. But a potential vendor’s ability to satisfy those needs is not enough to guarantee that the customer will buy from them (or that they will do anything at all).
The customer’s expected business outcomes are far more significant in influencing their decision whether to change, and if so what to and when. Outcomes represent tangible positive changes between the customer’s current situation and a better future state. The achievement of these outcomes is usually the most significant factor in determining whether or not a project has been a success.
Decision-makers care about outcomes
There are other significant reasons why focusing on business outcomes is a far more effective sales strategy than only focusing on needs. Low-level customer contacts often think in terms of needs that must be satisfied. But the high-level executives that typically form today’s key project sponsors and economic buyers think in terms of business outcomes that must be achieved.
If salespeople cannot get their current contact to talk about about the business outcomes they are looking for (and why they are important) rather than their functional requirements, they are almost certainly not the ultimate decision-maker. If they aren’t able to identify the specific outcomes that they need to achieve, they are probably not very serious about the need for change.
And if by some miracle they do still end up buying from your organisation, if their desired business outcomes are not clear from the start it will be harder for you to prove the business value of implementing your solution. And if you can’t prove the business value they have derived from implementing your solution, they are far less likely to renew or extend the relationship - and they will probably never become profitable.
Stretching the outcome gap
That’s why it is so important to focus on the business outcomes your customer is seeking to achieve at the earliest possible stage in your discussions with them. The “Outcome Gap” represents the perceived difference between their current situation and the better outcomes they can expect to achieve from implementing the best possible solution - preferably yours.
When this Outcome Gap appears to be small and stable, the customer is likely to conclude that they can afford to stick with the status quo. But when the Outcome Gap appears to be large and growing, they are far more likely to decide that they need to take urgent action.
Today’s most successful salespeople don’t just focus on discovering the customer’s already-recognised needs: they educate the customer as to the full scope of the unconsidered negative impacts of failing to address these issues. And they introduce previously unconsidered issues and persuade the customer that - if ignored - these are also associated with additional significant negative impacts.
They stretch the customer’s Outcome Gap to the widest possible extent, and in doing so increase the chances that the customer will decide to take decisive action.
In the rest of the guide, you can learn:
- Why every customer has a unique value story (and how to tell it)
- How to facilitate your customer's buying journey
- Why you need a flexible sales framework - not a rigid process
- How to put all of these principles into practice
Let me know what you think. Do you agree with me that outcome-centric selling is the next obvious evolutionary step from solution- and value-based selling approaches?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales, a founding contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation, an active member of the Sales Experts Channel and the Sales Enablement Society, and the driving force behind Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading proponents of outcome-centric selling.
Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob now works as a strategic advisor, mentor, trainer and coach to ambitious B2B sales organisations - teaching them how to differentiate themselves through their provably superior approach to achieving their customer's desired outcomes.