What is the best sales approach for B2B sales? Is it "Solutions Selling" or perhaps "Spin Selling?" Sandler? Challenger? Is it some seemingly new approach that is really an old pig with touched-up lipstick? While it's important to practice a consistent approach, it’s more important that the approach you practice serves your prospective clients by helping them decide what to do to improve their results.
Every sales approach starts with a hypothesis about what the salesperson must do to win the client's business. Each approach also has a theory about the prospective clients, whether it’s that they can’t be trusted (a belief sure to taint the relationship), that they need to solve a problem, or that they need to be educated about their current state. Unfortunately, all three theories often prompt the salesperson to answer "why us" in a first meeting instead of proving that they belong in the room.
Some approaches are rules-based, providing "paint by numbers" systems that allegedly always work for all companies and all clients anywhere on Earth (we’re still working on Martian prospecting). Others are built on qualifying the prospective clients and managing the conversation, mainly by ensuring the salesperson has verified that the client has done this thing or that.
Many of these approaches are now long in the tooth and have never been updated for the 21st century, especially if they assume that barraging a client with questions is necessary to create and win opportunities. They also tend to be linear and assume stability, despite a business environment that author Sean McFate describes as “durable disorder” or what I’ve called constant, accelerating, disruptive change.
There are a few approaches, however, that are based not on rules or a linear path but on a set of principles. Principles provide guidance while providing greater flexibility, allowing you to be agile as you reach and serve your clients.
Principles for B2B Sales Approaches
Principle 1: Your approach should improve your prospective client's ability to make the best decision for the business and their results.
Most approaches being practiced today seek to guarantee that the salesperson wins the client's business. They rarely consider what the client needs to decide, making it more difficult for the salesperson to succeed.
Principle 2: The value you create for your prospective client must help them gain a better understanding of the nature of their challenges and why they struggle to produce the results they need.
A good many approaches used today assume that simply asking the client about their problem is somehow valuable. This is rarely the case, especially when the point of the question is to let the salesperson share how their solution is exactly what the client needs.
Principle 3: You are responsible for facilitating each buyer's journey, ensuring you understand what they need to pursue better outcomes.
There is no generic buyer's journey, even if you have a graphic that tries to universalize the sales conversation. There are only buyers' journeys, as each person involved in the conversation around change has their own journey. The linear sales process is hampered by the idea that every prospect needs the same conversation at the same time, a belief not designed to address the current environment or what benefits the client.
Principle 4: You must know more than your client when it comes to the decision they are considering.
No one needs to take the advice of a person who knows less than they do as it pertains to the decision they need to make. The reason the older approaches don't include a principle like this is that they limit their advice to "buy my solution from my company," something wildly out of touch with what contemporary decision-makers need.
Principle 5: You are responsible for resolving your client's concerns.
Overcoming objections is mostly outdated in large, complex B2B sales. Much of the time, the words you might recognize as an objection are concealing a real concern, one that may prevent your prospective client from acting. When a client is uncertain, resolving their concerns moves them towards the greater certainty that would allow them to act.
Principle 6: You must be agile enough to choose the right approach at the right time.
Salespeople get stuck because they are saddled with a structure carved in stone. When one doesn't know how or when to break the rules, they cause clients to disengage, losing deals that they might have won with a bit more flexibility.
Principle 7: The salesperson who creates the most value for their prospective client is most likely to win their business.
The legacy approaches to sales locate value in a product or in solving a problem, not in the conversation the salesperson has with their contacts. If that’s the case, you just need order-takers, not salespeople. Much of what was both popular and effective in the past is now impotent. No client enjoys being qualified, nor do they pray for you to spend the first half of your 20-minute meeting reciting facts about your company.
Applying the Principles
You would do well to think of sales principles instead of sales rules. Be aware of the different options you might select in a certain sales scenario, and make an effort to learn different techniques. Sales is more like MMA than boxing: every MMA fighter practices several martial arts but acquires competency in a few disciplines, allowing them to succeed on their feet or on the ground.
You can begin with a modern approach and reach back to earlier approaches when they are helpful, like asking questions about the implications should your prospective client need to confront the change that will bring them relief and better results. If agility means anything, it means working from a set of flexible principles instead of constraining your own ability to create value for your clients.