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Imagine you are responsible for surveying the entire population of buyers to assess where they are in their buyer’s journey. With just over 33,000,000 companies in the United States, how would you go about this project? How would you figure out what companies are buying and what they need now? This would be an impossible task because, each day, the situation for millions of companies changes faster than you could collect the information.

When you see a graphic that suggests that only 3 percent of your prospective clients are “buying now,” know that no one has the information that would prove this is true. If this is not true, then what about the 17 percent of buyers that are currently “gathering information” about a purchase? By this point, you may be skeptical about the supposed 20 percent that are aware of a problem. This leaves us with 60 percent of your market that is unaware of a problem.

Occasionally, you will find people who suggest that you are unable to compel decision-makers to act. Those who preach the Gospel of Apathy and Fear are often those who have never sold a commodity or had to displace their competitor to win a deal. You should never allow anyone to feed you their fears.

Let us make sense of this nonsense by looking at strategies for each category of buyer, starting with those who are unaware that they have a problem.

Engaging the Segment that Lacks Problem Awareness in B2B Sales

A young person commented on my 17-minute cold call course on YouTube to tell me that cold calls shouldn’t be used to book meetings. Instead, he suggested that the cold call is to see if the person is aware of the problem he could help them with. His comment reflects a misunderstanding of how B2B sales works.

As part of our B2B sales training, we emphasize the importance of identifying and engaging with prospects who are not yet aware of their problems. This approach is crucial for early-stage engagement and sets the stage for effective sales strategies.

A few principles for this category:

  1. You must call on companies that buy what you sell.
  2. You are better off getting to your clients first and alerting them to the problem that they are facing or likely to encounter in the future.
  3. You have an advantage if you beat your competitors to the punch. By the time your contact begins gathering information, you are already far in front of your competitor in the sales conversation.

Selling is a game of patient persistence. You want to be the first person to sit down with a contact or a decision-maker. Done well, you will have moved your contact and their company into the next category, where they are aware of their problem. Many, or perhaps most, salespeople look longingly at the 3 percent who are buying now, believing that is where they should focus their effort. The bad thinking here is that a better salesperson will have already wired the building long before the company becomes part of the 3 percent (that we don’t believe is really 3 percent in the first place).

Strategies for Engaging the Problem-Aware Clients in B2B Markets

Were it my decision, I would want you to be the person who illuminates the problem, as that positions me as someone who knows things that my potential customer doesn’t know. Your clients are smart people, but they don’t know what they don’t know, just like you and I don’t know what we don’t know.

When you find yourself with a prospect, you still retain the ability to create value for them by helping them understand the root causes of their problem and how to decide what needs to change so they can resolve it. Your problem-aware contacts may or may not have engaged with your competitors.

  1. It’s important that you position yourself as an expert and an authority, causing your contact to prefer you, as you have proven you know their problem far better than they do.
  2. It’s also important to create value by providing your client with what they need to know to make a rare decision that they must get right on the first attempt.
  3. If you feel that your contact is not faithful, and you believe they will wander, you may use a triangulation strategy to decimate your competitor’s business model.

Maximizing Opportunities When Clients Are Gathering Information

When you encounter a contact in this category, you wish you had gotten to them much earlier. It seems that your contacts are always seeing something new on the internet, where there is an abundance of information. The best strategy here is to provide insights, but not about your solution. Look, you have a great solution, just like your competitors do. The insights you need to share in this stage are about the decision your contacts will need to make.

I don’t want you to miss something important here. When you are helping the client to decide, your contacts will prefer a conversation about the decision they are facing over one about the solution. Talking about your solution at this point is a total mismatch. When you talk about the decision, the change initiative, and the client’s strategic outcomes, the ability to create value is so lopsided in your favor that your competitor pales in contrast and feels like a commodity.

  1. Focus on the decision, not the solution.
  2. Run out the clock by spending more time with those involved in the change initiative, preventing them from taking on more potential partners.

Closing Deals with Clients Ready to Buy Now

Let’s agree to believe that 3 percent of those in your market are ready to buy now. By the time you approach them, you may be far behind other salespeople who got the jump on you. You still have a chance, even if you must call a contact to tell them you have something important enough to consider in their decision that you deserve a meeting. You may not believe you can do this, but you can call the client and ask them to make room for you. You can do this even if the client is in the middle of an RFP.

Reassessing Traditional Sales Strategies: The Origin of this Idea

Most sales organizations would do well to turn the pyramid upside down. I believe the person who popularized this assessment was Dan Kennedy. I believe he was making a case for marketing, as the small number of people actively buying would require continuous communication. The truth for those of us in sales is that you take your clients where you find them. Let the strategies here guide your pursuit and win the deals over your rivals.


Sales 2024
Post by Anthony Iannarino on February 26, 2024

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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