There are certain B2B sales conversations that are important to both the salesperson and their prospective clients. One of the reasons salespeople struggle to create value for their contacts is because the sequence of the conversations doesn't match their client's needs. Could improving your sales approach be as simple as changing the order of the conversations?
Here we will look at two different sequences, the first being the legacy approach, one that is out of order for the current environment. The second sequence will be a modern approach, one that is more valuable to decision-makers and the stakeholders engaged in the company's change initiative.
The Legacy Sequence of Sales Conversations
Rapport: The rapport-building that was once customary in B2B sales often feels like a waste of time to busy people who committed to a salesperson who scheduled a meeting to talk about improving their results. The longer the time spent in rapport-building, the more your contacts are going to believe you are a time waster. For most salespeople, this is poor positioning, making it more difficult to create and win opportunities.
Why Us: The next conversation in the legacy sequence finds the salesperson singing the praises of their company, believing they are differentiating themselves and their company from their competition, most of whom are following this same sequence. The belief system here is that the client needs to know the company is competent and trustworthy in order for the client to buy from them. This conversation will also include proof in the way of a slide with the logos of the company's clients. Unfortunately, this is out of order for the contacts who haven't yet decided to buy anything from anyone.
Why Our Solution: Salespeople have been trained to describe their products and services as their "solution." The idea is that the salesperson needs a "solution" to solve their client's "problem." The intention of the "sell the problem" approach here is that one would first need to establish a problem before explaining how their solution is right for the client. This would require discovery, something that comes after the attempt to differentiate their products and services.
Discovery: After having a number of conversations, we find the client patiently waiting for a conversation about the better results they need and how best to go about improving their business. The salesperson asks questions designed to elicit a problem so they can point to their solution as the right choice for the client.
One of the reasons salespeople have a difficult time converting a first meeting to a second meeting is because the salesperson didn't create enough value to have earned the right to another hour of their prospective client's time. The more senior the contact, the more they value their time, something they protect from time wasters. Let's look at how we might match the conversation to the client's needs.
A Sequence for a Modern Sales Approach
Insights and Perspective: There are two observations here worth examination. First, the certainty sequence starts with certainty of negative consequences, followed by certainty of positive outcomes. The second observation is by providing a briefing, you can ensure the conversation includes the context in which the client will need to make a decision. By providing something like an executive briefing, you create value at the start of the conversation by educating the client as to why they have the challenges and how it impacts their results. The client doesn't have to wait twenty minutes before the salesperson creates value for them.
Exploration and Discovery: Insights and perspective is lean forward content, as opposed to the lean back content in the legacy approach. Engaging in discovery and learning what you need to know while asking questions that help the client learn something about their challenges and how they may need to go about improving their results is also felt as value.
Necessary Changes: The reason you might look beyond your product and services when discussing what the client will have to do to improve their results is that sometimes there are other changes that are crucial to improving their results. This and the following conversations may come in a second meeting after you and your contacts have more information.
Why Us: The right time to address the "why us" question so many put first is better placed towards the end of the sales conversation as a way to explain how the salesperson's company is going to provide the resources, products, and services to ensure the client realizes the improvement they need.
Rapport Building: Save the rapport building for the end of the conversation, should your contacts be amendable to small talk. By putting it at the end of a meeting, you can cut it short if your clients need to move on to their next meeting.
All of these conversations are valuable in the right order and may not be nearly as valuable when pursued in the wrong order. It's not true that the "why us" conversation isn't valuable, but rather, that it is valuable only in context. It's also not true that rapport building isn't important, but businesspeople often find it easier to create rapport by having a business conversation with a businessperson, as you have something in common without having to work at it. The greater the value you create, the more likely you are to have contacts engage in rapport building.
Changing the sequence of the sales conversations can help you create greater value for your client, something that will help you create a preference to buy from you. If you struggle to convert a first meeting to a second meeting, you have evidence that the sales conversation may not be valuable enough for a client to agree to give you more time. By prioritizing creating value for your clients as early in the conversation as possible, you can improve your results.