Discover the transformative power of collaboration in sales, and how embracing it can turn every client interaction into a victory.
In The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, the fourth commitment is collaboration. This chapter could have and should have been an entire book, as collaboration is a powerful tool in sales. The more you treat the sales conversation as something you are co-creating with your contacts, the better the sales experience and the greater your chances of winning your client’s business.
Early in my career in sales, I would call on a decision maker. In a single meeting, I could win the client’s business, leaving the meeting with fresh ink on a contract. A few days later, as my team started to execute, the people we were working with at our new client would do everything in their power to cause us to fail. We were being sabotaged, losing the deals as fast as we won them.
When you have a negative experience several times, you eventually realize something is wrong. The decision maker who signed the contract would hear from their team that they were not getting what they needed from us to allow us to provide our service.
At one point, I recognized that we had walked into the stakeholders’ house without knowing the house rules. What we had done was disrespect them by ignoring the people we were supposed to be helping to improve their results. Instead, we were making their jobs more difficult. In a lot of the deals we lost, it was too late. But we could do better.
Instead of working with the senior leader alone, we started to ask to meet the people we would work with. We would meet them on their floor and learn what they would need from us to help them get the results they needed. There is something about having the courtesy to stand next to a contact and take notes while they share what is necessary for both of us to succeed.
Collaboration in B2B Sales
There are a few key situations that offer opportunities for collaboration with your clients.
- First meeting: You might have been taught and trained to present an agenda when first sitting down with a prospective client. You can improve your conversation by suggesting an agenda and asking your contact what they need from the conversation, collaborating on what you will accomplish with your time. By beginning with a collaborative approach, you are showing your client that you are concerned about making certain they will get what they need.
- Acquisition of stakeholders: At some point, earlier being better, you must include the people who will later weigh in on a decision to make a significant change. This is a collaboration, as your sales champion knows who needs to participate in the sales conversation. Perhaps the more collaborative you are, the easier it will be to get the consensus you and your client both need.
- Stakeholders needs: Once you sit down with the people who are going to be working with you in the future, you are beginning a conversation about what these people will need from you. You might have had trouble collaborating with people with no real power beyond sabotaging you later. This collaborative approach to the B2B sales conversation will provide you with the information and the preferences of the people you are directly helping to make improvements. You may learn more from these stakeholders about what you will need to do to build a solution that works.
- Consensus: Having learned what your stakeholders need by listening and learning, you have increased your odds of winning the client’s business. You have also increased the chances of succeeding when you win their business. But before this, you must build consensus, another opportunity to collaborate on the decision to move forward together.
- Confidence and certainty: In the third decade of the 21st century, you find your contacts lacking the confidence and certainty to move forward. This results from the ACDC environment, one of accelerating, constant, disruptive change. Every day, leaders read about the shoe that dropped yesterday and the perils of the next shoe falling tomorrow. In The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, the commitment before you ask your client for their business, you will need to resolve your client’s unresolved concerns. By addressing the sales champion and their team’s concerns, you are again collaborating and moving closer to executing a solution that will ensure the client succeeds.
- Long-Term Value: Your collaborative approach will serve you well in what should be a long relationship that will require you to adjust to meet changing client needs. You may need to repeat this approach when external changes force you and your contacts to figure out what changes will allow you to continue to help your client succeed.
The Collaborative Sale
Most sales organizations would improve their sales results by taking a more collaborative approach to selling. In The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, there is an idea about this approach. Without collaboration, you can only offer your solution, but by working with your contacts, you can develop something they consider to be their solution. When your product is part of a collaborative process, you have a greater chance of your mutual success.
This doesn’t prevent you from leading the client through their buyer’s journey. Nor does this mean you should not provide the counsel, advice, and recommendations to collaborate on what will be your solution.
Those regressing to transactional techniques would do better to take a more collaborative approach. You want you and your client to be responsible for your results.
Leaving this article, consider how you sell and what you might need to change to become more consultative and collaborative. Where it makes sense to do so, start sharing the idea that your conversation is a collaboration. Let me know how this works for you.