As the world continues to change, we know that we must change with it. But it’s often difficult to recognize when it is time (or long past time) to make a specific change, as inflection points rarely announce themselves. When you don't recognize what’s different in B2B sales, you may settle far too easily for the status quo—even after it is no longer the status quo. Here’s a brief list of what’s changed recently and how you should change your approach in response.

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How Buying Has Changed

Several factors have caused companies and their decision-makers to change what and how they buy. They may be more or less pronounced in your industry, but they still shed light on why you need to modernize your approach.

From Few Competitors to Many Alternatives. There has never been more competition than there is today. 20 years ago there were not only fewer companies competing, but also fewer alternatives to traditional products. E-commerce and the app economy has changed all that, making it even more important to create consistent value in the sales conversation. There is no reason for a company to buy from a salesperson who doesn't create a valuable experience for them by helping facilitate their buyer's journey.

From Information Disparity to Information Parity. In the days of old, there was comparatively little information available to buyers, meaning they had to meet with a salesperson to learn what was available. Now, the internet provides endless product lists, reviews, and unboxing videos, accessible 24/7. The reason your buyers don't care about your "why us" slide deck is because they already know how to find your website, making that legacy tactic a waste of their time.

From Information Disparity to Expertise Disparity. While buyers can now gather more information about products and prices, that doesn’t make salespeople obsolete. Your clients are still at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing why they have the challenges they have and how best to decide to improve their results. A modern approach leverages that disparity through insight and business acumen.

From Authority to Organizational Consensus. Selling was a lot easier and much faster when all you needed was a meeting with "the decision-maker," a person with ability and willingness to flex their personal authority to buy. As leadership approaches moved from command and control to consensus, more leaders forced their teams to weigh in on decisions, eventually requiring them to decide what they buy and who they buy it from, then holding them accountable for their results. Relying on a single contact now will doom your sale.

From Certainty to Uncertainty. Complexity drives uncertainty. Right now, for instance, we’re facing the highest inflation numbers in forty years, a third year of a pandemic, record low unemployment, 4.5 million people quitting their jobs each month, and at least a dozen other things that might frazzle your clients. Amidst that uncertainty, any change—even a positive one—can seem too risky. Modern salespeople must be able to explain the impact of the outside world on their client's business, creating the certainty to act.

Prospecting: Introductions to Providing Perspective

In the legacy approach to prospecting, the salesperson asked the client for the opportunity to meet with them to tell them about their company and their products or services, followed by the promise to "learn a little about" the client's business. This worked perfectly for decades, until the decision-makers and decision-shapers started refusing to meet with salespeople because they found it a waste of time.

What's changed in prospecting is that clients are no longer willing to take a meeting unless they recognize a value proposition that will benefit them—and “why us” ain’t it. Yet most salespeople and sales organizations, even those with a small army of SDRs and BDRs, provide no value in trade for the client's time.

Qualifying: From Disqualifying to Facilitating a Buyer's Journey

It's amusing to hear salespeople and sales managers talk about disqualifying prospective clients and leads because they are not "ready to buy." After all, no contact ever thanks a salesperson for asking them if they have a budget, the authority to buy, a compelling need, and a deadline for their purchase. Most salespeople simply aren’t willing to sacrifice their precious inbox-snorkeling to have actual conversations with their potential clients.

There is no single buyer's journey; there are only buyers’ journeys. You take your prospective clients where you find them. If they are interested in a conversation, you need to recognize what they need to move forward. We now spend enormous amounts of time and money trying to attract leads and convert website visits into MQLs and SQLs, only to reject an opportunity because the contact hasn’t yet had the sales conversations that would allow them to move forward.

Discovery: From Learning to Teaching

Legacy models of discovery taught us to discover the client's problem and their pain, then to explain how our "solutions" are built to solve their problem and eliminate their pain. News flash: your clients already know they have problems, and they gain nothing from reciting those problems to the fourth or seventh salesperson who tries to discern what's keeping them up at night.

Creating value for a client in discovery requires some teaching, giving them new information and insights to help them decide what and how to change. To be sure, you and your client can still learn from each other. But if your contact gains nothing from your discovery meetings, you are not likely to earn more of their time, let alone their business.

Problems: From Solutions to Outcomes

My brother-in-law told me a story about one of his clients. The client had been using their software for several years, so a salesperson met with them about extending the software license to the rest of the enterprise. The main contact complained that they were not seeing the results they wanted. When the salesperson asked the client if their team was using the solution effectively, he admitted that he didn't know.

At some point on the path to truly consultative selling, you will recognize that your "solution" may be necessary but not sufficient to produce the results your client needs. Much of the time, the client must also make certain necessary changes. Consultative selling means recognizing and recommending those changes, not just relying on a single solution to fix everything. By getting past the solution, you can look deeper at what changes the client needs to make to produce the outcomes they need, some of which are impossible with a "solution" alone. Fortunately, we are leaving "solutions" behind and moving towards "outcomes.''

Presenting: From “Why Us” to Execution and Outcomes

I was once asked to help a salesperson prepare for a presentation. The deal was worth $5M a year, with a three-year term. The salesperson prepared 98 "why us" slides for a 90-minute presentation. I pleaded with him not to share that huge number of slides, noting that his audience would prefer a conversation. Undeterred, he managed to get through all 98 slides with five minutes to spare. When he asked the main contact if he had any questions, his reply spoke volumes: "I am afraid we don't have time."

There is a truth here that most salespeople don't recognize, one with the power to improve your results. No amount of “why us” will win your deal if you haven't already proven that you are the right choice. Your prospective client might be polite enough to sit through your presentation, but the less the presentation is about them, the more quickly you’ll lose them—and your $15 million in income.

The reason decision-makers and their teams prefer to ask you "what-if" questions is because they want to know what you will do in certain scenarios, something that gives them more confidence than the picture of your building, the amazing story about your CEO, or your national footprint. You are better off spending ninety minutes reminding them why they need to change, what they future could look like, what they need to change, and how you will help them produce the outcomes they need.

The outdated, legacy approach to sales was designed and developed for a different world, and any salesperson ignorant of what’s changed is unprepared to serve their prospective clients. Those who don't understand why sales is broken will continue to find sales difficult.

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Post by Anthony Iannarino on February 10, 2022
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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