Let’s be honest: most of what is taught or trained in B2B sales enablement is designed to help the salesperson succeed, not the client. There may be no better example than the sales process, a linear model promising success to every salesperson who follows the exact steps in the precise order. It would be rare to see a sales process with a list of outcomes the client needs from the sales conversation. For that, of course, we have the "buyer's journey."
While we are being forthright, let’s acknowledge that the "buyer's journey" is just another map designed to help sellers sell more effectively. The concepts help salespeople recognize what a prospective client needs as they pursue a decision, preferably buying the product or service they need to improve some outcome. While the buyer's journey is more polite and more politically correct for today's selling environment, it sins in the same way as the sales process.
Now, I’m a map maker myself: I believe that maps of the sales conversation are critically important. The sales process and the buyer's journey are both conceptual maps that can guide your conversation. However, the map is not the terrain, and I don't believe the terrain is always a linear path, nor do I believe that there is a buyer's journey. There are only buyers' journeys, as different people and different companies have different needs at different times. My concern here is why the salesperson takes a certain action.
Enablement Within the Sales Process
Obtaining the First Meeting
A few months ago, I received a cold call from a salesperson who asked me to agree to a "discovery call." We normally use that term to describe the first meeting, but this was the first time I had ever heard a salesperson ask for one by name during a pitch for a meeting. That usage, I believe, indicates that the meeting was designed to achieve this salesperson's outcome. More importantly, our brief conversation confirmed that the meeting would not benefit me in any way, aside from collecting yet another example of a salesperson who was provided a terrible script by their manager.
Your intentions can betray you, in this case projecting that your goal is to help you get what you want, rather than helping the client get what they need. Even if you are not self-oriented, and even if you genuinely want to help your clients, that’s not how they’ll perceive a pitch like this.
Instead, you should provide an executive briefing or use some other method that allows you to transfer your knowledge and experience to your prospective client, avoiding the commoditized discovery call that is both self-oriented and outdated. This approach gives you the opportunity to make sense of your client's world by orienting them to what’s changed and helping them effectively process and interpret those changes.
My consulting company has a course called "Handling Objections," a name I find objectionable, but one we still use so people know what it is and what it does. Mostly we talk about "overcoming objections," still using the legacy approach language that suggests defeating the objection, or in some cases, the prospective client. For more than a century, objections have been treated as an obstacle to sales, something to be dispatched. The speed at which the salesperson responds to the trigger is proof positive that the most important outcome is moving past the objection, rather than addressing the client’s concern.
In their 1970 book Future Shock, Alvin and Heidi Toffler wrote that we suffer a “shattering stress and disorientation” from “too much change in too short a period of time.” That description fits our current environment even better now than in 1970, as well as our clients’ environments. So rather than seeing an objection as an obstacle, think of it as a signal. Objections appear when your client wants to slow down or end the sales conversation, typically because they have a concern that they'd rather not say out loud. The objection is their way of masking the concern.
There is no way to overcome a concern. Instead, you have to resolve it for and with the client. One of the reasons prospects don't become clients is because the salesperson insists on overcoming their objection, leaving the real, rational concern unaddressed. An approach designed to help the client solve their problems would recognize those concerns and help the client work through the conversations they need—not so they can stop worrying, but so they can progress toward their goals with greater confidence.
The Monumental Shift in B2B Sales
There’s an important paradox at the heart of goal attainment. The more you pursue your goals, the more self-oriented you are. The more you help your client pursue their goals, the more other-oriented you are. Since being other-oriented is a prerequisite for creating value, the more aggressively you pursue the outcomes you need from the sales conversation, the less valuable the conversation is for your client. Conversely, the more you help your client decide to change, enable their decisions, and provide them the certainty to move forward, the more certain you will reach your own goals.
The profession of B2B sales is still right at the beginning of a monumental change, the kind that happens every fifty or sixty years: recognizing that creating value is the most important sales result. Most sales organizations, especially the larger ones, have done little to address this change and are getting increasingly irrelevant, turning to technology and automation to improve results instead of increasing the effectiveness of their sales force by creating more value for their clients.
A better way to think about sales enablement in this new world is to frame it as enabling buyers to change in a difficult and confusing environment. Instead of enabling selling, our approaches need to enable buyers to buy, a shift that is going to leave many of our competitors behind.