If you attend the average weekly sales pipeline review of a mid-sized company, you might believe there is a straight, process that business-to-business (B2B) buyers follow when making a commercial purchase in the sales process. Maybe this was true a decade or two ago, but the 2015 McKinsey Quarterly report indicates that the process B2B customers follow when making a purchase has changed significantly and selling organizations are struggling to catch up. This has big implications for small and mid-sized companies competing for larger contracts in B2B prospects who have already made some of the buying shifts.
The traditional sales process started with a sales person establishing a relationship with a decision-maker within a qualified company. The next step in the process would be discussion between these two people about the specific requirements of the buyer. The following step would be demonstration of capabilities and confirmation of those capabilities by references. A quote for price and terms would be offered and a price would then be agreed upon. Once work was satisfactorily performed, the relationship would continue and grow. This was the straight sales process. The majority of the information was exchanged between two people with the sales person providing the majority of the information about capabilities and examples of what could be offered by his or her company. If additional purchasing or technical approvals were necessary, the buyer would secure them within his or her organization.
Most selling companies have accepted that this traditional way of selling with a single sales representative selling to a single decision-maker has changed. Some companies have either added technical support or financial analyst support in order to facilitate transactional sales. However, this is still just a change in arithmetic not a fundamental change in strategy. The McKinsey Quarterly report is indicating that a larger view should be taken.
1) B2B customers are digitally empowered. – According to the report, influences such as peer-to-peer networks and digital platforms increase the rapid reach of market messaging, mimicking consumer buying practices. This changes not only the way in which information is conveyed or accessed by B2B buyers in what was the traditional sales process, it also allows the buyer the opportunity to influence the speed of access. No longer does the buyer have to wait for a sales person to “get back to you” on a piece of technical information or customer experience if the buyer can find a response through a request on a peer-to-peer network.
2) More people means less selling, clearer messaging. –The report indicates that “B2B customers will use six different interaction channels throughout the decision journey, and almost 65 percent will come away from it frustrated by inconsistent experiences.” Over the past ten years, there has been an increase from three to seven in the number of people who are involved in the buying decision on the part of the buying company. With the increase of people and interaction channel, selling companies have more opportunities to create dissonance in their messaging. Most of the people in the interaction on both sides are not in the traditional roles of “buyer” or “seller.”
3) The customer information chain has flattened. – Traditional hierarchies that once moved information up the chain, have now been flattened by digital tools creating internal networks for moving information. In the past, a report from a conference might be generated and then passed along if it was deemed of value. Now information is passed along through the conference itself, or through digital platforms that create internal influence that are not position dependent, allowing a low level engineer to make an observation of a product that is immediately accessible to a senior engineer.
4) Your customer segment changes your sales process. – Some organizations are indicating that they want a no frills approach to both their service and the manner in which they are sold. Some are indicating an interest in high touch in both service and sales approach. The availability of data and segmentation can lead to conclusions on your approach.
What do these shifts mean?
- The buying process is no longer a straight-line, controlled by a seller and a buyer, but rather a journey influenced by many players along its course.
- Customers can access the information influencing their decisions real time and from many sources, so providing information is no longer the value that a sales person provides in the sales process.
- Traditionally, sales and marketing were separated by very defined lines and asynchronous cycles, which now are blurred lines and more synchronized cycles.
Buying organizations have a greater influence over selling organizations than ever because they now have an equal access to the information of the selling organization’s industry. This changes what will be valued in the selling process—considerably.
Tom Searcy is CEO and founder of Hunt Big Sales, a sales strategy company that helps CEOs double the size of their company. Searcy is the author of RFPs Suck! How to Master the RFP System Once and for All to Win Big Business, co-author of Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company, and How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett: Lessons from the World’s Greatest Dealmaker, as well as the upcoming book Life After the Death of Sales: How to Thrive in the New Era of Selling. For more information, visit www.thedeathofselling.com.