B2B vs B2C: What Are the Similarities and Differences in Sales Process Design? Part 2


2007 has been a fantastic year, but this is the last SPIF! Newsletter you’ll receive until January 8th.

Thank you for paying attention, sending us your questions and comments, and filling out our surveys. You’ll see the results of your input starting in January.

On behalf of the Sales Performance Consultant’s Team, I wish you and yours Happy Holidays!

Michael Webb
December 19, 2007

B2B vs. B2C: What Are the Similarities and Differences  in Sales Process Design? Part 2

Last week I addressed the similarities in B2B vs. B2C selling environments. This week the topic is the differences between those environments, with an emphasis on the unique challenges of B2B, challenges that can only be met via the skilled professional efforts of marketers and salespeople.

Number of Buying Influences
For the most part, B2C environments involve a single decision maker who is accountable primarily to themselves. Even if you are selling something family oriented, such as a house or insurance, having more than one or two immediate family members involved is rare.

Whether through media channels, retail displays, or personal contact, selling involves gaining the attention of people who want something and helping them through the stages of their decision-making, problem-solving process. It is simple enough that by analyzing a series of well-done sales conversations, you can extract the goals, concerns, and objections of most prospects and craft a written communication that will help them buy. You can then provide this material in a direct mail sales letter or via search engines, pay-per-click ads, and a web page to automate the sales process more or less effectively. Although such a vehicle may not be as effective as the best salesperson, it can function competently (and cheaply) and meet the needs of a large percentage of prospects for a long, long time.

Such simple sales processes can work in B2C environments as well, so long as there are not many buying influences. This often happens when a buying decision requires technical proficiency most people do not possess (such as the selection of a hydraulic valve), or when the risk of making a mistake is very low (as in commodities such as cleaning supplies). Unfortunately, these buyers are paid to find ways to reduce the cost and waste, making it increasingly difficult for sellers to make a living.

Fortunately, companies have no end of problems to solve, so suppliers looking to “climb up the food chain” have a chance to find ways to add value. Once this happens, you automatically enter the realm of complex sales, of multiple buying influences. This dramatically increases the complexity of selling.

The sales profession has developed a language to deal with various buying influences:

• Users (who evaluate your offer, but can’t make a final decision)
• Coaches (who want to help you win the sale)
• Gatekeepers (who want to block your sale)
• Technical buyers (who evaluate your offer from a technical standpoint)
• Decision makers (also known as economic buyers) who can say yes when everyone else says no, and no when everyone else says yes

Of course, the buying role has nothing to do with someone’s department. For example, I have seen cases in which the purchasing agent was not a gatekeeper or the decision maker was not a person of high official rank in the organization. Patterns emerge within a given industry, of course, but even these are often not consistent.

Complexity of Impact/Value
The reason people play those buying roles is that buying decisions usually affect more than one department within a business. If nothing else, for example, purchasing handles a transaction for some material, and the receiving dock hands the material to the production line (three departments). If there is something wrong with the material, the quality and the maintenance departments will get involved as well.

Businesses are labyrinths of inter-related departments, processes, and people. Managers are constantly working to understand what is really going on in their businesses, often without success. Selling even simple things in these environments can be challenging. Selling something that is both technically and politically complex is a daunting challenge. (CEOs often have a tough time doing it within their own companies!)

In consumer markets, marketing departments do surveys, focus groups, and other research to understand how prospects perceive value and develop effective ways of positioning and communicating value. In business-to-business environments, especially large businesses, this research must be done on an account by account basis. It requires understanding the interests and concerns of a broad variety of people and the ability to communicate value to managers at all the relevant levels of hierarchy.

The sales and relationship management skills required in this arena look more like executive leadership and less like transactional selling.

Complexity of Buying/Selling Process
Businesses set up complex buying processes to protect their own interests. Sometimes a seller can do well in that context, sometimes not. Occasionally, sellers have to decide whether they need to get outside that buying process and attempt to change the way things are done.

In these more complex and challenging environments, success is dependent on two things:
•  Salespeople’s business skills and sales acumen
•  Alignment between salespeople’s activities and their customer’s journey

How to Turn Your Sales and Marketing Into a Lean Six Sigma Production Machine That Runs Like Clockwork (And Do It in a Way Your Salespeople Will Love!)


Salespeople’s Business Skills and Sales Acumen
In complex selling environments, selling requires skills more like that of professional consulting. For example, professional consultants have highly honed listening skills. They prepare extensively for client meetings so they can be at least somewhat knowledgeable about the client’s business. That preparation displays itself in the questions they ask rather than in what they try to tell the client.

David H. Maister’s book “The Trusted Advisor” outlines the skills required to get other people to trust you. It is no secret that many consulting companies avoid hiring seasoned industry practitioners because the personal learning curve for professional consulting skills is quite steep. It is also no secret that a “show-up-and-throw-up” sales force can’t be transformed by simply calling them consultant instead of salespeople.

Trust must be earned. In this environment, this means successful salespeople will not act in ways that fail to benefit the customer.

Alignment Between Salespeople’s Activities and the Customer’s Journey
Value to customers is partly created by the salesperson’s individual behaviors, such as the way salespeople appear, the amount of preparation they put into each meeting, the questions they ask, the way they listen and confirm their understanding of what customers have told them, and the way they present their offers and value propositions.

However, there is far more to the relationship than what salespeople do. Companies can have a dramatic effect on salespeople’s productivity by the way they design and position their interactions with customers and the actions they ask customers to take.

Most companies leave all these decisions up to the salespeople. As a result, salespeople are stretched in all directions: to find more prospects, to do a better job researching existing ones, to prepare harder for sales presentations, to service the problems past customers are having, and so on. With the requirement that they be involved in so many different types of activities, it is no wonder that salespeople themselves become the bottleneck and that selling is like a cottage industry, in which only
a few people are really good at it.

Smart companies work to prevent this problem by designing interactions with customers around the Customer’s Journey. This means they have learned how to attract the right kinds of suspects with their marketing and promotional offers and developed interactions that cause some of those suspects to qualify themselves into prospects, all without the direct involvement of a “salesperson.” Likewise, prospects have to do things which “qualify” them for getting some of the consultant’s (uh, I mean salesperson’s) time.

B2B environments are changing rapidly, driven by the necessity for organizations to figure out ways of getting more people to do what you want them to do while spending time and fewer resources doing it. This requires companies to step out of the “box” of their traditional views of what selling is and what salespeople “should do.”

Michael J. Webb
December 19, 2007

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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