B2B vs B2C: What Are the Similarities and Differences in Sales Process Design?
I almost didn’t make my newsletter deadline this week. I was in Canada last week, had interviews from Managing Automation Magazine and was a guest speaker for one of Dan Kennedy’s new information products on designing sales processes (Yes, that is my excuse! :-).
Thankfully, I believe I’ll be in town until at least the first week in January, working on a list of objectives that might be exciting to you: a refresh and re-launch of my “Sales Process Improvement Series Guidebooks” after the first of the year, among other things. (I’ve constantly received inquiries for these since I took them down from my Website a couple of months ago, but they needed a refresh. I’ve learned so much in the last year that I didn’t feel right about not bringing them up to date. And, YES, I will keep my promise to provide the upgraded materials to everyone who has previously purchased a copy.)
I hope you are in sight of achieving your goals and objectives for the year. If you’ve had an interesting experience or have a good question about improving your sales process, drop me a line!
Until next week,
Michael J. Webb
December 12, 2007
B2B vs. B2C: What Are the Similarities and Differences in Sales Process Design?
Whether someone is satisfying a want or avoiding a pain, buying and selling is about individual people getting what they want. This week we’ll explore some core similarities between B2C and B2B environments and the implications for designing a sales process. Next week, we’ll dive into some of the differences that make B2B unique.
The Universal Principle of the Customer’s Journey Freedom for people to pursue their own lives is a prerequisite of civilized society. It is fundamentally right for them to pursue happiness. Success requires them to find ways of solving their problems (both personally and professionally).
It is fundamentally right for other people to be uninterested in your product or service. If you wish to influence them, you must give them a reason to give you their attention, their time, their information, and ultimately (if that is your goal) their money.
That sequence, by the way, is essential. It reveals a powerful way of looking at the situation, called the “Customer’s Journey.”* This term describes the stages they go through as they realize pain, discover and prioritize the problem, and go about finding a solution. It enables you to understand “where” the prospect is in their problem-solving journey. This is crucial, because it explains the reason for the single most common problem in any sales process (in both B2C and B2B environments): trying to get people to do things they are not ready to do.
Here is a simple event that happens regularly in the business world:
1) A salesperson contacts a prospect to tell them about their product in the hope of making a sale.
2) The prospect resists the salesperson, wishing to avoid a boring and irrelevant presentation.
In the best, zero value was created in this event. More likely of course, negativity results because it causes the prospect to dislike the salesperson and the company they represent.
The problem happens because the prospect is NOT READY to hear about the product. They probably didn’t know they had the problem the product could solve. The company whose advertisements or salespeople ignorantly plunge ahead gets what they deserve. Long ago, a sales manager told me. “If you want to sell the solution, you have to sell (or find) the problem first.” Boy was he right!
What the Buyer Wants
If people have identified a problem they want to solve, they face a dilemma: making the right decision to solve it. Think about how you feel when buying something important. Chances are, before you decide to pull the trigger you would prefer that a number of things be in place:
1) You want to be satisfied that your problem (and its solution) is correctly identified
2) You want to be confident of your value judgments, including
A. How you and others you know will feel about the decision, and
B. Whether it is worth the asking price
3) You want to be confident that you have not missed anything important, that the chances of making a mistake are low
4) You want to be ready; the timing of the deal needs to make sense to you
Now, put yourself in the shoes of the salesperson trying to help you make your decision. To be effective, such a salesperson needs to give you what you want, including
1) Information to help the prospect understand or confirm their assessment of the problem and the solution
2) Value-oriented rationale, including emotional and logical information (such as ROI, what success will look and feel like, and perhaps competitive comparisons)
3) Information that proves you are credible and trustworthy (such as testimonials, third-party evidence, and guarantees)
4) Reasons to act now; urgency (can originate from either the buyer or the seller)
This description outlines the way sellers and buyers work together. It shows that selling is actually a service you extend to the market to help customers buy. Further, it demonstrates another principle of effective sales process design: everything you do to find, win, or keep customers must create value for them.
Motivation Comes from Within Other People
Supply and demand shifts power and control in the market. If people already want to buy lots of what you sell, buying might be a much bigger problem than selling.
In years gone by, companies only needed to place bulletin boards or advertisements, and the simple
availability of the information caused orders to come in. Nowadays, markets are characterized by oversupply of products and services. Sellers must work far harder to win the customers they want. The only way to influence people is to find something they want and a way to give it to them. This could be information and assistance, but it also certainly means truth and trust. To quote a famous line from Cicero, the Roman orator:
“If you are to persuade me, you must feel my feelings, think my thoughts, and speak my words.”
The truth is that motivation comes from within the people in the market. The seller can tap into it, shape it, amplify it, remove roadblocks to it, but in the end, the seller can’t create motivation out of thin air. There has to be some want within the buyer to work with in the first place.
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Other Similarities Between B2B and B2C Selling Environments
Regardless of the product or service, the market, the media used, or whether you are in a B2B or B2C environment, helping the customer through their journey is central to a successful sales process. The specifics will vary dramatically between cultures, industries, markets, media, and personality types. The principles will be the same so long as human beings are pursuing their own interests.
Here are a few other things in common between B2B and B2C environments:
Broad ranges of technical sophistication
Most consumers have simple needs, yet there are lucrative niches where some consumers are technically sophisticated (audiophiles, car nuts, gaming computer geeks, skateboarders, scuba divers, etc.).
Businesses generally have more sophisticated technical needs, yet there are plenty of markets where basic commodities are in demand (consider cleaning supplies, food products, and various raw materials)
Requirements for specialized language
While language in business and industry can seem complex and technical to outsiders, it usually refers to fairly simple things once you learn what people are talking about. The language used to sell sunglasses or soap, on magazine covers, or in catalogues may seem unremarkable. However, know this: businesses must craft that language with extreme care. It results from substantial amounts of experimentation and testing because of the millions of dollars at stake.
The issue is the message, not the media. Consumer markets are noted for using mass media (print, TV), yet there are many visible successes in all kinds of media, including the Internet, direct mail, and even salesmanship (whether via retail outlets, door-to-door, or network marketing). The complexities and scale of B2B organizations make direct sales forces more common, but businesses also need to
market effectively through press releases, trade publications, Internet sites, direct mail, and a host of
other media and channels.
Reason and Emotion
Most people make buying decisions on emotion, a fact which severely limits the market segment available to those who base their marketing on reason alone. While B2B environments typically assume the pretense of reason, emotional motivations are just as rampant there as in B2C. The emotions of people who have cultivated the habits of reason are better aligned with the causes of their problems (and the consequences of their actions). In the end, businesses are designed around the comfort of the people living in them, so sellers are well advised to be aware and take advantage of all the various reasons for buying.
The characteristics described so far would make a great checklist for the initial design considerations for a sales process. They outline many of the core issues involved in marketing and selling problems, whether B2B or B2C.
Next week, I’ll deal with some issues that are unique to the B2B world.
Michael J. Webb
December 12, 2007
* I first learned about this concept from Hugh Macfarlane’s book “The Leakey Funnel”