B2B sales = change management

George Brontén

Working with complex b2b sales is really about change management. You are helping people make the improvements needed to move their business in a positive direction. However, in order to improve, they will need to change how they do things and you are interrupting their status quo. The more risky and cumbersome they perceive this change to be, the more complex the deal becomes. 

They already know what they have, but there is uncertainty about how your products and services will affect the future. If you’re selling something they have purchased earlier, which did not live up to their expectations, they have an additional negative experience on their risk radar.

Some sales development experts are voicing their thoughts on this topic. Sharon Drew Morgen comes to mind and the Prosales Institute has also done a great job in laying out the importance of better understanding the buyer before rushing in to close the sale. Sharon Drew points out the importance of getting buy-in as early as possible from all people who will be affected by your solution’s change to their daily routines. Prosales highlights the importance of understanding different buying cultures shining a light on the fact that some buying teams focus on people, whereas others look at hard facts. In addition, buying teams differ in the longevity of their decisions (short-term/tactical vs. long-term/strategic).

Unfortunately many selling organizations still rush in to give their ”standard pitch” and end up presenting their solution to the wrong people at the wrong time. This is very evident in the software industry, where fairly junior sales people quickly jump to a demonstration of their product’s fabulous features and functions and spend the next weeks wondering why the deal is stalling. Why aren’t the stakeholders answering when they call to ”touch base” (and hope that the person on the other end was so impressed by the demo that they will place an order)?

What happens is usually that sales people:

  1. Fail to figure out the most important questions around change management.

    What business outcomes do the customer stakeholders want to accomplish and why is this important now? Are they even ready to make a change? Sales people also fail to ask why they haven’t changed earlier – how comfortable are they sticking with the status quo? What happens if they do nothing?

    Also, too little effort is placed on understanding and quantifying the cost of inactivity (to move away from) and the potential upsides of change (to move towards), both for the company as well as the soft gains for people affected by change (minimize boring tasks, become a hero within the company, receive a bonus, etc).
  2. Fail to understand how a change to the status quo will affect the people individually and the organization as a whole.

    What risks and obstacles do they foresee that could prevent them from making a change (even if change is the best rational decision)? Discuss these risks early to prevent them from paralyzing later, preventing any progress.

    Too many sales people shy away from talking about buyers’ potential risks because they believe it lowers their chances to win a deal. It’s actually the opposite. This presents an opportunity to differentiate, to be open about potential risks and explain how they can be minimized or eliminated using your solution and experience from similar projects.
  3. Fail to find out how the customer has purchased and implemented similar solutions historically.

    You will need to align your deal level strategy with the customer’s buying process to speed up the decision. If they are very fact-oriented and invest for the long-term, make sure to have a structured sales person in the lead and find out their buying criteria.

    A people-focused sales person can mess up a deal with a fact-focused buyer, and vice versa. Should their criteria be to your disadvantage, try changing their perspectives to adjust the criteria or walk away early.

Change is hard. B2B sales is all about helping your clients change and achieve a better outcome than they see today.

In summary

Change is hard. You need to make sure your sales process help sales people determine how receptive the buyer is to change and how they make decisions. Understand who will be affected by the change and get their buy-in as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid to discuss potential risks with the buyer - they will be thinking about them sooner or later anyway – it’s better to be proactive. Be ready to walk away from potential buyers where change is unlikely and the odds are stacked against you.

For more on this topic I highly recommend Sharon Drew’s book ”The Dirty Little Secret” and joining the Prosales Institute to gain access to their research literature.

We also did an on-demand webinar together with Prosales that highlight the wildly different success factors between the sales logics and how to successfully manage a complex sales logic, Is complexity killing your sales?  

George Brontén
Published October 20, 2014, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.