What should your b2b sales team do when a prospect shows up looking for a solution, and confident that yours is the right one?
Wrong answer: Get it in the pipeline and close the deal!
Right answer: Help the buyer get their ducks in a row.
Buyers almost never actually know what they need when they first contact your sales team. If they start the conversation saying that they already know they have a problem and need your solution, the odds are very high that they have skipped some essential steps in the middle.
Unfortunately, most salespeople hear this with happy ears, assuming the sale is already mostly made. Some marketing “gurus” say that B2B buyers have already completed most of their purchasing decision by the time they reach your sales team.
In complex B2B sales, this belief can be disastrous.
The “sale” goes into the pipeline with a high probability of closing, and your sales team jumps into proposal mode, working hard to “validate” to the buyer that they’re making the right decision.
Meanwhile, the buyer and the seller both are completely oblivious to the fact that the buyer by no means has their ducks in a row. Their ducks: Understanding their root problem, and achieving alignment among stakeholders.
Very often, a potential buyer of your product realizes they have a business problem, and by the time they reach a salesperson, they’ve decided that they know what the solution is.
For example, a potential buyer of the Membrain platform may have decided that their CRM sucks. We like it when they understand that their traditional CRM sucks. However, the stakeholder who contacts us has generally done some preliminary research and quickly moved to their idea of a solution: We need a new CRM!
While on the surface, this sounds like good news for us, and it can be–it’s not the end of the road. This buyer then goes out and looks for demos from potential CRMs. Most sales teams happily stick the buyer in their pipeline with happy ears and provide the requested demo.
Now the buyer is listed in the pipelines of multiple companies, is presented with several demos, and is actually no closer to understanding the root of their problem or how to actually solve it than they were at the beginning. They just have competing data points regarding the “best” solution to a problem they haven’t clearly defined.
And all those salespeople think this is THEIR sale–when in fact, unless somebody does something different, it’s likely NOBODY’s sale.
In this case, the “problem duck” is the deep understanding of the root problem that nobody has addressed. Why do they hate their CRM? What isn’t working for them? Is it actually the CRM, or is it something bigger, like a lack of clear process or the ability to see into what’s working for them? Is it actually the CRM and its inability to properly represent sales process and methodology, or is it lack of strategy or alignment across sales teams? Or a big skills gap among salespeople and sales managers. Or a combination of all the above?
You can’t know until someone asks these deeper questions. And unless someone asks these deeper questions, the problem won’t be solved, no matter what CRM is chosen. More likely, no CRM will be chosen because there’s another “problem duck” that the buyer and seller have no idea is about to get out of line…
What the potential buyer and salesperson in the scenario above don’t realize is that even if they clearly define THIS buying stakeholder’s problem and needs… it won’t necessarily mean the other stakeholders are lined up. And this can be a big problem.
Unless someone asks deeper questions, the problem won’t be solved (and nothing purchased.)
For instance, let’s say your “buyer” is a sales director. They believe the CRM sucks because it’s stiff and complicated, takes too much time away from the salespeople, doesn’t provide useful analysis, and is a pain to use. The director’s solution is to seek another CRM.
If you take this problem to their boss, though, you get a different perspective. They say, “Why is this a problem for me? Just get your people to log their pipeline, and then we can use the report. Maybe it’s not the best, but it does the job, and replacing the CRM is too big a risk.”
Go to that boss’s boss, and they say: “The forecasts are always wrong. Why do I have to ask you about every deal? Why isn’t this info in the CRM? Let’s bring a consultant in to sort all this out, get me the numbers I need, and get everyone to stop complaining!”
Take it all the way to the CEO, and the CEO says: “What the hell is going on in the sales department? It’s like a black box to me, I can’t see anything. We’ve already invested hundreds of thousands into the CRM. Just freaking use it and stop insisting we change it. There’s nothing wrong with the system - it’s you.”
If our salesperson is only talking to the one buying stakeholder, and filtering what they say through happy ears, they will remain completely clueless about these other perspectives, and unable to influence them.
Instead of responding to “I need your CRM,” or even “I need a CRM like yours” with a demo, sellers can get better results by:
These conversations will necessarily take longer than simply logging the opportunity in the pipeline and providing a presentation. They will also lead to better outcomes. Some ways sellers can initiate these conversations:
When all stakeholders are involved and discovering root causes together, then it is easier to reach consensus about how to approach the solution.
This is what it means to help the buyer get their ducks in a row. And once the ducks are in a row, then actual sales can occur. It takes a little longer, but by having these conversations, your sales team will strip away competitors who are not having the conversations, they’ll build trust with all the stakeholders, and they’ll reduce friction and increase the odds of a favorable outcome.
Finally, pro tip: Train your teams to inquire about the company’s most prioritized issues, and align conversations around these priorities.
If your solution is aligned with a top strategic priority, you will also get priority in accessing funds and resources to execute on the solution you provide.
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. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn