Being permitted early access to your ideal customer and gaining “trusted advisor” status (when they put their trust in you as a knowledgeable, subject matter expert), is a podium position that most business-to-business (B2B) suppliers and sales people want to be in.
Early access with the right people within your prospects’ circle of influence, is vital because it can be a major source of competitive advantage (a topic I discuss in this article here). Being first-off the starting block with an approach that is aligned with your prospects’ strategic priorities and objectives, can substantially increase your chances of developing a profitable, long-term customer relationship.
The trouble is, scenarios where you are the first contender (engaging with your prospect) on the dancefloor are becoming less common. And although many may not realise it, you’re now up against new, better-informed competitors who are ready to win. Your head start no longer guarantees success.
Why? Because today’s global ‘knowledge economy’ means there are now new competitive (better equipped) forces joining the starting line-up, giving buyers and new-entrants increased leverage and bargaining power. To be competitive in today’s digital era, you “better shape up” to avoid any advantage you have now being taken away from you tomorrow.
Unfortunately many B2B sellers are failing to adapt at a pace that is necessary for success. This is having a profound impact on sales performance. So much so in fact, that the latest research from CSO Insights suggest that “only 53% of B2B sales people are meeting or exceeding their quotas”! Why? because sellers who still adopt outdated sales practices, are finding it increasingly difficult to engage early with the right people (in the right way) due to changes in customer purchasing behaviour. The competitors arriving first on the dancefloor are delivering value to the prospect from the very first contact and throughout the purchasing process.
Only 53% of B2B sales people are meeting or exceeding their quotas
So, does arriving late to the party mean you should just leave?
Picture the scene: Your competitors are already all over the opportunity. Tom, Dick and Harry have been pulling all kinds of shapes on the prospect’s dancefloor, well before you arrived. Now what? Do you qualify out, dismissing it as an unlikely contest to win? Or, do you go for it like Olivia and John – ready to bust some unexpected, jaw-dropping moves that leave your prospect (drooling) and competitors wondering what just happened?
Well, this of course depends on several factors.
Firstly, you must ask yourself the question: are we likely to run the risk of wasting several weeks of our lives (possibly embarrassing ourselves) on a potential deal/ dancefloor we’ve little chance of shaping the outcome? To answer this question, you must look at ways of getting under the hood of the prospect’s bonnet to see what’s going on because the window of opportunity to do so is rapidly closing, if it hasn’t already.
Qualification. Like a good mechanic, you want to be able to diagnose where the prospect is trying to go, where they’ve come from, and the reasons for deciding on this route. However, when you’re one of several contenders at the party (and you weren’t the first to arrive), the right intelligent approach is needed when attempting to qualify whether you stand a chance of winning the contest. You need a 10,000-foot view of your prospect’s situation and the opportunity before narrowing it down to the finer detail.
Basic sales qualification tools such as “BANT” (budget, authority, need, timeframe) are, well, just that – basic. They can be dangerous because they do not allow you to properly assess the prospect’s situation, the politics, or competitive environment. They’re essentially supplier-focused and not customer-centric.
Many sales people who are instructed by management to use outdated tools such as BANT, end up going in blind with no strategy, believing they have a “qualified” opportunity. The result? A lot of wasted effort (and money), and an embarrassing display of poorly-rehearsed dance moves that eliminate you from the competition. (For more on the trouble with BANT, check this Forbes article out here).
A note of caution: If your prospect has simply made a “request for a proposal” (RFP) without you having any prior engagement, this is NOT your party. It’s time to get out and move on. Or, as Mark Hunter of The Sales Hunter recently posted on LinkedIn about: “responding to RFP’s are a bit like buying lottery tickets: they may feel good for a moment, but there’s little to no chance you’re going to win”.
Okay, but you’ve decided that you like the sound of this party. Now what?
So, the potential opportunity is not an RFP. It may be a public tender you’re wanting to bid for; or perhaps it’s something you’ve come across from your prospecting efforts. You may not be the first contender who has arrived to shape your prospect’s thinking, but upon reviewing their situation, project specification and their decision criteria, you believe you stand a good chance. In fact, you’ve identified several potential pitfalls your prospect may encounter and a better way they can achieve their goals. However, how do you best approach the situation now that they’ve come this far?
Well, because this article has already dragged on a bit, I will be back here Sunday 19th August 2018 with Part 2, with some lessons I’ve learnt during my own professional sales career. In the meantime, if you valued Part 1 and would like to share some of your own sales experiences or lessons, I invite you to leave a comment below.
See you then…
Written by: Jonathan Lancaster