There are many ways to grow your business to business sales. Some firms focus on prospecting. Some focus on selling to existing clients. Some rely on channel partners, and some leverage the power of technology.
But, regardless of the channel or approach you use, there are some underlying fundamentals that remain as true today as they did twenty years ago. In this post, I want to take a deeper dive into two of those fundamentals – and introduce a third factor, which I believe is transforming the way we sell today.
Stop trying to create conversations – create connections instead
Traditionally, the focus of any outbound prospecting efforts have been to generate conversations. Conversation, so conventional wisdom goes, lead to interest. Interest leads to proposals. Proposals lead to wins. Wins help grow your business to business sales. But, in a world where decision makers are busier, more well-guarded and more wary of anyone trying to sell them, does that approach still work ?
Yes – it does. Providing you do something else as well.
You see, just having conversations is not enough. You need to build connections as well. In fact, in order to be really successful, you’ll want to start by building connections, and then move into conversations.
Think about it this way: how likely would you be to open up to a perfect stranger ? And how much more likely would you be to open up to someone who you’ve know for a while, who’s shown a real interest in you and who’s perhaps helped you in some small way ?
To me, that’s the perfect formula. Build connections first, and create conversations after.
Start with the end in mind
Quarterly targets. Sales objectives. Peer pressure. Quota.
All factors that lead us to focus on short-term results. And – in spite of convential wisdom – that’s not entirely a bad thing. Short term results keep us honest. They allow us to plan and measure our progress on a short term basis. And they enable us to provide short term incentives for action (both by the salesforce, but also by clients).
But short-term planning is not enough – it needs to be complemented by a long-term focus. Not just for growing your overall business to business sales, but also for individual accounts.
Whenever I start a business relationship with a new client, I’m never focused on “making the (first) sale”. Instead, I focus on the long term, by answering the following questions:
- What is the strategy, business model and industry context for this firm ?
- What challenges and opportunities do they face – now and in the future ?
- What products and services could we offer against those – short term and long term ?
- What impact can we deliver for this client, in quantitative and qualitative terms ?
- What is the most logical “build up” for this account ? How can we start by doing something small, and what is the most logical next step after that ?
Most sellers try to move too quickly, or coerce buyers into making a huge leap of faith by increasing the order size beyond their comfort level. Doing a quick analysis like this will help you focus on the long term (identifying all the ways in which you can grow the account), whilst at the same time meeting your short term goal.
Build your brand as a thought leader
Both factors I’ve covered thus far were as true twenty years ago as they are today. But one isn’t: the need for sellers to stand out as true advisors and thought leaders. Buyers today aren’t looking for order takers, and they don’t need “convincing”. They are looking for educated, intelligent sparring partners who can validate their ideas and push back where needed.
RAIN Group’s research on “What Sales Winners Do Differently” highlighted this fact: the #1 reason buyers pick one firm over another is because “the seller educated (them) with new ideas and perspectives”.
If you want to get some ideas around how to start building your own reputation as a thought leader, check out this post on “Stop Selling: How To Turn Your Expert Reputation Into New Relationships (And Revenue)”