5 Considerations for Winning Complex Sales Conversations

Our team loves the work of Tim Reisterer and Erik Peterson of Corporate Visions — a leading marketing and sales messaging, tools and training company that helps global B2B companies create more sales opportunities.

We’ve had the pleasure of hearing both gentlemen speak several times this year on the B2B sales and marketing conference circuit; and having re-read their business bestseller Conversations That Win The Complex Sales, I thought it prudent to boil their work down to five considerations that have tangibly impacted the Sales team of my SaaS technology company, idio, this year.

1) Forget stated needs, consider unconsidered needs

The temptation in all sales conversations is to articulate how your product’s capabilities can solve the known needs of your prospect. The problem with this is that this invariably leads to ‘commoditized conversations’ where both you and your competitors lead with capabilities-first discussion. At best, in the mind of your prospect you enter an undifferentiated ‘competitive bake-off’ where you are viewed to be on parity with your competitors, at worst it forces your prospect to stick with the status quo and not make a purchase decision at all.

Crucially, timing is everything: leading with unconsidered needs is more powerful than responding to stated needs and then introducing an unconsidered need at the end. Thus was the conclusion from Corporate Visions’ research in conjunction with Stanford School of Business professor Zakary Tormala (you can read more about the study here).

2) Use original insights: the more visionary the better

According to Forrester Research, 74 percent of executive buyers that “commit to making a change will go with the company that is able to create buying vision.” Yet, Corporate Visions’ contention is that many B2B organizations are guilty of regurgitating languid stats that don’t force change or create buying vision — in fact, quite the opposite.

A practical question we ask of ourselves is what proprietary research can we create in the near future that will both differentiate idio and defeat the status quo. These insights need to be at the very least ‘authoritative’ (ideally, incorporating the work of respected third parties like industry analysts), but better still, they need to be visionary; insights that both predict and define what’s next and how it will affect our prospects’ business. The key to a truly visionary insight is that it is provocative and unique enough to make the status quo ‘untenable’, and position your proposition as the best option for your prospect to future-proof against coming change.

3) Who is in your marketing database?

According to analyst firm IDC, 80 percent of B2B decisions are being signed by decision makers with VP or higher titles, yet sales teams continue to spend the majority of their time speaking to lower-level employers. On one hand this is understandable: it’s exactly these people that will likely be using your product and — at a capabilities level — will benefit from it. However, B2B selling a team sport: it takes 5.4 people to formally sign off on each purchase according to Harvard Business Review. The output of this is to make sure that from the outset your database contains these senior decision makers and that they are also being targeted with relevant messaging.

4) Make sure the story continues at lead handoff

Even when Marketing has devised a compelling message with visionary insights that raise unconsidered needs, all that hard work can be lost at lead handoff if Sales is unable to continue the story.

The key to solving messaging alignment problems, according to Reisterer, is providing your salespeople with tools that help them connect the dots between your demand generation and sales enablement stories. Our Sales team uses idio for Salesforce to understand a lead’s content consumption history and what their interests are based on the content they’ve engaged with. This means that when a lead comes through: our SDRs and sales execs not only receive a first name, last name and last action, but also a profile of that individual’s current and emerging interests — as gleaned from the content they looked at on your site before becoming a lead. It’s as if you can read your prospect’s mind.

5) Fix the “business acumen gap”

The sales-facing imperative of 80 percent of B2B decisions being signed off by senior executive is that SDRs and salespeople need to be comfortable having ‘elevated’ discussions with these buyers.

SiriusDecisions research shows that executive decision-makers prefer discussion about business trends, issues, and insights four times more than product knowledge-driven sales conversations. Solution selling is insufficient to reach these customers, and product selling does not connect with their requirements. These C-level buyers seek salespeople who can move on from discussing business process problems and solutions to discussing the overall business results the customer’s company is trying to achieve. Unfortunately, a recent Forrester study revealed business buyers felt 88 percent of salespeople who call on them are knowledgeable about their products and services, but only 24 percent understand their business issues. In short, there is a “business acumen gap.”

Conclusion

Creating ‘conversations that win’ is no easy feat. However, through considering unconsidered needs, formulating visionary insights, re-evaluating your marketing database, making sure Marketing passes on lead context to Sales, and taking steps to fix the business acumen gap, B2B sales organizations will be much better placed to have conversations that win the complex sale.

About the Author

Andrew Davies is the CMO and co-founder of idio, and helps leading content marketers maximize the value of their content marketing. idio's Content Intelligence platform analyzes your content automatically, understands your customers via the content they consume, and recommends the right content to the right person in real-time, on any channel. To find out more, please visit idioplatform.com and follow Andrew on Twitter @andjdavies.

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