Selling Through the Valley of Silence

The B2B buying cycle has changed and consequently so has the sales cycle.

In particular the rules of engagement between the marketing and sales functions of a B2B sales organisation need to respond to the changes brought about by the new social environment.

Historically sales interaction would start at the needs definition stage of a buying process and the buying and selling teams would work together through the evaluation phases to help the buyer build a shortlist and then make the ultimate selection, with the buyer often dependent on the sales person for the information required to make a selection. This has changed. The buyer often now evaluates your company and products without sales involvement – not contacting sales until they have effectively already shortlisted and are merely seeking validation of the assumptions and choices they have already made. This period of activity but non communication is the sales valley of silence. You do not know what conversations and interactions are happening but you absolutely hope they are happening and that they are positive.

As the above diagram shows this clearly impacts both the role of the sales and marketing functions.

Firstly marketing has to ensure that your company is represented in the appropriate social communities and conversations to give you any chance of being considered at all. Buyers can only evaluate solutions they are aware of. Marketing also have to make sure that there is easy access to the product and information required to support a buyer evaluation (including access to ‘unsupervised’ product trials and testing). This has to be available and understandable at all the points along the buyer’s evaluation path. Not only does your web site have to be extremely engaging and informative but if you are not participating intelligently in the appropriate chat forums and social discussions you are far less likely to be known about and considered.

The delivery of differing types of collateral at various times along the evaluation path is also vital. You can no longer rely on a good old company product brochure and a few tame customer quotes but now must make sure you have a library of effective white papers and guidance articles that fully support the buyer on their journey. Equally important is that your user community on mass is now a reference source and to succeed you need to have an effective customer care program that results in positive quotes and references as a matter of course. On line feedback of your true performance is quick and relatively simple to obtain by the skilled purchaser.

Whilst sales may be entering the process at a later stage this does not diminish the role they play in qualifying the prospect; determining the value of the opportunity; differentiating their proposal from the competition and building the appropriate relationships to cover the bases in the time honoured manner. In fact the sales role is more critical than ever; with buyers no longer dependent on the sales team for information, the old adage of “knowledge equalling power” no longer holds and sales need to be smarter and better at explaining the uniqueness of their value propositions and differentiation from their competition in a forum of open information and knowledge.

Equally don’t be fooled into thinking that this shift in interactions will necessarily shorten the new seemingly condensed sales cycle. Whilst there is now less time to secure the selection – closing the deal can still be a long way off. The internal politics around securing and releasing a budget and actually affecting the transaction can and often does still take a long time. The sales team must be prepared for the interaction with the buying team and that is where tools like OrgChartPlus from SalesMethods come in.

When an opportunity for the sales team to engage presents itself it is vital they are ready with the right information and detail about the evaluating company and players to maximise the contact time available. Preparation for engagement is critical.

First we need to know the company:

There are many sources of company information available including: Dunn and Bradstreet reports, Annual Accounts, Press releases and Articles, and general web searches such as stock performance and associated company news reports. As a minimum we really need to know if the purchasing company is in growth, even keel or retrenching mode. This will, absolutely determine the tenor and business drivers associated with the purchase. Depending on your products and services there will also be many hints as to why the buyer company may require your products and services at this point of their company’s evolution, and the specific needs creating the business drivers.

Equally, if not more important is to know the players. Again there are numerous sources to uncover player details including: Press releases, blog and social comments, general web information and perhaps most relevant of all Linkedin.

Users of LinkedIn, salesforce.com and the social hub, OrgChartPlus from SalesMethods have a head start, by adhering to the following simple but illuminating process of preparing for engagement:

First we search Linkedin for not just the direct contact names we have been given but for other relevant and associated contacts including: relevant business heads, relevant technical buyers and gatekeepers, and Executive and Board players likely to be involved in the budget and release process.

We enter all these contacts in salesforce.com and build an associated decision tree in OrgChartPlus. We then email all the new contacts we have found with a polite introduction to our company, products and services. We do this using the Outlook plugin in salesforce.com so that we can see which players open our mails and whether they have shown interest. Often they do not reply even if there is interest in your subject matter. We will also connect in Linkedin with the key players in the evaluation to form easier communication and to start forming a bond.

By making contact with all the players and organising and understanding their internal relationships in this way we are soon ready for engagement and qualifying in the good old fashioned way, building a relationship map, tracking influences, interactions and roles as we progress. In the new social selling environment where the buyer has often made his choice before engagement speed of action is paramount and this is only possible if the preparation is in place ready for any competitive engagement and battle.

Remember your first task should be to share your draft decision tree with your prospect contact and work with them to confirm that your assumptions are correct. This conversation, as well as confirming the players involved in the decision also leads to a confirmation discussion regarding the decision making process.

Whether you are in a winning position and need to push for early closure or caught off guard and need to move the goal posts, you can only achieve this if you know who to influence and approach.

A good sales guy knows what he needs to know to get the deal closed, and none of the above changes any of the sales skills requirements but no matter how good a sales person is, without the right role and relationship information they will be lost in the Valley of Silence.

Steve Bale
Chairman
SalesMethods

Steve Bale

Having graduated in Economics from Bath University, Steve made the switch to the technology industry where he progressed to leading Oracle’s applications business in EMEA. More recently he has run a number of tech start-ups an mid-caps, focussing on sales improvement and overall business positioning. Steve is Chairman of SalesMethods.