Like many Sales Pros, I am often overwhelmed by the radical pace at which buying processes have changed since 2008. B2B organizations have both failed and flailed in adapting to sales in the New Economy. Looking ahead to 2011, the pace of change is likely to increase exponentially as buyer requirements & demands intensify. Sales managers and organizations may be facing their most extreme challenges to date as drastically altered buying patterns and processes echo in the new economy.
Buyer behavior has adapted to the limitations put on them by restricted cash flow and truncated resources caused by massive layoffs. Those same restricted spending patterns mean fewer conferences and trade show appearances by decision makers, spiking an increased reliance on Social Media and Sales 2.0 tools for purchasing information. For 2011 and beyond, that reliance has significantly altered how sales functions are integrated into B2B sales processes. Sales Pros hoping to access the “C-Suite” whether by phone or by door will need to develop the following skills:
Skill 1: A shift from Relationship Building Skills to Business Acumen & Industry Knowledge
Historically, Complex Selling (aka Enterprise Sales) has focused on relationship building known by such names as Consultative Selling, VITO selling, Customer Centric Selling, etc. Today’s Sales Pros must develop skills that enable problem solving and industry expertise as opposed to focusing on relationship building and likability. The value of those long-term relationships has been diminished by mind-boggling turnover, rapid succession, and the constraints of Executives with scarce resources and limited time needing to show an immediate impact on the job. Today’s CFO can’t be seen on the Golf Course with vendors, he needs to be viewed as the Chief Problem Solver To get a CFO’s attention, you will need to prove that you can help hold up your end of a conversation about relevant business, industry, and competitive challenges and provide relevant scenarios for improving his business that doesn’t include product features .
Skill 2: Sales Pros can no longer merely give lip service to being seen as an Executive’s Peer.
Sales Organizations need to shift from focusing solely on sales processes to creating a framework of the overall buying process. Busy Executives do not have time to satisfy their ego or their amusement by meeting with people who do not enhance their standing or performance.
Trend 4: Social Media and Sales 2.0 has improved and evolved the Buyer Experience
C-Suite Operatives have already done their research on you, your company and your product before you ever hold an extended conversation or get access to the door. Strategic Marketing is no longer about merely “branding” the company and its products but about creating dynamic tools that can reach the Prospect or Customer before you ever know they are looking.
Creating partner driven content, creating buzz within your existing customer base and being considered a subject matter expert on LinkedIn or other site will create a unique advantage and peak their interests. Sales Pros must challenge themselves to create an enhanced and more enjoyable Buying experience for their prospects than their competition has done. Executives don’t want to feel tricked, or manipulated, they want to feel like their interactions enhance their performance. It is not unusual for my prospects to ask me to send a link to my published content or LinkedIn profile. Sales Pros cannot be taken by surprise when their connections are contacted before they ever meet with the C-Suite.
Skill 5: Sales enablement will create more “buy-side” economics
Sales enablement can improve the overall buying experience by focusing on a profound understanding of buyers’ process and influences. Channels of engagement including those involving social media will increase demands for training and support to improve the ability of Sales Pros communication skills both for C-Suite Conversations and Social Media dialogues. Companies will be required invest heavily in acquiring market and buyer insight that elucidate buyer objectives, buyer personality types and buyer purchasing behaviors.
Trend 6: Becoming an Agent of Change will require an Understanding of Change Management.
No one makes changes unless they are pushed out of their comfort zone. The number one competitor the Complex Sales Pro faces is the status quo—no change in vendors or circumstance. Understanding a customer’s business, having a familiarity with their most successful competition, maintaining a grasp on Social Media and branding yourself and your buyer’s experience will allow you to goad your client into adapting their vision as you paint a broader picture outside of their spectrum. You will be a leader of change management, requiring you to understand Business Process Improvement and communicate it effectively enough to first access, and grab the attention of those who inhabit the C-Suite.
2011 could very well become a watershed year in the evolution of B2B sales as organizations recognize the need to adapt to changing expectations as well as the maturity of social media integration into sales and marketing, causing the line between sales and marketing to fuse. Sales Pros who are caught, or surprised by the transition will find themselves going the way of the Dinosaur rather than adapting like the Centuries old Cockroach.