In our last post we revealed how more than 85% of B2B sales involve multiple buyers, and the numbers of those involved in decision making is on the rise. From five people (in 2014), to seven (in 2016), to a predicted 10+ by the end of 2020.

With 84% of buying journeys taking longer than expected – and the chance of gaining a sale dropping from around 55% (when 2-5 stakeholders are involved) to 31% (when between 5 and 7 are) – things aren’t looking good for B2B salespeople.

Unless, of course, they have a plan.

We’ve reviewed one such plan – from Wilson Learning Worldwide – already.

In this the salesperson was cast as a sleuth, positioning buyers to play off against each other, uncovering hidden reasons behind their positions and carefully organising and orchestrating things to land the deal.

All the problems encountered selling here arise from a recalcitrant group of clients simply not playing ball as a team.

According to the Harvard Business Review, however, the boot is on the other foot. The fault lies with the way B2B salespeople sell, rather than clients who must be investigated and ‘solved’.

Sound interesting?

Let’s look at it in some more detail.

B2B sales in a multiple decision-making era from the clients’ perspective

The starting point of CEB’s approach is simple:

Most B2B salespeople assume their customers are firmly in the driver’s seat.

They are:

  • Empowered
  • Armed to the teeth with information
  • And so confident about their needs that they don’t bother to engage with suppliers until extremely late in the buying process

But, according to CEB’s research, this is far from the true picture at the frontline.

They may be better informed than ever, but they remain deeply uncertain and stressed. More information does not necessarily lead to more confidence. In fact, it is widely recognised that the Paradox of Choice in today’s society leaves us disempowered rather than fully in control.

More choice and information often leads to stultification than solid decision making.

Image source

Buying complex solutions has never been easy. But the wealth of data available for every solution, the raft of stakeholders involved in each purchase, and an ever-growing array of options will inevitably bog sales down.

Customers aren’t empowered – they are overwhelmed.

And there’s a simple solution to this.

To make buying easier.

And this is where things are going wrong.

The tactics they use to make the purchase easier often do exactly the opposite.

  • The tendency is to give customers more information to ensure no gaps are left unplugged
  • The tendency is to flexibly respond to a customer’s direction (even if they disagree with it)
  • The tendency is that it’s critical that we help customers consider all possible alternatives, so they have the complete picture

These tendencies lead to sellers being more responsive and more customer-centric than ever, continually adjusting the offering as customer demand evolves.

What effect does this have?

It’s not good news: according to a survey of more than 600 B2B buyers, piling on more information and options just makes things harder. In fact, it drives an 18% decrease in purchase ease.

The CEB refer to this approach as a ‘responsive’ approach and compare it to a ‘prescriptive’ approach.

Prescriptive sellers:

  • Give a clear recommendation for action backed by a specific rationale
  • Present a concise offering and a stable view of their capabilities
  • Explain complex aspects of the purchase process clearly

As part of the same survey it was found that the responsive approach typically depressed purchase ease while a proactive, prescriptive approach increased purchase ease by 86%.

Responsive selling

Here’s what the majority of ‘sleuth’-trained salespeople believe:

  • 86% of sales professionals agree that helping the customer consider all possible options and alternatives is important
  • 79% agree with the statement that I remain very flexible to customer needs and opinions throughout a sale, even when I don’t necessarily agree with their direction.
  • 68% agree that more information generally helps customers make better decisions.

Switching to prescriptive selling

Prescription starts with understanding – not assumption.

You need to work to deeply understand your customer’s purchase journey, identify the most significant challenges at each buying stage and ensure your salespeople have tools to overcome each challenge.

The CEB article goes into some detail about each stage, which we’ll leave you to dive into.

What we’d like to emphasise here is this:

Today’s best suppliers help customers consider not just what to buy but how to buy it.

They so this by avoiding a focus on getting customers to buy from them and instead concentrating on how customers make purchase decisions.

Secondly, they tightly align their sales and marketing teams to support the customer journey from start to finish—breaking down the historical barriers between those functions in the process.

As a result, these companies create consistent and relevant tools, messaging, and guidance to shape and simplify the purchase journey and ultimately drive sales.

Coming up: some practical tips

So, we’ve moved from a model that places all the faults at the feet of the clients and calls for a super-sleuth seller. And we’ve arrived at a model that sees the faults with the seller trying too hard to be all things to all people.

Let’s forget the theory and give you a few practical tips to dealing with today’s multiple-decision makers.

Swing by for our next post where we’ll get uber practical.

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