By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®
Top-down vs. bottom-up sales approaches for complex B2B offerings are polar opposites. Whether a nurtured lead or a proactive contact to mid or low-level staff, the primary focus of the early stages of opportunities will primarily focus on product and price. Much later in the sales cycle there may be attempts to call higher levels, but most sellers will struggle in their efforts to establish value during these calls. Absent a compelling cost vs. benefit “no decision” is an outcome that happens far too frequently. It means all the time and effort buyers and vendors have spent has been wasted.
If it can be executed, a top-down approach can allow buyers and vendors to achieve better outcomes. The starting point is for a seller to take a Key Player from latent need (not looking) to active need to achieve a desired business outcome that can be achieved by using the offering being considered. If value isn’t uncovered, the sales cycle will come to an abrupt end, as it should. This is consistent with one of the CCS® core concepts: Bad news early is good news.
If, however, value is established, sellers should be able to have their initial contact provide access to other Key Players that would be involved in making a buying decision. During calls with these other executives, their desired business outcomes and potential benefit (value) can be established. After all committee members are made aware of the total potential value, they would then have an enterprise wide view of the impact they can make by making a purchase decision.
If there is adequate value, the buying committee can agree to have mid to lower levels get involved in evaluating the product/offering. This would allow the seller to provide an accurate estimate of the cost (including professional services if needed). The next step would be to work with the Key Players to create a cost vs. benefit to determine if the opportunity should die a quiet death or if the vendor should proceed in making a full recommendation in a proposal.
The steps below should be executed sequentially in top-down selling:
- Determine the total potential enterprise value by calling on Key Player levels.
- If value is sufficient the vendor needs to provide an accurate estimate of total costs.
- If the cost vs. benefit makes sense, mid to lower level staff within the prospect company will do a full evaluation of the product/offering, vendor, service, support, references, etc.
This approach requires sellers to “set the table” by identifying potential value in Key Player calls. Both prospect and vendor organizations benefit by taking this approach. Prospects don’t waste their staff’s time evaluating offerings that won’t pay for themselves. Vendors won’t have tech and support staff involved unless/until the opportunity is qualified based upon projected payback.
Buying/selling doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Both parties are better off if time-consuming evaluations of offerings that won’t provide adequate payback can be avoided.