By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

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The role of B2B sellers is rapidly evolving. The impetus has been changes in buying behavior. Vendors have been in react mode. My view is that most are moving so slowly that the gap between how buyers want to be treated vs. how they are treated continues to widen. Ironically, the “buyers” are actually more accurately labeled “researchers” as relates to complex offerings.

Vendors continue to provide an extraordinary amount of product training despite the fact that most researchers want to learn about offerings on their own. They have been burn victims of past offenses of seller sins of omission, hype or outright lying. For that reason they don’t want sellers influencing their requirements with a bent more toward winning the business than addressing the needs of prospects. I appreciate why this view is taken, but believe most B2B sellers do try to qualify prospects to ensure their offering is a reasonable fit.

In any event, consider that after a researcher has done a fair amount of research their questions are likely to be sophisticated enough to warrant a conversation with a product specialist rather than a salesperson. Most researchers are happy to defer actually having to interact with sellers and would prefer talking to someone with in-depth knowledge. 

Product training doesn’t prepare sellers to have conversations with higher levels within prospect organizations. Few executives will tolerate “spray and pray” product discussions. They want to discuss business results that can be achieved, learn what’s broken or missing in their current approaches, understand conceptually how their organizations can use a vendor’s offerings and learn if there is sufficient value to warrant buying new offerings.

Complex B2B offerings usually touch several levels. Researchers tend to look at offerings with departmental or personal views. In my mind sellers in today’s environment need to have the ability to provide potential benefits of their offering at enterprise levels whether they proactively start buying cycles or get invited into evaluations by researchers.

For Example:
Let’s assume a maintenance manager within a manufacturing company is concerned by unscheduled downtime because maintenance is done on a recurring schedule with no regard for the age or the usage of production equipment. During unscheduled interrupts he has to pay overtime to his staff and he is over budget for doing so. His department is considering a software program that will monitor usage, factor in the age of a machine and be able to detect in advance when machines are going out of spec so that maintenance can be scheduled.

Taking a departmental view based solely upon maintenance may not provide adequate benefit to the organization to justify the expense. A competent seller brought into the account by one of the researchers within the Maintenance Department could help quantify the benefit, but could also widen the scope by getting access to other departments:

  • The Production Manager may not be meeting objectives because downtime is causing him not to meet production goals. Beyond that, excessive scrap when machines run out of spec undetected may be a problem that can cause overtime to try to get caught up.
  • Sales may be impacted because undetected quality issues mean that inferior products are being shipped. Beyond that committed delivery schedules can occur because shipments can’t be made.
  • Accounts Receivables can be impacted because customers that are unhappy with product that are shipped may delay payment or ultimately ask for credits due to issues they have.
  • Warranty expenses may escalate due to failures in the field.
  • The CFO may see escalating expenses for scraps and recalls, top line revenue targets that aren’t missed because shipments are delayed and ultimately shrinking margins.

The cost vs. benefit would look dramatically different if the impact of the core problems were spread to other departments. Researchers are ill prepared to look from the perspective of other areas of the business.

Key Takeaway
In my mind the value competent B2B sellers bring is the ability to provide senior executives an enterprise-wide view of problems and the value of addressing them so that business goals or outcomes can be achieved. Companies that reallocate money spent on product training to include making sellers aware of business impacts stand a far better chance of having sellers continue to be relevant to buyers.

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