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

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It’s amazing how technology has affected our business and personal lives. The Internet and social networking have had a stunning impact on buying in the last 10 years. Looking back, seller interactions with inbound prospects were much easier.

Back then, buyers started by contacting a single vendor in a given market segment. If sellers were reasonably competent they could align the buyer visions with theirsales training workshops offering. There were often opportunities to “wire” requirements by creating buyer need for differentiators. Sellers that shaped the requirements list became Column A. Toward the end of buying cycles other vendors (Columns B, C, etc.) were asked to provide quotes to provide pricing leverage with Column A. These vendors were not given the same opportunity to sell prospects. Column A won a high percentage of the time, sometimes by being given a “last look” to tweak pricing to win the business.

Today’s buyers do their own research and evaluate multiple vendors concurrently. They decide to evaluate a particular type of offering, do searches to see what vendors compete in that space, visit multiple web sites, download white papers, attend webinars, etc. to determine their requirements. If the number of vendors is too high, they can leverage social networking to pare down the number of vendors they’ll ultimately contact if and when they get serious about buying.

Similar conceptually to creating RFP’s, buyers establish their requirements and “short list” of vendors absent seller involvement.

When sellers are contacted, there is no Column A. Their requirements lists are an aggregate of all offerings/vendors buyers have researched. For complex B2B offerings, it’s unlikely the requirements list is complete and correct. In my mind sellers having the best chance of winning are those that can execute the following steps:

  • Ask buyers to share the requirements they have established
  • Ask what business outcomes organizations are trying to achieve by:
    • Asking questions to uncover business issues
    • If necessary, providing menus of outcomes that can be achieved with the offering being discussed
  • After an outcome is shared ask what capabilities buyers have seen that can help achieve the outcome.
  • Diagnosis the way things are currently being done without the offering.
  • Clarify visions of what capabilities are needed that likely is different than buyers’ visions prior to talking with sellers.
  • Help quantify the potential value of buying the offering being considered.

For complex offering it’s important to understand the majority of inbound inquiries are not Key Players. Business issues and value in addressing them often have not been identified. Sellers that can become Column A seller are the ones that change scenarios from product evaluations to gaining an understanding of how business results can be achieved. Often it will be necessary to qualify the initial inbound contact as a coach or champion to gain access to higher levels to do so.

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