They Say Imperative. I Agree.

I just received a copy of The New Sales Imperative: B2B Purchasing Has Become Too Complicated, You Need to Make It Easy For Your Customers To Buy, by Nick Toman, Brent Adamson, and Cristina Gomez of CEB.

I can’t hide the fact that I take great joy in reading and sharing this article, as it validates my experience, much of what I have published here, as well as many of the major themes of my new book, The Lost Art of Closing. Some portion of the emails I receive continually argue against what CEB’s research shows to be true. This is an article that is worth studying.

Let’s start with the fact that “Most B2B sellers think their customers are in the driver’s seat, empowered, armed to the teeth with information. They believe their customers are so clear about their needs that they don’t need to bother to engage with the suppliers until late in the process, when their decision is already “complete.” Let this statement dispel the myth that your buyers don’t need you, as CEB’s research shows. They are “deeply uncertain and stressed.” This is causing complex deals to bog down.

The article continues to lay out the case that too much information is causing confusion, paralyzing the client. More people being involved in the deal makes consensus difficult—and in my experience working with some companies, closer to impossible. Too many choices slows the process, as buyers are concerned about risk.

The remedy, say the authors: “Make buying easier.” Let us continue.

“Sellers are striving to be more responsive than ever—taking the customer’s lead and providing whatever support is requested . . . driving an 18% decrease in purchasing ease.” What’s the remedy? How about a prescriptive approach?

The article cites the need to “explain the process” and prescribe the course of action. In my words: Control the process. By controlling the process, you may not control the outcome, but you’ll have better results in helping the buyer with a process that gets them the result they need (Chapter 3 in The Lost Art of Closing). The authors then walk through the steps of prescribing. They start with “identifying whether they (the buyer) have a problem that merits attention,” or in my words in Chapter 4 of The Lost Art of Closing, “a problem worth solving,” the key to compelling real change.

If your dream clients could produce the results they needed without you, they’d already be doing so. If your competitor knew how to help them make the real change they need to make, they’d have already done so.

In a section on “Identifying Barriers,” one of the ideas covered is whether people who needed to be involved were brought into the process in a timely and effective way. This is about collaboration and consensus, Chapters 7 and 8, respectively, in The Lost Art. I don’t believe this is a recommendation. It is an imperative. The commitment to collaborate and build consensus are every bit as important as the Commitment to Decide to buy. Without gaining these commitments, you make a win unlikely. You are trying to help an organization with a complex challenge change, and you aren’t going to do that if you are single-threaded, working with what you believe to be your power sponsor, when there are really power sponsors).

That section of the article also points out the buyer’s early stage challenges of making sense of the information they receive. This is dissonance. The buyer doesn’t understand what they are experiencing, and they struggle to find an answer that helps them decide what they need to do. This is why you need a prescriptive approach. You must teach them what they don’t know. While so many experts spout off about information parity, and how sellers have no ability to create real value, the evidence is in contradiction. Besides, if there is information parity, it’s your fault. Get you some chops!

The authors state that the prescriptive approach must be “unbiased and credible,” “reduce indecision and compel action,” and “facilitate a process along a purchase path that the supplier is uniquely able to provide. I call this Proof (information from credible sources), Facts and Figures (data from validated sources), and Views and Values (what we believe the right answer to be and why). I had a free module available on Nurturing your Dream Clients online, but it is now behind a paywall.

I am even more prescriptive than the team at CEB suggests with this article. The need to gain the necessary commitments to help clients change is non-negotiable. You have either gained the commitment to do what comes next, or you have not. What the authors describe as “customer verifiers,” I call commitments. If the contacts you are working with don’t believe they have to actually do something, you don’t have a commitment. And you likely aren’t helping them to change.

Read the article here. Think deeply about whether or not you are serving your clients by assuming they have everything under control and that they don’t need you to lead (Chapter 18 of The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need).

Here is a short video on The Challenger Sale.

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