The New Rules of B2B Sales

The loudest voices on the social channels will tell you the largest change in sales is the advent of those same social channels. They are all hyped up on digital transformation and social selling and all the shiny, digital objects that capture their attention. While it’s nice to have new tools, they are not even close to the largest change in sales over the last decade.

Here are the new rules of B2B Sales:

Rule 1: Your business acumen must now be equal to or greater than your sales acumen.

The largest and most important change that has occurred in B2B sales is the requirement that the salesperson has the business acumen and situational knowledge to help their clients understand why and how they need to change what they are doing.

It is no longer enough to show up with a slide deck that outlines your company’s storied history, your global or national footprint, your board of directors and investors, the logos of the big companies that buy from you, and your product and service offerings. It is no longer enough to talk features, benefits, and advantages, these providing no advice as it pertains to change. Overcoming objections provides clients zero value in a world where change is necessary and one in which real and valid concerns need to be addressed.

If you are going to succeed in B2B sales, you are going to need to be someone with the advice and counsel your dream clients need.

Rule 2: You must sell strategic outcomes.

No one wants to buy your product or service or solution. With rare exceptions, no one cares about what you sell. Instead, they care about their business, their products and services and solutions, and their clients and customers. What they want most of all is better outcomes in all the areas where better outcomes would help them produce better results for their business.

The reason you must be other-oriented instead of self-oriented is because the focus of the conversation you have with your dream clients and existing clients needs to be about the strategic outcomes they need. There has been a serious change to what clients want and need from salespeople, as well as what creates a preference to work with one over another. While it used to be enough to look for “dissatisfaction” or “pain,” unless you can very tightly tie what needs to change to some strategic outcome, you will struggle to displace your competitor in an account.

This rule follows the first rule on business acumen. Without the business acumen, you aren’t going to be able to sell strategic outcomes. Instead, you’ll sell a solution that solves the client’s existing pain. And while this may be what they believe they want and need from you, you will struggle to maintain the margins you need to serve your clients, and you will not position yourself or your company as a strategic partner.

Strategic business results are much more compelling than products, services, or solutions.

Rule 3: You are responsible for controlling the process.

There are a lot of pseudo-experts on sales who will tell you that buyers now have all the power, that the best thing you can do is provide them with the information they need when they ask for it, and that salespeople create no value. These beliefs are not only false, they are disempowering. The truth is quite the opposite.

Right now, your dream clients need someone who knows what needs to change, why it needs to change, how it needs to change, and how guide them from their current state to a better future state. If your dream client knew what to do and how to do it, they would already be generating the better results they need. If they had a process that served them in understanding why and how they need to change, they’d have already done what you know they need to do.

Your dream clients don’t know that they need to collaborate with you to design a solution that is going to work inside their company. It’s likely they have never considered who they need on their side to decide, and they may not have even considered how much consensus is going to be necessary to move forward with a new idea. It’s almost impossible that they believe that they are underinvesting in the results they need, nor do they know that they need to have all their concerns resolved before moving forward. You, on the other hand, know all these things.

If your client has a process, it’s likely an RFP. If they don’t, they are going to flail around, avoiding making the commitments they need to make to produce the strategic outcomes they need. This makes controlling the process your responsibility.

If you don’t control the process, the process will prevent your client from making good decisions—and it will cost you opportunities.

Rule 4: You lead change initiatives.

You lead change initiatives. You lead your team by owning the outcomes you sell and by ensuring they own the transactions (all the things they need to do to produce those outcomes). You also help lead your client’s team, educating them and ensuring they make the necessary changes on their side.

There is no list of sales competencies that includes leadership, minus this one. It isn’t the way that we have historically thought about the role of salesperson. The attributes and skills that make one a good salesperson are very helpful for those who lead, and the lack of the tangibles and intangibles in leadership are as pronounced in sales as they are in leadership. Chief among these competencies are being able to share a compelling vision of the future, helping people make the changes they need to make, and marshaling the necessary resources.

Salespeople also need to deal with the conflict that come with any real change initiative, including conflicting needs, conflicting priorities, and conflicting ideas about what needs to be done to succeed (the “how” to change). If the salesperson cannot—or will not—lead, then the strategic outcomes are almost certain to be put at risk.

You must lead others in the pursuit of a better future state.

Rule 5: You are accountable for what you sell.

In the past, you may have sold a product or service and left it to the client to figure out for themselves how to achieve the results they needed. The end of your responsibility may have been ink on a contract and a signed statement of work or order form.

If you want to be a trusted advisor and a strategic partner, the price of admission is that you own the outcomes you sell. It isn’t enough that you provide the advice, even though you must obey those rules (rules 1 and 2). It isn’t enough that you know how to help your dream client make a good decision (rule 3). The reason that you need to lead (rule 4) is because you are being measured on your ability to deliver the strategic outcomes you sell.

The fact that your product or service is delivered is not enough. Without generating the outcome, your client is not going to get what they needed—and what they were promised—and you are not going to retain your client, nor will you have created the result that would give you an absolute right to propose the next change initiative that moves them closer to the better future results they need.

You own the outcomes you sell.

These are the new rules for success in B2B sales. Violate them at your peril.

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