There is a significant change taking shape in business-to-business selling. As we see a fundamental shift to China becoming the World’s dominant economic power supplanting the USA, so we are seeing in business the rise of Marketing to supplant Sales’ dominance. It is a dramatic and rapid evolution changing the way suppliers and buyers initially contact, interact and then transact business. Business sales are becoming simpler, easier to conduct, cheaper to manage, and more agile.
Customers are demanding more of suppliers including giving less of their time to evaluate products before the sale and expecting the supplier to prove the value of the investment before closing a sale. This results in leaving suppliers with less money and higher costs at the start of any relationship. The utopian sale one in which the customer fully self-serves and self-sells. Most organizations recognize this utopia is unattainable, but strive to achieve the vision of a zero friction sale with no impediments in order to reduce time and increase the value of sales.
A business buys products with a belief those investments will propel its own business. As each business strives to differentiate itself in the market, it acquires materials to help make its own products, and make them unique. This requires when selling it is necessary to prove the product helps the unique requirements of the buyer’s business. Proving an understanding of customer needs, mapping these needs to the product, and explaining how the product performs better than the competition. This process requires some level of interaction, consultative needs matching, and the use of consultative sales processes.
There is a lot of discussion in the business-to- business sales arena of a dream of frictionless selling. To reduce friction we must take the best of the low-friction techniques from the business-to-consumer market where the selling is a one-to-many relationship, and applying them in the business-to-business market of selling one-to-one. In business-to-consumer selling the one-to-many approach demands proactive articulation of a product’s benefits to as many people as possible. Actively reaching out to a buyer and providing information required to make a buying decision. Driving this proactive approach into business-to-business sales, delivers dramatic and positive results.
The objective of a proactive sales process is to minimize the consultative elements of the sale, accelerating the sale and reducing costs. Minimizing friction through constant monitoring of the sales process, identifying prospect requirements, and at the appropriate time, proactively providing the information the prospect needs to understand if the product is the best product to meet their needs. All the time it is essential to gather data to understand exactly where the process can be proactive and identify wherever it is possible to automate a process.
The process of sales is rapidly evolving. Gone are the days in which businesses simply sell to their customers. Selling business-to-business today requires supporting a prospect in their decision to become a customer. A proactive sales process requires an interactive dialogue and interaction between buyer and supplier across all channels of communication. Website, blogs, trade shows, sales team, support, customer counsels and touch points which have yet to be conceived, every touch point must be integrated, consistent and proactive.
This is not the first dramatic shift in business-to-business sales and will not be the last. There are many similarities in today’s business environment with the shift in the Information Technology industry of the 1970’s. A few proprietary vendors providing all the computing products a customer required, from hardware to software to the services to make them work, had created a sales structure and sales process based on business conditions that were about to radically change. The disruption occurred with the entry of the open systems vendors. The sales techniques used to sell these new technologies also evolved, there were typified by high levels of contact, high costs, many face-to-face-meetings, lots of travel, and a consultative sales approach that was reactive.
The proactive sales process benefits both parties in a sale by minimizing the interactions required to make a buying decision. The lines between sales, marketing and product blur. The role of sales management shifts further toward process management and constant improvement. The role of marketing evolves to managing the messaging in a constant, iterative, consistent dialogue. Even the make-up of the sales team is changing with less focus on the road warrior and more on office-based teams. As with any change, some will feel threatened by these changes, others will embrace them.
For those that do not embrace the change the result will be swift and unpleasant. For those businesses that fully embrace this change, the rewards are great and immediate.