“74 unread messages in your inbox,” I read as I checked my email on a cold December morning.
I had spent the previous 30 days reaching out to the world’s top B2B sales practitioners to ask them:
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you have when it comes to conducting winning sales conversations?
74 of them wrote back with some of the best sales insights I had ever read. Each submission is worth reading, re-reading, and meditating upon if you’re a B2B sales professional.
But there was one common theme that emerged time and again: Salespeople must fully orient their sales efforts to be buyer-centric and buyer-aligned.
Each of the experts that talked about this idea had their own, unique perspective and thoughts on how to go about doing that. I’d like to share six of them with you.
1. There’s No Such Thing as a Complex Sale; Only a Complex Purchase
“Thinking we can accelerate sales by changing what we are doing is the height of self-centered sales thinking. Instead of sales acceleration technology, we need buying acceleration technology.”
– Garin Hess, CEO of Consensus
Garin’s point is a subtle, but powerful one. When we focus on making products easy to sell, we load up our sales and marketing communication with benefits and lists of sales arguments.
While these seem to align with our buyers’ needs and values on the surface, buyers recoil from this kind of communication. Instead of shoving benefits and sales arguments into buyers’ faces, what we need in our salespeople is communication that makes the product easy to buy rather than easy to sell.
In short, salespeople need to understand and communicate positioning. They need to help the entire buying panel to sort through the plethora of products in their ecosystem and understand:
- Who your solution applies to
- In what situation does it apply
- How it’s unique to dozens of other choices
- The end-results that can be expected
When we focus on positioning rather than hard-sell chase-the-buyer benefits and sales arguments, we make our products easy to buy. Ironically, easy to buy becomes easy to sell.
2. BANT Qualification is Dead; Try NOTE Instead
“The process of qualifying buyers for your product has historically been seller-centric. BANT – Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing – has been the qualification methodology used since the 1960s and has become antiquated given the informed nature of the modern buyer.”
– Sean Burke, CEO of KiteDesk
Sean and his team at KiteDesk have invented a new qualification methodology that aligns seamlessly with how the modern buyer progresses through the purchasing process. They call it “NOTE.”
- Need: Let the buyer describe to you their needs in detail
- Opportunity: Help your buyers determine if solving their need creates enough opportunity for their company; is it worth the change?
- Team: Together with your buyer, identify the members of the buyer’s team that are responsible for capturing the opportunity you have both uncovered
- Effect: Identify the specific, measurable effect that your work together will produce
When sellers use the outdated BANT method, they may get the information they’re looking for, but they often see irritation coming from the buyer. It’s misaligned with buyer expectations and purchasing processes. Implementing NOTE turns discovery meetings into a well-oiled buyer-oriented conversation.
3. Sales Is Like Curing Addiction
“You would never just walk up to an addict and loudly proclaim ‘Hey! I found this awesome rehab facility in Malibu called Passages. Ready to go?’ Yet we do the equivalent in sales all the time by prematurely proposing our solution. I teach all of my sales teams to get the prospect to admit they have a problem before anything else. The sales process very closely models how one would treat addiction. You need an addict to admit they have a problem, understand that fixing the problem is important and that they need to do something about it right now before it’s too late. Then, and only then, is someone going to be open to treatment.”
– Scott Leese, SVP of Sales at Qualia
Scott draws an impactful analogy. The process of influencing people in any setting follows a similar psychological process. The goal is to align yourself with where that individual lies in the process and facilitate the rest of the journey forward in the most frictionless way.
4. Entice with Education, Not Product Demos
“My voicemail is cluttered with offers to see product demos. What I dislike most about these messages is that the offer is completely misaligned with my stage in the buying journey. I am more interested in understanding how to frame my problem, and learning best practices to pursue my goal or address my challenge.”
– Mark Roberge, former CRO at HubSpot.
The takeaway? Sales professionals would do well for themselves if they understood the common problems their buyer personas experience, and reached out with education and information about addressing that problem before asking to do a demo (or even a generic discovery call).
5. During Demos, “Do the Last Thing First”
When it’s time to present their solution, most sales reps do their demos “from the ground up.” That is, they start with some of the most basic functions that lead to the most valuable pieces of the solution. The thinking is that this brings context to the “finale” and packs a strong punch.
Peter Cohan, author of Great Demo! and founder of The Second Derivative advocates the opposite approach.
“Start with the last part of your demo, first – the most valuable screen or feature. Even if you leave off how you arrived at this part to begin with. When buyers see exactly what they want right off the bat, they will ask how you got to that point if they feel they need that information.”
I’ve started incorporating this advice in my own demos, and it has made a world of difference.
For more on this topic, check out this podcast with Peter and Inside Sales Gurus here.
6. Use Risk-Reversal Language
Most B2B sales professionals hate giving opt-outs, cancellation options, money-back guarantees, or anything of the sort. They don’t want to deal with the future headache of a canceled customer and having to pay back their commissions.
Reflect on the above sentence.
Who’s concern does it address? The sales rep’s concern? Or the buyer’s? The sales rep’s, of course.
Meanwhile, the buyer has spent months championing your technology internally, getting buy-in, and now they’re suddenly faced with inking a contract that doesn’t protect their downside if things don’t work out.
Buyers often get fired when they make poor purchasing decisions. Of course they get cold feet if you don’t mitigate their risk!
When we analyzed B2B sales conversations using AI, we discovered win-rates increase (on average) by 32% when sales professionals liberally tout risk-reversing deal policies such as:
- No contracts, cancel anytime
- SLAs (service level agreements)
- And any other term or language that eases a buyer’s fear at the end of the sales cycle
Yes, your cancellations may increase a tiny amount. But that will pale in comparison to the spike in your closing ratio. At the end of the day, you have slightly more headaches but a much fatter wad of cash in your pocket.
What About the Other 68 Sales Leaders?
I wish I could post all 74 of these sales leaders’ contributions on this blog. But I managed to document all of these sales conversation insights into a new (free) online guide: The Ultimate Guide to Winning Sales Conversations.