Leveraging The Sales Process To Create Competitive Differentiation
The B2B technology landscape has dramatically changed. The barrier to entry is lower and the level of competition has become significantly higher. This increased level of competition has driven many companies (and sales people) to rely on price and features to win deals. This commoditization means that companies risk lower win rates, lower deals sizes, thinner margins, and ultimately a race to the bottom.
To win and create a truly sustainable model, B2B technology providers must create differentiated value. This differentiated value must not come simply through their offering, but through the insight and value they are able to offer buyers throughout the evaluation process.
Furthermore, the proliferation of content and information that is now readily available has created highly informed and savvy B2B buyers. This means sales reps must be able to create an even greater level of value during the sales process.
BREAKING DOWN THE TYPICAL SALES PROCESS
When selling a solution, a typical sales process usually follows the same sequence:
1. A lead is generated and passed to a sales rep to vet and further qualify.
2. The prospect will typically request pricing, a demo, or even worse, present a checklist of features they are looking for. (i.e. the dreaded RFP) This is where things usually start to go south. Most sales reps will eagerly offer up this information during or immediately following a discovery call, as they believe they are on the path to a sale.
3. A demo or presentation of the offering is conducted; it is typically focused on generic features and benefits. At this point, there is usually minimal knowledge of the prospect’s real issues and business challenges, with little to no personalization.
4. A proposal will be generated and sent to the prospect to review.
5. At this juncture, the opportunity has a very good chance of going in one of two directions: either the prospect compares the offering to those of several other vendors and comes back with a request for a price break; or the opportunity falls into a black hole and the sales rep spends weeks or possibly months chasing down the prospect in an effort to reengage.
The problem with this approach is that the sales process the rep has used provides the buyer with little to no value, and is most likely identical to the process his competitors are using. This approach means the rep is primarily relying on his product’s features and price to win the opportunity.
Additionally, this approach does little to establish the sales rep and your organization as a source of insight that can offer value both now, as well as in the future.
A BETTER APPROACH TO SELLING
A sales and evaluation process that enables your team to establish a competitive advantage is one that establishes a true working relationship before your competition does. It also offers value and insight that your competition can’t.
It’s driven by an approach that is centered around discovery and insight first and product last. And it’s a belief that people don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems.
I’ve worked with numerous SaaS and technology companies who were selling against larger, more established competitors. The one thing I quickly realized was that the best way to win was not to focus on product features and get into a “bake off”, but to get the prospect invested in the evaluation process and provide value and build trust as quickly as possible. This was the way to beat larger competitors….and it worked.
BREAKING DOWN THE RIGHT PROCESS
Once a lead has been generated, either through sales development efforts or via inbound the sales rep conducts a discovery call to further qualify the prospect. This first step represents no real change from the norm.
The next step in the process is when things begin to change.
Rather than moving right to a demo, or worse yet a proposal, conduct a scoping session as a next step. Spend 60 or even 90 minutes working with the prospect to understand their current processes and systems in use on a very deep level. Provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate how they’re doing things now (their status quo), where gaps exist, and what issues and problems are arising as a result.
This second step is where the real digging needs to occur. It provides a golden opportunity to get past known challenges, and uncover challenges and risks your prospect didn’t previously know existed. Identifying those unknown challenges and risks is where the real opportunity lies to begin to differentiate.
The more information that is shared the better. Use whiteboards to build flow-charts and map out processes. Have the prospect show you the systems they are currently using and how they’re using them. Or preferably, get them to share applicable data and information.
This level of information sharing is not always easy to achieve. But if rapport and trust is built early on, it’s very achievable. And what it does is strengthen trust moving forward.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Only when the sales rep truly understands the prospect’s current state, challenges, and risks, should you move forward with a demo or presentation.
It is during the first two phases (discovery and scoping) that great demos and presentations are built. The difference is that now a demo or presentation isn’t simply a walk through of standard features and benefits; rather, it is very personalized and specifically addresses the challenges and risks the prospect is facing.
Standard software demos and sales presentations are a dime a dozen and are no better than a video overview of your product. Truth be told, I’ve sat through demos and sales presentations delivered by sales reps who would have been better served had they sent me a 20-minute video to watch.
The real value is derived from building demos and presentations that are laser focused on the prospect’s situation and nothing else. Those are the presentations that resonate and build credibility.
THE ROLE OF COLLABORATION
It’s important to note that all phases of the evaluation process up to this point have been very collaborative. The prospect has dedicated time to the process and has agreed to share information. Also, a working relationship has been established. You are now viewed as a partner even before a contract has been signed.
There is also an automatic qualifier / disqualifier in place here. When talking about a solution that requires a larger investment and affects multiple departments, a commitment must be made on the part of both the buyer and the seller to perform their due diligence. If a prospect is not willing to make that commitment, this then begs the question, how serious are they? Are they already leaning toward selecting your competitor, and are they simply “checking a box” by evaluating your solution?
The approach to building a proposal should be no different; it should be very collaborative. The sales rep should work with the prospect in building a business case and solution that both the buyer and seller feel is in the prospect’s best interest.
This final step gives the sales rep the best chance of getting to a decision. By allowing the prospect to play a critical role in building the proposal, he will have once again created a level of separation from the competition.
It’s important to note that while this approach is very effective, it should vary depending upon your offering. Solutions at a lower price point absolutely warrant a shorter sales cycle. So taking condensing this process is usually the best approach. What doesn’t change, however is the focus on thorough discovery, collaboration, and personalization.
THE REAL COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
A truly sustainable competitive advantage is derived from building a culture and sales team that are focused on providing value and insight first. It’s about implementing the processes, training, and educational programs that give your sales team the tools they need to not only possess a mastery of your product, but also the industry they are selling to and the business challenges their buyers face. And most importantly, they are able to come to the table with insights and knowledge that your competitors can’t.