Are you still pissing away money on B2B sales consulting?

Ed Marsh | Sep 26, 2014

You can't fight nature & win

What would you say to a middle aged friend who told you about their investment in treatments which were going to finally fix their biggest flaw - a cure that was going to add another 2" to their stature?

Certainly you'd chuckle, then catch yourself wondering if they were actually sincere and so incredibly naive.  Then you'd try to have a non-committal discussion to gauge whether they were teasing you or somehow suddenly daft.

There's no treatment that overrides the instructions on stature coded in our double helix.

And yet that's precisely the degree of absurdity which companies routinely practice when engaging sales consulting experience.  And the silliness is so ingrained in our B2B sales culture that it's probably even demanded and lauded by investors, commercial bankers and peers.

What a mess!

The DNA of B2B procurement

Buyers used to follow a segmented but linear buying process.

  1. They would reach out to trusted associates to describe a challenge they faced and seek referrals and recommendations
  2. Next they contacted those referrals (and sought enough comparables to have at least three sources)
  3. Then sales reps were summoned to appear so that they could educate the buyer about possible solutions
  4. Once options were clear internal discussions commenced around justification, budgeting, approvals and implementation
  5. Later, if a project had merit, negotiations would ensue
  6. An order would be issued
  7. Implementation was coordinated
  8. Ongoing support was leveraged

The other side of the transaction activity was mapped against those buying steps.  Marketing was focused on steps 1 & 2.  Sales handled steps 3 - 7.  And customer service managed 8.  There were clear demarcations in the buying process which were mirrored by transitions in responsibility on the sales side.

Sales shouldered the bulk of the responsibility; and they were indispensable to the process as the sole conduit of information about product, company & process.

It's no news flash that the process has substantially changed.  In short buyers now control the process.  They leverage tools to find information (sophisticated search engine results) and to avoid sales reps (caller ID, spam filters, etc.)  The buying journey now is far more circuitous, convoluted and lengthy in the case of many complex sales.  But the buyer doesn't mind - in fact he embraces that.  Because the process is one rich in education and research, and it's easy and painless.  The internet is always on - whether the idea strikes during a staff meeting or between the end of coaching practice and the evening homework questions.

Asynchronous processes

While the buying process has become less linear and clear delineation between phases has disappeared, the "B2B sales & marketing" model remains essentially stagnant.  (Read out 'Bacon's Law of B2B Sales & Marketing)

sales_consulting_must_recognize_new_buying_realities

Generally staffing, budgets and growth planning remain predicated on a smaller marketing function to generate leads, a larger direct sales function to sell those and generate their own leads, and a customer service function for post sales support.

There's no longer correlation between the way companies buy and the way they sell.  (Amusingly one even finds this dissonance within the same company under the same management!)

As the 'system' struggles (as by definition it must) companies reflexively focus on the sales function.  And the solution is typically to engage some sort of sales consulting.  And it fails just as surely as the miracle adult growth plan.  The reality is that it can't work - you don't sell anymore; rather you help companies buy.

And two baseline facts illustrate the folly.  First, 90% of all B2B purchases begin with an internet search.  Second, buyers are more than 70% of the way through their buying journey before they're willing to entertain speaking with a rep.

That means that:

  • participating in a purchasing evaluation requires that marketing ensures you are found every time there's a search (and folks search according to their problems, not your features or specs!)
  • Steps 3 & 4 (research, evaluation, comparison and selection) are conducted virtually without a direct rep involved.  This creates a huge "no mans land" in the disconnect between prevalent buying and selling models.

Marketing, selling and customer service are no longer differentiated functions.  They are shades along a continuum - and the clumsy hand off from marketing to sales is an artificially created vestige of a different era.

The role of sales people in helping buyers through the buying journey

Now all the sales consulting gurus out there have thoroughly discounted this perspective by now.  After all, they're the rainmakers - or the makers of rainmakers!  Their ability to train reps to reflexively ask questions to back a buyer into a corner is the key to business success, right?

Of course not.  That was resented back in the day when Herb Tarleks wandered the earth, and today it's DOA.  After all, that requires that a buyer interact with a rep to even commence the manipulation.

So am I saying that sales reps serve no role?  Aboslutely not.  But they serve a very different role, and sales consulting therefore needs to focus on appropriate objectives.

That means helping buyers through their buying journey.

Sales consulting in a business world where buyers contorls the process needs to train reps as skilled therapists.  The collective role of the marketing and sales function (isn't there a better name for the new reality?), once a company has succeeded in 'being found', needs to be built around helping the buyer really understand their challenge, it's root causes, possible solutions, pros & cons, implications and ROI, and provide the tools to effectively take their colleagues through the same process remotely.

That means that collectively marketing and sales must provide insight into a buyers business and challenges without specifically knowing them.  And further, the rhetorical questions posed through the virtual, content based dialog must enable to buyer to discover these insights themselves.  The progressive variety of content provided to buyers through a constructive and helpful nurturing process must facilitate this process of buyer self-discovery.

In other words the role of sales reps today is to work with marketing to serve as virtual business advisors, and then at the appropriate time to facilitate the actual business transaction.  And the good news is that there are sales trainers who understand this and can help capable reps become incredibly effective.  But caveat emptor....they are rare.  Most cling to manipulative models which will cripple your revenue growth.

Want to invest money in your business growth engine?  You'd better be willing to rethink your staffing, budget and approach!  Or maybe you can sprout a couple inches by your 40th birthday.....

In the meantime download our free book on the evolution of B2B Sales & Marketing.