Why Relationships Matter Most in B2B Sales

To move a large, complex B2B sale forward, you need two power sources: Specific knowledge of the prospect’s business, industry, and his pain points. And the foundational elements for a longer-term relationship.

Why?  Today’s more sophisticated B2B buyer expects an expert in his or her salesperson. Company and industry knowledge and sensitivity to his pain points are the prices of entry into his world.

Equally important, he wants to enjoy the sales experience, working with people with whom he feels some connection. He needs to know he can place his trust in you for the long haul.

In complex sales, longer sales cycles and post-sale support unfold more smoothly with like-minded buyers and sellers who end up spending considerable time together.

In contrast, smaller transactional sales come with shorter sales cycles and require little or no support after the transaction. You’re in. You’re out. Who cares if you like the vendor, if the job is done right.

Small vs. Big Matters

Recently I hired a tree trimmer to cut a few trees down on my summer house property in Maine. Tough to find workers during the summer months, so I wasn’t too choosy. But I did expect quality work.

I found a guy. He was about as likable as tree fungus. No personality. It made me question if he knew what he was doing. Oh well, I thought, it was a small job, and I had to get it done, so I hired him on the spot. But I was afraid he’d damage some good trees and make a mess. Surprise. He did a decent job in only a few hours, at a reasonable rate, cleaned up well, and left.

Now compare trimming trees to this story.  I’m on the board of a company that needed a new accounting system, supported by on-going tax and audit services. Bids ranged from $125,000 to $150,000. And the decision weighed heavily on the team because the new system would impact almost everyone in the organization.

One accounting firm was under serious consideration when I met with its rep. What a technical, reserved and dull person. Even the tree-trimmer had him beat.

The disengaged way he dealt with questions from the team made me hesitate.  Again, like the tree trimmer, I had a need, the price was in line with the value, and certainly, we needed a new system. But I told him, “I want to think it over, and we will get back to you.”

I realized I wasn’t so much buying a product as entering a relationship. Unlike the tree trimmer, where I could care less if I see him again, this decision meant my team, and I would have to work with this account rep for months, if not years.

The value of these two stories? Relationships play a critical and influential role in high-value complex sales than in smaller, transactional ones.

In a small transactional sale, it is much easier to separate the seller from the product or service. Although the tree trimmer lacked personality and professionalism, I liked the result.  Although I liked the accounting system, I couldn’t buy it without also buying into a relationship with the account rep.

Because large, high-value decisions entail an on-going involvement with the buyer, they demand a different selling style.

As the sale grows larger, the prospect places more emphasis on the salesperson and sales process as a pivotal factor in the decision-making process. In fact, product and the sales rep become somewhat inseparable in the prospect’s mind.

Not What You Sell

Let me share with you research conducted by the Sales Executive Counsel, which analyzed tens of thousands of data points, to determine what enables one competitor to outperform another. The results were published by Dixon and  Adamson in the CEB book, The Challenger Sale, and were not at all surprising.

As outlined in the chart below, 38 percent of customer loyalty attributes, in part, to the combination of brand impact and product and service delivery. In other words, if you have built a solid brand, great product, and world-class service, you can win 38 percent of the time. Most executives I spoke to expected much higher numbers. If you add the nine percent contribution of price to value ratio, then you can win 47 percent of the time.

The remainder of customer loyalty ─ all 53 percent─ attributes to your ability to outperform the competition in the purchase experience itself. As Dixon and Adamson state: Over half of customer loyalty is a result not of what you sell, but how you sell. As important as it is to have great products, brand and service, it’s all for naught if your reps can’t execute out in the field.”

What Counts Most: The Sales Experience

In B2B complex sales, the sales experience trumps all else. When a salesperson spends quality time to understand the prospect’s needs, works alongside his prospect through the buying process in a collaborative way, he builds confidence and trust in his offer. And in himself. It is the fastest way to a final decision. The prospect values the relationship and believes he made the right decision, instead of feeling caught in a one-way effort to sell a solution.

The Risk of Making a Mistake

In a small transactional sale, prospects can afford to take more risk because the consequences are relatively small. If my tree trimmer hacked up the trees, they’ll grow back. I didn’t invest a lot of time or money in the decision.

However, it’s a different story with large decisions. If I my wife and I buy the wrong house, we may have to live with it for some time to build equity back before we can sell it. It could become a very costly mistake.

In considering a new accounting system, everyone will be affected by such an installation. If it fails to provide the value expected, then I made a bad choice. And my whole company knows it. I fear the embarrassment and the possible repercussions. This experience makes other buying influences in the company second-guess my decisions in the future.

No one wants to lose money on a large purchase. And while purchase price is one factor that increases caution, fear of making a mistake may be even more important in damaging to the psyche.

Solve Big vs. Small:  Align Your Sales Process with How Prospects Buy

The fear of making the wrong decision is why you need to align your sales process with how prospects prefer to buy. Always begin by understanding need, as well as the need behind the need, invest time to lay out your case for making the status quo unsafe, be collaborative, and you will motivate your buyer to take action.

Once he or she commits to take action, sync your sales process to their thinking process. Without having to become a neuroscientist, you can benefit from the work from Dr. J.P. Guilford to help you to follow the prospect’s thinking. Soon, the sales experience you create will be the reason why they buy from you.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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