Conventional wisdom says the best way to sell a B2B product or service is to find the highest level champion in the prospect organization and follow their lead. But does that approach really work? Separate studies by the Corporate Executive Board (published in the April 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review) and the media group B2B Marketing (published in its 2015 Buyersphere Report) indicate that this may be easier in theory than in practice.
The first challenge is how decisions are made. The CEB and B2B Marketing studies show the average number of decision-makers in B2B decisions is 5+ people. In many cases there isn’t an ultimate decision-maker, the decision requires a consensus. The second problem is finding someone on the decision team with enough excitement for, and commitment, to your offering to cultivate that consensus. Although this individual may self-identify in some instances—especially those held up as examples of how to sell in B2B markets—in most cases while a decision maker may be willing to buy your solution, they aren’t necessarily willing to advocate for you. This is especially true if it requires effort to convince other departments with conflicting needs, priorities, and agendas to get on board with the decision.
So what is a vendor to do when facing the consensus sale with no champion? One option is to make a champion, instead of looking for one. Here’s how you can begin to build your champion through your sales and marketing activities.
What’s in it for them?
B2B providers can fall into the trap of thinking that their buyers make purely rational decisions. This is especially true of vendors that provide complex or highly technical products or services. The truth is B2B buyers are humans first, business people second, and are highly influenced by emotional considerations. Many B2B vendors recognize this in their advertising and use fear or aspirational themes to get the market’s attention. But once they have that attention they sometimes drop the emotions and shift to rational, business-case content. This is a mistake. Studies show that personal benefits are 5X as motivating as business benefits such as gained efficiencies or ROI. With this in mind, vendors need to help individuals understand what is in it for them. Will the solution help them get a promotion, enable them to spend more time with family, allow them to spend budget in a different way, reduce activities they don’t like doing, etc., etc. These messages don’t need to be blatant, and it probably wouldn’t make sense to be so, but it is important to continue to human side of the decision makers as the discussions become more technical.
Help them sell
Even if an individual is motivated to advocate for your product and service they likely don’t know how to. They are an expert at what they do, not your product or how it will help other departments and organization. They need help that goes beyond ROI and pitch numbers. They need to know what the solution means for other departments and the objections that might surface. They need to be able to articulate why it is worthwhile to other departments, especially if it will require a sacrifice by some of those departments.
Figure out what you and your champion are selling
When most prospects start contacting vendors they still haven’t decided on the type of solution they are looking for. Vendors often assume that they are competing against direct competitors and focus on the benefits of their solution over a competitors when in reality the team is still deciding if they need a vendor solution at all. To be fair to vendors, many prospects don’t realize this themselves; contacting vendors, arranging demos, etc. is easier to do than thinking through their organization’s needs and priorities. As a result, prospects often bring in vendors earlier than they should. In addition, prospects sometimes have to overcome internal barriers before they are ready to adopt a third party solution. They may lack the technical sophistication, have business processes resistant to change, etc. The sale is often more about doing something different, than it is about the differences between vendors.
Making your champion involves understanding who they are as people first, what motivates them, and the hurdles they face in advocating for your solution. Putting this knowledge into action may require changes in how you market and sell the solution: You may need a different set of messages, new sales enablement tools, and or sales training. Fortunately, the extra effort needed to identify and cultivate your own champions will bear more fruit than waiting for one to appear.