Winning the Business

Rethinking Your Sales Process

The 1970s called: They want their sales process back

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The most difficult thing about winning major B2B deals is that buyers don’t buy in the way that your company’s sales department wants to sell. Since the 1970s, every major sales process has proceeded from the same formula: The single salesperson, with just the right combination of probing questions and clever insights, can control the process and close the sale.

This formula is at the heart of the Solution, Strategic, SPIN, and Challenger sales models. It’s also the explanation for two paradoxical facts. Fact No. 1: All of them work. Fact No. 2: None of them matter.

How Can This Be?

Who have these sales processes forgotten? The buyer.

According to Harvard Business Review, the typical major B2B equipment purchase involves an average of four departments, three levels of management, and seven people. Likewise, the CEB found that 5.4 people, on average, have veto authority on B2B buying decisions.

In other words, buyers have moved on to a consensus-based decision-making process. The days of one salesperson convincing one decision maker died with the purchasing revolution of the 1990s. Major decisions now require widespread support among your prospect’s internal stakeholders. Your salesperson isn’t part of the meetings where these compromises are worked out—or the emails and hallway conversations leading up to them.

Buyers have moved on to a consensus-based decision-making process.

The Good News

The news isn’t all bad. Although your particular choice of salesperson-centric sales process doesn’t matter, you do have a representative speaking for you inside the company: your proposal.

There are basically two reasons a client asks for a proposal. Either it’s required or it’s desired. In B2B, we’ve found that, 19 out of 20 times, it’s desired.

If companies made buying decisions based on the salesperson, how would you explain that? Likewise, if a company is considering you, why do they request a proposal and not more salespeople? Why do companies spend thousands of dollars in time and money on RFPs?

Because. They. Want. Proposals.

This is common sense. Few of us would buy even a dishwasher without comparing several models. But is your salesperson  going to stop Pfizer from comparing multiple IT vendors by “getting in front of the RFP”? Not likely.

Despite this, our research shows that 92 percent of B2B proposal departments report being treated as “sales support.” They’re given little responsibility and little training. Proposals are regarded as glorified price quotes for which generic boilerplate is good enough.

In other words, you’re putting your efforts and resources into salespeople, while the buyers are largely deciding based on proposals. No wonder so many deals come down to price. That’s exactly what you would expect if all the proposals in front of buyers were glorified price quotes. This is why improving your proposals improves your win rates.

Secrets of the Stars

In our experience, star-performing chief sales officers institute two critical changes. First, Proposals is made coequal with Sales and Marketing. After all, if your buyers make consensus-based decisions after comparing proposals, then the proposal should be recognized as a critical decision point. Star performers treat it as such, not as sales support.

Second, star performers ensure that Sales, Marketing, and Proposals work together to make final proposals and presentations as persuasive as possible. That means Sales uncovers what this client values. Marketing brings in the evidence to support your value propositions. And Proposals delivers a compelling, memorable message that makes it safe and easy for the client to choose you.

In the modern world of consensus-based decisions, that’s a winning formula.


Chris Sant consults and conducts training on evidence-based proposal and sales best practices. He can be reached at chris@chrissant.com.

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