With the public and commercial sectors of Western markets dealing with an on-going lack of assurance, cuts in investments, and strong competition, a lot of B2B sales people are now working in conditions more demanding than ever before.

These demanding circumstances have made the sales cycle much more problematic and time-consuming for salespeople. Buying decisions are either being commoditised and purchased on selling price, or they are being dealt with as strategic decisions and being made at a more senior level, irrespective of the industry or size of business.

If B2B salespeople wish to earn more strategic and rewarding business, they must sell more proactively and at a higher level. This renders conventional selling techniques, such as Feature Advantage Benefit selling, are useless and no longer deliver results. Traditional salespeople have to change their sales techniques and combine more current selling skills into their sales process. They have to implement consultative selling techniques that deliver actual business value, return on investment and quick payback in terms of cash flow.

But senior buyers are less accessible in today’s economic conditions. This is due to the fact that they are attempting to be successful in a more challenging environment with many salespeople trying to take up their precious time to make enquiries that are deemed as meaningless and telling them about their most recent product.

People in a business-to-business sales role in today's complex environment need to be much wiser if they want to be a success. They must cultivate effective and repeatable selling tools and approaches - whether they are selling products, services or a complicated mix of the two.

So how can salespeople sell effectively at the senior buyer level?

Well, they have to comprehend how the mind of a C-level exec operates. As a salesperson, you must understand and take the decision-maker through the following 5 phases throughout the C-level executive meeting:

1. The exterior challenges that they cannot change, prevent or overcome without investing in your solution. E.g. economic anxiety, competitive pressures, and consumer trends.

2. The inner pains that these exterior pressures will cause if little is done about them. E.g. uncertain earnings, income erosion, and consumer loyalty.

3. The strategic wishes that will be realised by the buying organisation to counter these pain points if they buy your solution. E.g. greater revenue per client, better customer retention, and enhanced customer loyalty.

4. How the buyer will realize these strategic wishes (or targets) when they buyer your solution.

5. The strategic inputs necessary to make the strategic desires a reality. E.g. relationships, products, services, responsibilities, and milestones.

From my experience and feedback from sales training events, having an influence on purchasing decisions at the senior buyer level really can be this straightforward. After all, this is just a series of 5 phases which involves some analysis, preparation and delivery by the sales professional. However, it can be complicated since there are many parameters and alternatives at each stage. This threatens to over-complicate sales meetings and frustrate those buyers with seldom time at their disposal.

My guidance for B2B salespeople sales professionals is to analyse, prepare and execute each stage - but not in too much depth. The most effective sales interactions follow these steps, staying at stages 1 to 3 for half of the meeting or sales call before moving on to stages 4 to 5 for the remaining half of the meeting or sales call. This approach is expected of senior buyers from salespeople.
This strategy can transform your sales interactions and, in turn, your ability to close deals with C-level executives. This is because it clearly starts and positions the dialogue around the exec’s environment, rather than the seller’s environment. Only when you have probed the initial three stages effectively and exhibited a clear comprehension of the client’s world should you try to go over the final two stages. This is what consultative selling is all about.

Interestingly enough, this is a very similar approach to a range of other professions, such as performance coaching, medicine, and psychotherapy. Coaches, doctors, psychologists and sales people likewise must truly comprehend their subject’s world. They must realize the pressures and pains they face; the problems these pressures and pains bring about; and the improvements their subjects desire to realize.

In summary, an effective solution sales individual must probe and understand the client’s world before recommending solutions. Remember, even if you have researched the first three stages outlined above, you can still ask leading questions relating to stage 1. But you must let the executive explain to you stages 2 and 3 themselves before probing deeper. If you imply the inner pain-points or strategic desires first, you risk suggesting that you are telling the exec how to do his or her own job! Be relaxed and be prepared to listen and you will reap the returns of selling in today’s ‘complex’ setting!

Author's Bio: 

Steve Eungblut is the managing director of Sterling Chase Associates.

Sterling Chase delivers sales coaching, business development and strategic marketing training solutions for organizations in the UK.