The world of sales is tough and seems to be getting tougher. I recently had a conversation with John Smibert, the most influential person in professional selling in Australia, concerning the emerging challenges facing B2B sellers in 2016 and I provide recommendations on how we need to respond in order to succeed.
The global economy will continue to be flat for years to come and the lack of economic confidence, combined with significant changes in the way buyers execute their procurement research and vendor engagement, means that sellers must continually adapt the way they sell.
Warriors of Persuasion must learn to become Engineers of Value.
The challenges we face in 2016 and beyond include the fact that the customer are becoming more risk adverse - they are applying committee based decision-making to achieve consensus. Average deal sizes are also getting smaller which means sellers must figure out how drive greater efficiency to achieve sales quota. Other factors include the need for sales and marketing to come together to create superb 'buyer experience' mapped against the buyer's journey with fewer sales people and better uses of technology.
Watch or read the full interview below. This will be of value to the CEO, CFO, CSO, CMO, sales leaders and their teams in order to build and execute their sales and revenue strategy.
John: Tony, it’s early in the year of 2016 - you've talked a lot about challenges through 2015, and how the B2B sales world is changing and there’s more and more challenges. What do you see as the key challenges we’re going to face in the next 12 months?
Tony: Well, I think economically the economy, the Western world economy is going to be pretty tough for the next few years, maybe as long as five to seven years. I don’t think there’s going to be a big recession or anything, but I just think every purchasing decision inside an organisation is going to get scrutinised.
John: It’s just limping along, the economy, isn’t it?
Tony: It is. When you combine that with some other trends that are just remaining with us, buyers tend to be very risk-averse and sceptical of the claims made by sellers. Increasingly inside organisations they’re also looking for consensus, and the reality is there’s more than five people or five buying groups in big organisations involved in every decision.
John: Well, The Challenger Sale research indicates 5.4 is the average, right, in medium to large corporates.
Tony: Yes, it’s true. And it’s not 5.4 people, it’s 5.4 committees or bunches of people with competing agendas. And increasingly what happens is that the old model of selling, where you track down those individual buyer personas and craft and tailor your message to them, so that when they all sit around that boardroom table at a later date, they go “Yes, we know this supplier, we’re comfortable – let’s go ahead.” That’s not the case today. They may know us, but they can’t reach agreement internally, they can’t achieve consensus internally, they don’t want to cross-fund each other’s initiatives with who’s deriving the greatest benefits.
John: That’s the key message coming out of The Challenger Customer book that I’ve just read.
Tony: Exactly, which actually is a really brilliant book. Consensus based decision-making, distrust of ROI, all of those things are making it incredibly difficult to sell. The thing we need to do is we need to modernise our whole approach and get focused on leading with insight and value. People have known this for ages, but we need to make it a reality for salespeople so that they can help customers focus on outcomes and managing risk as the way of differentiating in how they sell.
John: And from my understanding, we need to get very good at helping organisations make a decision by working with them in a collaborative way and understanding how those decisions are made inside organisations.
Tony: Yes, it’s true.
John: Dealing with the right people that are going to make it happen internally.
Tony: Correct. Well - in Corporate Executive Board Challenger speak - it’s look for the mobiliser, look for the change agent inside the buyer organisation, but help them build a compelling business case that can achieve consensus within the group internally. It’s not so much about being a warrior of persuasion in selling, we need to be engineers of value and do the engineering and partnership with the customer.
John: So, you see that as a key change in the way we approach the B2B business of selling in the next 12 months.
Tony: Yes. And in many, many instances we’re just going to have to get over the fact that average deal sizes are going to be smaller, and that we need to invest in longer-term relationships with our customers, that those revenues will come over the medium and long term; we’re not going to get huge revenue hits upfront with people anymore. That’s part of how the delivery of cloud software is changing things as well.
John: Yes, I understand that, and I think that’s going to apply not just in software but in lots of different industries.
Tony: Yes. And the last thing is we need to get good at creating customer experience that supports buyer journey, so sales and marketing need to finally, finally come together and start to think about that. I think there’ll be fewer field salespeople, but there’ll be lots of different sales roles inside organisations, as we make sure that we map how the buyer is evaluating and going to market and looking.
John: So, the alliance or collaboration or whatever you call it between sales and marketing is going to become more and more critical is what you’re saying, around that buyer journey.
Tony: Very much so, yes.
John: Okay. Good advice. It’s going to be interesting for a lot of people out there, to work out how they change their strategy and adapt to be able to work in that environment. I look forward to learning more from you as we all go through that process.
Tony: Thanks, John!
John: Thanks, Tony!
This article appears here within one of the planet's top 50 blogs on sales and marketing and the only top 50 blog within LinkedIn. Thanks John Smibert for the video interview and transcript which can also be found on on the Strategic Selling Group website where he interviews sales thought leaders from around the world.
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Main Image Photo by Flickr: Hans Splinter - Viking