Recently I was asked for more practical examples on how to drive customer conversations from tactical to strategic. You may have experienced yourself in recent sales meetings that buyers are less motivated by tactical reasons to move an opportunity forward. They expect you to deliver strategic value and if you cannot, then your opportunity will go nowhere. So, how do you shift customer conversations to a strategic level? Let’s first clarify why tactical selling does not work that well any longer in B2B selling.
In transactional buying, tactical selling works well. In transactional situations products have in general lower value and there is a low risk for the buyer. B2C is typically transactional. Customers switch easier from one brand to another. Buyers are easier influenced by emotional factors, hence tactics like special offers, and limited-time offers etc work well. In B2B buying, however, switching suppliers is actually what companies like to avoid, switching can be costly and there are more stakeholders involved; you are looking at high value and high-risk situations. Changing suppliers need to deliver strategic value for companies. Behaving tactical in strategic situations works less well.
Imagine you are meeting with a B2B potential customer. Wouldn’t it be great they come with a problem, an issue or a challenge to the table? Indeed, that would be great because I am sure you know how to serve this customer much better, sharing all your company’s Features, Advantages and Benefits the customer would enjoy when switching their business to you. The reality is that we should stop dreaming and hoping that customers will come with their problems to us. In fact, the most obvious action the customer will take is to discuss these issues with their current supplier and ask them to fix it or come up with solutions.
To shift from tactical to strategic selling you need to come from a different angle; you need to be the one who comes with insights, new relevant information, prompting the customer that they may be exposed to risks they initially have not thought of. You need to be the one that shares ideas that you have seen working well with similar customers and how they adapted to changes and similar challenges your potential customer also thinks about.
I was asked recently, yes, but where are these insights? How do I find these? The answer is to stop looking for silver bullets and instead focus on what your potential customer is trying to achieve. The most obvious primary objectives every company have is increasing its revenue income and reducing its current cost, to achieve a higher profit. On a macro strategic level, this may well be true. But your potential customer may have different immediate objectives right now. For example, they want to drive customer loyalty to generate more share of wallet with their existing customers. For that, they have lined up marketing campaigns with messages to cross-sell and upsell their products. Or, they do not care too much about profit right now because they see the need for “buying” a bigger market share in a certain demographic. Or they want to be first in a new market. They have identified greater competition in that area and need to act quickly without being too much focused on profit. Their overall goal may be increasing their bottom line, but for now, their immediate priority is being dominant somewhere before others take over that market-leading position.
The point is, to be able to be strategic you need to find out first what your customer is trying to achieve, right now and long term. You need to gain that situational knowledge by research and talking to more stakeholders at the customer’s organization. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall in their boardroom meeting and listen to what these top managers are talking about? Every business is impacted by changes all around them. That can be external changes like competitor moves or trade barriers but also internal changes like staffing issues or changes occurring at their suppliers which mostly driving up their costs.
To know what they are talking about you need to ask more strategic questions:
– What are your plans to be more competitive or to be more successful in the future?
– What are your focus improvement areas right now? Or in the next six months?
– Where does the needle need to move and by how much?
– What are you trying to improve and why?
– What has changed in your business that drives the need for these improvements?
These questions may give you a better idea of what your customer is trying to achieve and why. The difference in the new way of selling is not to step on your sales soapbox and tell the customer how good your company is and therefore is the best choice to deliver their desired outcome. How many phone calls and emails do you think customers receive from salespeople reaching out to have a meeting to really understand what they need? Customers are discovery fatigue. They are tired of listening to sales pitches.
As a Trusted Advisor, you need to recognize that your customer is hungry for your insights, your ideas on how you can help them to achieve what they are trying to achieve. Step into your customer’s shoes, imagine being at that boardroom meeting, what would you do? Verify with your customer how much you understand what their immediate and long term challenges are. Show your business acumen that these challenges are affecting their business objectives. Do you see risks when their current set-up and suppliers involved are staying the same? Would in your opinion the current suppliers involved deliver the outcome the potential customer is looking for? If not, tell them. Share your views. Have you seen similar situations of similar customers in a similar industry? If you are concerned they are making the wrong choices, share your concerns. Share your views on why you think they should change and what change would mean to your customers in terms of what they are trying to achieve. Now you are changing the conversation to strategic and you have created an opportunity. You have won the potential customer’s interest. In the end, customers are looking for better business results. Ask yourself: How can you help?
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