Sales can be simple enough if you are a big brand with a bunch of loyal customers, such as Apple or Google. In the “business to consumer” (B2C) market, the consumer is spoilt for choice. Try heading over to the shampoo counter in the drug store and having a look at how many brands are stocked on the shelves (and this is excluding the number of types of products each brand carries).
Shifting our attention to the “business to business” (B2B) sphere, we do not see nearly as much commotion over these products or services. Organizations selling to other businesses usually have a specific segment of clients that they market and sell towards. However, unlike B2C, B2B sales can take months from the initial product marketing stage all the way until the sales agreement is signed, sometimes even years.
There are a few reasons for this.
- Unlike your average B2C sale, B2B products and services often have unique, highly specialized features. They are, more often than not, purchased in bulk or quantity. Imagine corporate contracts, where manufacturing parts are sub-contracted to an automotive parts company. These contracts can be worth more than hundreds of millions of dollars. Even when the figures are not that high, the quantity can be rather large.
- Secondly, even when purchased in small quantities, they can still have a rather high per unit cost. For example, engaging a service provider, such as a consulting firm, on a single project could be a million dollar deal. Even the procurement of high-tech products, such as a state-of-the-art MRI scanner could be at least a few hundred thousand dollars.
- Lastly, the clients are undecided as to whether they even require that new product. It could be the case that a company already has a good alternative that fits their business needs. You could be a sales person trying to sell them an upgrade to the software, or an entirely new software with much fancier features.
Having understood the features of B2B products and services, we are going to explore the step-by-step sales process from the very beginning and look at the four types of people you are likely to encounter.
1. The Contact
The Contact is a representative of the client company that you are targeting, and can be anyone from a junior executive, to senior management. This is your first point of contact. This person could be your friend back in college, or someone that you got a hold off by cold-calling. More often than not, the Contact might not actually be the right person for you to target to sell the product. Nonetheless, the Contact holds an important role as he is your point of entry to gain access to someone in the relevant department. This person might be the manager or department head. The Contact might be able to introduce you to the appropriate person, or even fill you in with some information about the organisation. Depending on your level of relationship with the Contact, it is advantageous to find out more about the company from him or perhaps even to understand the organization structure. Doing your homework will gain you some brownie points when you move on to the next stage.
- Tip: Use the Contact’s knowledge to learn more about the company.
2. The Gate Keeper
Once you’ve got the name or contact details of the relevant person to speak to, you could already be facing your first major roadblock. The Gate Keeper is the person that will stop you from going through directly to the decision maker. The Gate Keeper could be a member of the department, or perhaps the secretary to the department head. If you want to schedule an appointment or phone call, it is important to get past this person. Most salespeople I know tell me that getting past this individual is key to clinching the sale. There isn’t any secret to getting this person on your side as they won’t be the one making the decision. Be polite and state your case.
- Tip: The Gate Keeper can make or break the sale. Make sure you say the right thing.
3. The Influencer
Finally! You’ve managed to schedule a meeting with the relevant individual. But, during the meeting you notice there is someone else present (for example a deputy or assistant). The most common reason for this is to have a second opinion. The department head might not be keen on the product, but he might want to know what his team member thinks. On the other hand, he might be keen, but wants to know if his team member feels the same way before they proceed for further meetings and discussions pertaining to a potential purchase. This other member is who we call the Influencer. Although the decision making does not lie with this person, he has an integral role in shaping the process. As such, aside from convincing the chief, it is as important to convince the influencer.
- Tip: Make sure you don’t disregard the Influencer. His opinion might be crucial when securing the sale.
4. The Decision Maker
As you may have already guessed by now, the decision maker is usually the department head (or someone in a similar position of power). Whoever the final Decision Maker is, it is important that during the sales process, you gain access to this individual. After all, he will be the one that ends up signing the contract. Once you get a meeting with this person, it’s crucial that you make a good impression and answer all their questions. Don’t make a false step after you’ve worked your way this far.
- Tip: Be prepared when meeting the Decision Maker.
Some organisations might have a flatter process while others might have more hierarchy that you will have to navigate. But, in most cases you will meet the different people mentioned in this article.
So, how accurate is the above depiction with your personal sales experience? What is the sales process like for your company? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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