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B2B Sales

The only sales model that will exist in 3 years from now.

The change that we are now witnessing in buyer tastes and preferences means a big swing from outbound sales activities to INBOUND, and that requires vendors to remove any misalignment that may exist between your sales execution approach and what buyers now want from the buying experience.


Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at the HubSpot Grow conference in Sydney. Over 1,000 excited people all focused on learning how to better engage their target audiences. My key-note focused on the irrefutable shift that is now happening - from vendor-push to CUSTOMER-PULL business models. Allow me to explain:

Everyone knows that the role of the sales person is now infinitely more difficult than it’s ever been, and we all know that this is because the buyer (in every industry) is now educated, demanding, and their expectations about what constitutes a valuable engagement with a vendor is now rising rapidly.

Information Parity means that the pendulum has swung from vendors to buyers and it’s never coming back. Vendors whom are still ‘pushing’ buyers through a sales cycle are now being compared unfavourably against the savvy vendors whom have now awoken to the new dynamics of the ‘customer pull’ models.

Everywhere you look nowadays you can now find evidence of the declining sales performance associated with the old vendor push models. Buyers (in 2018 onward) will NOT accept having their busy day interrupted by a stranger with a blanket message that is not personalised, and you only have to look at the UK Governments recent legislation penalising firms that engage in “nuisance calls” for proof of what I’m saying. Buyers across every industry now ‘block’ those annoying 20th century sales tactics such as cold outreach. Why? Because human beings despise being treated as a number, they hate being pushed, harassed, cajoled, and manipulated by a person that they know has a vested interest.

Instead, buyers across every industry now demand a different buyer-led journey that allows the buyer to ‘pull’ their preferred vendors through the buying journey which precipitates timely dissemination and synthesis of information allowing decision making to occur when the buyer is ready, and not when it’s end-of-month/quarter for the vendor sales person.

This new customer-pull approach ultimately leads to a totally different type of a sales person, and a total re-think of what constitutes ‘success’ for vendors and their reps. In this new context success is no longer about vendors maximising revenue attainment…that will come 'as a result' of delivering the buyer the ‘experience’ that they now demand. Customer Experience (CX) and customer success outcomes (both pre & post the initial sale) MUST now become the sole focus of vendor sales people, and make no mistake, this requires a significant change for traditional vendors.

From Chasing, to ATTRACTING Customers.

Under the old vendor push paradigms it was all about chasing buyers and the more you chase a dog the more it runs away. When vendors finally wake up to the enormous power associated with the Law of Reciprocity combined with the Law of Attraction, they begin to envisage a totally different way of engaging their target market and this is the basis of customer-pull sales models. Moreover, this new focus on ‘attracting’ buyers totally transforms the culture of the vendor organisation and I am now personally witnessing this cultural realignment breath new life into struggling vendors.

From OUTBOUND to INBOUND

I’m highly cognizant that I must sound like a broken record, but once again, for the record: brute force push selling will never work again. Try as hard as you like, but you will never be able to ‘push’ buyers through a sales process, and when you attempt that outdated rubbish these days it leaves a nasty odour in the air and it severally damages your reputation in the process. Any kind of sales process that is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ generic approach which treats the buyer (and their desired outcomes) like just another number simply has no place in the future of commerce.

Today's savvy buyers will no longer tolerate old school selling tactics and those stereotypical sales behaviours. My old mate Tim Hughes often says that buyers now go into ‘sales person avoidance mode’ when they get even the slightest whiff of anything resembling ‘push selling.

All of this change in buyer tastes and preferences simply means a big swing from outbound sales activities to INBOUND, and that requires vendors to remove any misalignment that may exist between your sales execution approach and what buyers now want from the buying experience. If we agree that buyers do NOT want to be chased, interrupted, harassed and pushed, then one can only conclude that buyers prefer the “INBOUND” approach which is based on an entirely different philosophy. You must transform your sales approach to "match how buyers want to buy”…..and this extends well beyond simply asking your marketing department to create some compelling content, and then sitting back and waiting for the leads to roll in. INBOUND is about giving the buyer what they want – a personalised, informative and ‘zero pressure’ approach to helping them solve problems. Simple right?

So, what is the right balance between OUTBOUND & INBOUND?

Within this buyer-led context, vendors are now having to work out the right balance between OUTBOUND and INBOUND. Sadly, many vendors are still addicted to the crack cocaine of short term revenue growth and financial performance measures, meaning that these vendors will be unable to easily move away from OUTBOUND sales activities which will continue to focus on those old fashioned KPI’s around revenue attainment, pipeline size and number of meetings etc etc. These vendors are now on the fast path to irrelevance.

It’s the classic damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. If you keep performing the old fashioned OUTBOUND tactics you will be irrelevant in the years to come, but in order to make this gradual shift, you will have to accept that 'cash-flows' may have to go backwards (at least temporarily) before they go forwards again. If you don't begin this shift at some point soon then you will continue to see the declines that you are seeing now....and it's only going to get worse.

To be clear, OUTBOUND is still acceptable to some buyers today but only if it’s done correctly. And by correctly, I mean that it must be done with the adequate level of “pre-search” before the outreach occurs. That is, when OUTBOUND is coupled with referralsintroductions and some degree of research or insights tailored to the buyers context....that make it highly personalised, relevant and meaningful to each individual buyer, then you might be a slim chance of opening up an on-going dialogue. On the other hand, if your OUTBOUND approach is stuck in the 20th century ‘numbers game’ era then you will soon find that you are inadvertently building the businesses of your competitors with your old school modus operandi.

Raising the Bar!

Vendor sales people have to understand that an old OUTBOUND approach is now being compared with the amazing CX that vendors like HubSpot are creating with their highly educational INBOUND focused approach.

HubSpot creates such a delightful buying experience that those vendors that are still pushing now look very lame by comparison. Having recently become a HubSpot customer I can personally attest to the fresh and innovative approach that the HubSpot sales personnel take to engaging buyers with their “create value BEFORE you try to extract value” approach – the ancillary benefit being that HubSpot sales people don’t ever appear to be desperate to win your business….and that’s gold when every other vendor sales person is appearing increasingly desperate.

I’ve spoken numerous times about what a great job Mr Jack Doran (Inbound Marketing Specialist at HubSpot) did with me personally as his buyer [that's Jack pictured with me on the slide above at my recent talk]. Educating me was Jack's only objective and at no stage did Jack bother with anything that resembled interrupting, pushing, qualifying, objection handling or closing….he made the buying experience so enjoyable for me that I was never going anywhere else.

74% of buyers choose the rep that was FIRST to add value and insights (Corporate Visions).

Sales people that engage buyers the way that buyers want will set themselves apart from the vast majority of sales people whom continue to ‘push’. Creating value before you try to extract value – taking a long term approach to educating buyers – will put you in a position of being able to attain that trusted adviser status where the buyer will actually want to come back to you when they are ready to buy.

“A sales is just something that happens when you are immersed in helping your buyer get the outcomes that they require”.

Digital Sales Transformation

What we are talking about here is digital sales transformation that removes the misalignment with the buyer whom now resides online. The shift from vendor-push to customer-pull is undoubtedly a difficult undertaking, because vendors are now having to unpick years, in some cases decades, of deeply ingrained structures, operations, culture, values and beliefs. However, this substantial change is now also mandatory for survival.

This shift requires vendors to transform their businesses strategically, commercially, operationally, and culturally, and it requires a total rethink on how we measure, manage and reward sales people in order to make CX, customer advocacy and customer loyalty the new KPI’s….moving away from the old inwardly focused quota crushing nonsense of the 20th century.

Good luck with this shift....and do NOT underestimate how critical it is to your business sustainability.

By Graham Hawkins