There was a time when the most effective business-to-business sales tools were the fork and knife. It almost seems quaint to recall those days when the power of the relationship – and a juicy steak – were all that was needed to land or renew an even juicier piece of business.
Today, the relationship has been relegated to appetizer status – giving way to a buffet of product details and benefits that can make the difference between sales satisfaction, or heartburn.
I was thinking about this lately during a chat with a mid-cap CEO, whose company enjoyed dependable, steady growth over the years. His “secret weapon” was a long-time sales leader who “knew everybody.” But then the sales leader retired and guess what? Business flattened. What happened? Their company depended too long on relationship selling alone.
How about your company? Now, don’t get me wrong. Relationships in B2B remain important. Knowing the right people still means a lot. But it’s not enough. Not anymore. There are market factors driving huge changes for B2B companies. These include: 1) The rise of course of the internet and e ordering and e relationships for price quotes, collateral, deal sheets, etc.; 2) A generational change of the guard – the skilled relationship salespeople who could make anything happen are retiring; and 3) Changing expectations.
It cannot be understated how important data-driven insights are in the new paradigm – in fact, Salesforce.com noted that the highest-performing sales teams base their selling proposition on data-driven insights. And 80 percent of B2B customers say they want their sales reps to be focused on how they will add value to their business – not whether they have a wine locker at the Capital Grille.
So, it’s clear that relationships alone aren’t good enough anymore – today’s sales pros have to be prepared to answer questions like: What have you done for me lately? What new ideas have you brought to me to grow my business? What cost advantages do you offer? How about improving my warehouse turns? Your competitors who are delivering those things are taking share from you. Maybe you’ve resorted to shaving your price a bit to hang on, so margins have dropped.
So, how can you flex your real muscle – your value to the client? Here are five ways to keep the relationship strengths you have, while fortifying the pitch to spotlight the advantages you offer over your competition:
So, if you are a mid-cap CEO, we’re not telling you to become robots and discard the personal relationships that have gotten your company where you are. Certainly, they probably took a long time to cultivate, like any good relationship. But don’t depend on them alone. The world is changing fast, and pressing the flesh with your clients will no longer be enough. Take a closer look at your sales organization, and apply the five-point test outlined above. Get a CRM system and use it; and get your marketing team partnered at the hip with the sales team. Move UP, and CROSS FUNCTIONALLY, within your customer’s business operation; and get into a regular series of “top-to-top” meetings. The result will be an acceleration in your growth rate, as your customers look at you in a new light – as a strategic partner who brings ideas, added value and results to both of your businesses.