The hard truth about B2B sales is that, for all intents and purposes, we in the profession have historically been taught only half of the execution fundamentals required of us.
Hint: It’s not the half that the buy-side (read: prospects and customers) cares about.
That’s right. The half we are typically taught is squarely focused on our shareholders’ and company’s interests. Specifically, the operationalizing of revenue acquisition.
While it may seem counterintuitive to ignore the buy-side perspective, it’s somewhat understandable when you consider that accredited Sales degree programs are scarce, which leaves a lot of gaps in knowledge and execution skill sets, thereby pressuring companies to spend a considerable amount of capital just on teaching B2B sales execution fundamentals. Furthermore, process does matter and must be operationalized for obvious reasons.
And so, over time, “sell-side” concepts like qualification and discovery, sales process, and all of the requisite execution components, including negotiating, closing, objection handling–and to a much lesser degree, prospecting–became accepted as the professional standard. These were the things that were taught, and these were the (only) things you needed to know as a professional Seller.
Despite being flawed in its demand-centric requirement to function, this sell-side approach has been deemed sufficient for decades. However, as we begin to look back it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it really only “worked” while there was enough dumb money in the system to accommodate its shortcomings.
The Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009 was the inflection point where everything turned, where dumb money became very smart and has remained so even after the global economy recovered.
Demand-centric models still functioned, but the control equation shifted. The rise of the social Internet, coupled with economic necessity, exposed previously ignored flaws and the unmistakable predominance of “Pareto” economics associated with revenue generation for many companies.
Selling became noticeably harder, and buyers gained more control. In the technology sector, for example, the Cloud all but ensured the commoditization of most B2B assets in the eyes of the C-level, where funding lives.
Then COVID-19 entered stage left. This second tectonic economic shift is finally forcing companies to pivot to a supply-centric approach that will enable Sales to source the revenue that is not “bought.”
For this approach to be optimized and succeed at scale, however, reps and leaders must be taught the other critical half of sales execution fundamentals — the buy-side — which centers around the following three realities:
- Sales is in the FINANCE profession. Our remit is to source profitable revenue based on the shareholder value created by our assets. Period.
- Sales is in the LINGUISTICS profession. Language is our only control path to engage, guide, persuade and secure commitments, in the dialect of the buy-side.
- Sales is in the ENGAGEMENT MANAGEMENT profession. The buy-side values objectively guided due diligence expertise.
Furthermore, fully embracing these truths means that Sales must not only understand the following elements, but also be able to execute in this context at an expert level in order to optimize revenue from all addressable sources.
- Your objectivity will always be doubted or called into question (as it should be) because of your incentive compensation and your company’s P&L requirements. Address this first.
- Your fiduciary obligations are to your shareholders/investors/stakeholders, as are theirs. Do not pretend that they are not.
- Every customer becomes a prospect again when you are selling them something new.
- Your charter requires that you secure the most profitable revenue possible, and this must be openly stated and transparently represented at the beginning of and throughout any engagement.
- This requirement must be viewed as equal to your prospect’s requirement to fund the most profitable assets possible in order to justify any engagement.
- Your prospect will only respect your Cost of Sale if you require them to do so.
- Sell your asset class vs. your branded assets if you want to elevate your objectivity; otherwise you will be treated as just another vendor.
- “Trusted advisor” status is earned in drops and lost in buckets.
- An opportunity is a project; a pipeline is a program.
- A forecast is a critical path.
- Unstaffed projects should not be funded.
- You must demonstrate objective buy-side due diligence expertise in order to assert and earn the right to guide.
- Reasonable requests for commitments should be met with reasonable responses, or you should question your prospect’s intent.
- Real deals are not fragile.
- Sales is a financial profession with a singular KPI tied to revenue acquisition.
- If you do not know how to monetize the assets that you are selling, do not waste an executive’s time.
- How you execute all of this, linguistically, matters.
Like climate change (regardless of where you fall on this debate), the science behind these sales execution fundamentals is there and has been for some time. We just chose to look the other way rather than make the sacrifices that are necessary for incremental but meaningful, progressive changes.
Is it imperative that you make these sacrifices and changes? No. But make no mistake: If companies do not invest in this critical knowledge and skill shift, they will be ceding revenue, margin and market share to those that do.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember: This is not so much difficult as it is new, since the business fundamentals of corporate finance and engagement management are all in place and have been for decades. The approach just needs to be operationalized and executed in a new supply-centric revenue acquisition motion.
If not now, when?
About the Author
Eric Shaver is the Managing Partner of Kensei Partners, LLC, a next-generation Sales execution-focused training and consulting firm. A proven entrepreneurial sales professional, Eric has spent the majority of his career market-making, building customer bases and exceeding revenue goals in both category leading and venture-funded software companies. He brings extensive experience selling disruptive technologies and new products in both new and mature markets.
Over the past 11 years, Eric has trained over 15,000 quota carrying and non-quota carrying Sales professionals across 33 countries in North America, EMEA/MENA, APJ/ANZ, Greater China, and Latin America.
Engaging, Guiding & Closing Executives for Unbudgeted Financial Commitments.
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