One of the biggest misconceptions of B2B selling is that customers invest in new products and services purely to overcome strategic or operational challenges: these things will have played their part in initiating the enquiry stage of the buying cycle, the market research and supplier evaluation, but they are not why budgets are approved and investments are made.
The only reason organisations gain budget approval and invest in products and services, is to achieve a positive outcome in one, two or all three of these scenarios,
To increase profitability by creating a competitive advantage
To reduce cost by becoming more operationally efficient and effective
To protect or enhance reputation and/or brand.
It’s also the case that without being able to identify and explain how these positive outcomes will be achieved, budgetary approval for any organisation’s investment plans are unlikely to be approved.
Whilst all of this might appear to be obvious, it is often the case that B2B sales people confuse their solution to a customer’s problem with the positive outcome, here’s an example,
A customer wants to buy a new telephone system because their existing one can’t handle their current call volumes. It’s fairly obvious that the solution is to provide them a telephone system that will remove the call volume problem, but that’s not the positive outcome, the positive outcomes could include,
Lower call waiting times, improving customer satisfaction
Lower stress levels for call centre operators, making it a better place to work
Reduced costs with better call management, freeing up money for other investments
Improved reputation as a place to work, improving recruitment and reducing attrition
Improved reputation for service, improving company value
Improved profitability, gaining more new customers and less churn of existing ones.
Again, all of this seems fairly obvious, but more often than not, selling organisations fall into the trap of merely selling their solution.
This usually includes, how suited their product or service is to the customer's requirement, how big and successful the selling organisation is, what an extensive product range they have and how their overall solution is the customer's best option; though often struggling to explain how they are different from any other prospective supplier.
All of the above may be (to a greater or less extent) relevant, but If you want to avoid this trap and differentiate your sales approach by moving beyond solution selling, here’s three things you need to do to perfect the art of positive outcome selling.
1. Keep the customer’s perspective in mind
The first thing is to look at everything from the customer’s perspective. For example, the fact that the new telephone system might have twice the capacity as the old one is a solution to the call volume problem, but it’s not a positive outcome, it’s merely a feature of the product.
Take the time to research the customer’s business as widely as possible, don’t get stuck on a single track of finding a solution to the challenge they’ve described to you. Take responsibility to know and understand their business, you may spot a potential positive outcome that the competition and/or even the customer themselves have not thought about.
Keep your focus on why they want to invest vs getting bogged down in what they said they wanted to invest in, this approach alone will differentiate you from your competition.
2. Recognise that positive outcomes become personal
The second thing is to recognise that the organisational positive outcomes we mentioned earlier, (increase profitability, reduce cost, protect or enhance reputation) hold differing levels of personal value to each of the key stakeholders engaged in the buying process.
We always need to bear in mind that people are primarily interested in how what you are selling will impact them personally, as much (if not more than) as how it will solve an organisational problem.
For example, when proposing the new telephone system to the prospective organisation, the sales director may be more interested in the “more new customers and less churn” outcome; the call centre team leaders would be keen to understand how the “lower stress levels for call centre operators” could be achieved and the CEO may be keen to understand how investing in a new telephone system can enhance his company’s reputation and market value?
It’s this level of personal impact understanding that differentiates positive outcomes from merely being a list of benefits (as in features and benefits selling). Benefits are generic, but positive outcomes are specific to the value perceived by each individual.
3. Go high and wide (but don’t forget low)
The mantra of sell high and wide is well known in the world of B2B sales. However, when it comes to qualifying the opportunities for positive outcomes, it’s a great idea to also spend time with the people (lower down the organisation) who will be using your product or service.
Moreover, it can often be the case that they will give you a better insight into the challenges and therefore more opportunities to identify positive outcomes than someone who does not actually do their job.
So if you’re selling contact centre systems ask to spend time listening to calls in the contact centre, if your selling fork lift trucks go and talk to the fork lift truck drivers and the people working in the warehouse, if you’re selling a CRM system go and talk to the salespeople who will be using it, if your selling project management services spend time with the people for whom the project outcome is intended, not just the people running or sponsoring the project.
By taking this approach, you will not only be (and be seen to be) more committed to finding the right solution, you will also be better equipped to link the investment the organisation is making to the positive outcomes it can achieve, both at an organisational and personal level.
On a final note, “because I’m worth it” (© L’Oréal) might act as ample justification when spending our own money, but it’s unlikely to cut it for any B2B organisation’s major investment approval process. Approval for significant budget expenditure, both in the private and public sector is usually a bit more robust than that.
By doing the three things we’ve covered in this blog, you will not only help your customer identify the positive outcomes their investment will achieve, you will also increase their chances of getting their budgets approved; they might even perceive being fortunate enough to be dealing with someone as professional you as a positive outcome as well.