I love working with young companies. For the most part, they just want to see their products being used by happy customers. That’s usually why they started the company. They identified a customer problem and built a product to solve it. The CEO is usually leading the sale and doing a great job of applying the solution to solve the customer’s problem.
Then the company makes its first sales hires. Everyone is excited. The technology is so far ahead of the competition, there’s so much opportunity, and there are so many potential customers to win. The new hires have sales experience but need a lot of help to understand the product capabilities. The CEO helps them understand the features, the product roadmap, and the vision for the future. The new sellers practice the value proposition, learn key messages, refine the pitch, and begin to explore the competitive landscape.
Then the sellers start calling on prospective customers. They’re professional and seasoned sellers, but the CEO can’t help wondering why they’re not closing as many deals as the CEO did, and they’re all small deals. On examining the deals, the CEO sees a lot more potential than was captured. Looking at the opportunities that weren’t won, the CEO gets frustrated because it seems that the customers have real problems that the company’s product could fix, but somehow the message isn’t getting through.
Does this sound familiar?
This sequence of events is, of course, not completely unique to young startup companies. When sellers don’t understand the customer’s business, they can’t apply their products to solve the customer’s business problem.
According to the “Executive Buyer Insight Study” from Forrester Research, most salespeople (71%) are knowledgeable about their own products, but just 36% of business leaders think salespeople are knowledgeable about their customers’ business.
This situation is confirmed by the Altify research report “Inside the Buyer’s Mind.” This study of 1,240 buyers and sellers finds that the value received by customers when meeting with a salesperson falls short of their expectations. Only 49% of buyers think the meetings are valuable.
So, we should not be surprised that the buyer is in the driver’s seat, doing online research and then buying just the capabilities needed to address a specific problem. This might be okay, but in most cases — particularly in IP-heavy B2B sales — an experienced salesperson focused on that industry should be able to apply their experience to help the customer think creatively about their problem. Then the sales process becomes about the solution, not the features.
The first step to accomplish this is to train new sales hires on the customers’ business problems before you train them on the product. That provides context for the product training. If you understand customers’ typical business problems, the market and industry dynamics, the typical pressures — both internal (financial, operations, and so on) and external (competitive, market, technology, customers, and so on) — then you will probably understand the impact of your solution on the customer.
Remember: The impact on the customer of a bad buying decision is typically greater than the impact on the salesperson of a lost deal.
I’ve seen small companies fail hard and fast when they cannot overcome these selling challenges. (I’ve also seen companies fail slowly — and that is even more painful.) The good news is that the solution is very straightforward: Focus on the customer first. It’s perhaps a bit obvious, but it’s always a good thing to do — and in this case, it may well make the difference.