Role based approach – Key to success in institutional sales

By Professor Soumyadip Chakraborty of WSB

In my years of experience in B2B selling, I have got chance to analyze many situations where the sales attempt had failed. Sometimes I had been a part of such endeavors, but more often I had to do a post-facto analysis of the pursuit. I had seen a common factor in many of these failed sales attempts – the sales person didn’t have any clue of the decision process. They met a few people they thought were important, or they participated in the bidding process almost blind-folded and then met the bidding manager. However, in the B2B context that means committing hara-kiri.

In my decade-long experience in the sales role across various Big-4 consulting firms, I have witnessed a different but more scientific approach to the sales process, or pursuit management. There are basically three key success factors or mantras involved in the process. These techniques are often emphasized by some of the leading sales programs like the ones from Miller Heiman, Brain Tracy Institute, etc.

  1. The first mantra – “Define the objective, objectively”: Many a times a sales meeting goes well. The client is nice and cordial and there is discussion on various topics. However, when it comes to the work, the project is either lost or the sales person is informed that the Client has already selected another party. In a nutshell, the sales opportunity is lost. If it comes to the limelight after the first meeting, still ok. But sometimes this is known only after the third, fourth or fifth meeting. So, in fact the sales person loses a lot of time, obviously at the cost of his other sales.

This can definitely be avoided. The sales person needs to be very objective and straight forward in defining the outcomes of any sales call or sales meeting. Those should NOT be complicated objectives, but simple. For example, “Knowing person X and being friends with him so that he can favorably consider my company and shares the details of the project and invites us for the bidding and introduces to his team” is a complicated statement. It may not be possible to meet all these objectives in a single meeting. So it is better to simply it: “Showcase our knowledge about the topic and ask for an opportunity to participate in the bid” is a better one.

Remember, if you complicate the objective, then the meeting may be concluded haphazardly and the decision maker may not get a clue about what you wanted to do. It will reduce your chances of getting the second meeting with him and reduce your chances to win as well. So be clear and be objective. It may also be a good strategy to declare the objectives of the meeting at the beginning.

  1. The second mantra – “Help thy buyers”: A good sales person always tries to solve the problems of the buyer(s). However, that is commonsensical. More importantly, the sales person should find out the various roles involved in the buying organization. There are 4 specific roles in any buying organization. They are:
  • Main decision maker: The main decision maker or Economic Buyer is somebody who signs the deal. He will be one of the very senior persons in the buying organization. He is concerned with the monetary aspects of the deal. This person is often difficult to reach.
  • Technical buyer: The technical buyer is somebody whose role is to ensure that the product or service meets the specifications. If you are selling a product, he will make sure that the product is of the right dimensions, or contains the approved ingredients only. If you are selling a service, he will make sure that the service is suitable for implementation. Technical buyers may or may not be concerned with pricing. If they are, they will ensure that the pricing is within a range. To them, pricing is also a parameter of qualification.
  • User or Use buyer: A user buyer is he who is interested about the usage aspect of the product or service. For example, if you are selling an IT application, the user buyer will be concerned with the look and feel of the user interface, the quick accessibility of the menu, the speed of access, etc. He will not bother about the price. However, the management will usually not take a buying decision if the users are not happy with the product. Often “demo” sessions are targeted to such buyers.
  • Advisor or Coach: This role is fairly powerful within the buying organization and can influence the buying decision, but will play in your favor. Though sounds Utopian, but any successful sales person must have a coach. A good sales person is somebody who can quickly identify a coach. Any of the above three roles can also assume the role of a coach.
  1. The third mantra – “A sales champion is a partner with the customers”: A sales person can be somebody who can sell, but a sales CHAMPION is somebody who makes repeat sales. Repeat sales requires a sense of comfort and trusted relationship between the seller and the buyer(s). Hence a sales champion should always showcase partnership and invest towards long term relationship with the customer. All the buyer roles have different sense of partnership. That may be a topic of discussion in another blog.