In The New Strategic Selling, authors Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman outline a much-lauded approach to complex enterprise sales.
They advise that any sales process should start with developing a deep understanding of a prospective customer and the challenges they face. Customers are likely to be in one of a number of states – perhaps encountering challenges or chasing growth – and the approach to selling must be tailored accordingly. For instance, a company facing an existential crisis is unlikely to buy something on the promise of incremental improvement alone. The authors also recommend that regular contact should be maintained with customers, but only when there is a valid reason to do so.
The book argues that complex enterprise sales depend on several decisions, normally made by multiple people with different ‘buying influences’. The process normally involves selling to at least three types of buyer:
- An ‘economic buyer’ (i.e. the CFO / CEO) that will evaluate the economic impact of a purchase in the context of an organisation as a whole.
- A ‘user buyer’, referring to the person / team that will directly use or benefit from the purchase.
- A ‘technical buyer’, such as the legal department, which may not make the final decision but can prevent purchases.
The three buying influences almost never reside within the same person and may hold diverging or conflicting opinions or perceptions, while their relative importance is likely to differ between organisations or products and may not be obvious. For instance, a CEO may defer to the opinion of a more junior influence with a much greater understanding of the product or field in question. The people in each role may be constantly changing. Nevertheless, all three must be sold to.
The authors advise sales teams to develop an understanding of who fills each role within an organisation, target them based on their relative decision making influence (as opposed to title, historical contact or degree of comfort in dealing with them) and use appropriate sales resources for each (for instance making sure that someone with a technical background engages with a ‘user buyer’, and that the seniority of the sales person matches that of the buyer). They also suggest that, in some cases, one buying influence (or other contacts) can be used as a ‘coach’ to influence the others. During this process, independent experts can be an effective way to validate a product.
The authors observe that ‘people buy when, and only when, they perceive a discrepancy between reality and their desired results‘ and any buying decision therefore involves an implicit agreement to change. As should be clear (but often apparently isn’t), only win-win sales are good in the long term.