To earn customers in a B2B environment you deploy a sales methodology. The sales methodology will dictate your sales process. The sales methodology is not the same for every customer or market.
For example: you can’t expect to apply a $100,000 consultative sales effort to help a customer buy a $5/month service. On the the other hand, you also can’t expect to win a $1M deal spending only $5 to support effort! This indicates there are different B2B sales methods.
B2B sales is governed by the following methodologies.
DIY Self Service: A complete end-to-end web experience where clients educate themselves and complete the purchase online.
Transactional selling: Helping customers buy the solution they picked themselves, often through online research. These customers often are in a hurry and ready to buy.
Solution selling: Customers already understand their problem and want sales to address specific issues with products and services. Customers buy in days to weeks.
Consultative selling: The customer does not fully understand the problem. Sales has to diagnose the customer’s situation to determine the right solution. Sales can take 6-18 months.
Provocative selling (ref: HBR Provocative Selling): Sales experts can identify clients who will face a problem before the client himself knows. They provoke an executive client into action. Often applied to innovative solutions, this B2B sales methodology takes anywhere between 3 to 9 months.
Figure 1. Different selling processes that govern B2B sales
In this blueprint, we will focus on Transactional, Solution, Consultative and Provocative selling.
The transactional sales process is a reactionary one. Customers know what they want, and they are price shopping for lead times. They may be willing to forfeit a specific feature if it can save them a lot of money.
Clients don’t value the role salespeople perform and prefer that salespeople be excluded from the process altogether, or replaced by web-based conversations and text/chat through which they get direct and short answers.
Figure 2. Transactional Selling in which clients do most of the education on their own
When to use? Transactional selling is best used in high volume, high velocity, inbound, low cost sales. Think of selling <$1,000 ACV, <30 day sales cycle, and 20+ deals/month per AE.
The solution sales process is a reactionary process. A customer understands the problem and has a pretty good idea of what solution they are looking for. They are not quite price shopping (making it transactional), and they are looking for specific features that they are willing to pay more for. They may have narrowed it down to 2 or 3 providers by the time they reach out to you.
Figure 3. Solution Selling often follows an Inbound Lead
When to use? Solution selling is best used in medium volume, high velocity based inbound sales. Think of selling $5,000 ACV, ~30 day sales cycle, and cutting 5-10 deals/month per AE.
In consultative selling, you are investing early on in the client to educate them on what is important based on what you have seen in the market. You are educating the customer, helping them understand the real problem, and teaching them how to look for the right solution.
Your experience guides the client to be specific about requirements for features and functionality. You may help them write the RFP/RFQ. This kind of deal is often earmarked with a Proof Of Concept, making the consultative sale significantly longer. During the consultative sales process, we gradually ramp up the quality of resources used as we navigate through the client’s organization.
Figure 4. Consultative Selling often follows Outbound Lead Generation/Development
When to use? Consultative selling is best used when you are selling platform-like solutions involving a number of decision makers. Think of a CRM for $20-100k ACV, 6-18 month sales cycle, and 1-3 deals/quarter per AE.
When you are representing an innovative solution that challenges the status quo, you cannot rely on the consultative process because most clients do not realize there is a problem lurking. In particular, you cannot trust an RFP/RFQ which is designed to flush out lowest price/minimal spec. Thus, you have to rely on Provocative Selling, which has gained popularity through a methodology called the Challenger sale.
Figure 5. Provocative Selling Only recommended to deploy on specific accounts
When to use? Provocative selling is best used when selling innovative solutions that address a CEO’s top issue. Think of a revolutionary way to do ERP, 6-9 month sales cycle, $250k ACV and 1-2 deals/quarter per AE.
Also published on Medium.