Sales & Marketing

The Conversation Imperative: Talk is Precious in B2B Sales

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Do companies buy from companies, or do people buy from people? We all know the answer. B2B is really P2P, and always will be. The buyer just has too much on the line — his career — to trust his ability to choose wisely, even with the Internet at his disposal. He needs to trust someone enough to make that leap of faith we call a purchase decision. If what I just said is so obvious, then why are technology companies investing their marketing and sales dollars as though relationships are just another commodity, like their products and websites?

Here are five ways that you can build the relationships needed to drive revenues and build a sustainable business, and one assumption that is leading everyone down the wrong path.

1. Have a lot more conversations with a lot more people.

You don’t know what you don’t know. More, you don’t know who you don’t talk to. Marketing gurus will tell you to develop personas, robotic descriptions of your prospective buyers that can serve as cheap substitutes for actually knowing someone. But until you have a real conversation with someone, you don’t know that person at all. And that person sure doesn’t know you. So why would he look to you for help when it’s time to buy?

2. Start having conversations with your prospects well before they are looking.

It takes a long time and a lot of conversations to build a trust relationship. If you wait until the potential buyer has “raised his hand” by filling out a form on your website, it is too late — unless you don’t have any competitors. You had an opportunity to understand what this person really needs, and what is making him hesitate, months or even years before his first search or click.

3. Always be curious (and never be closing, especially your mind).

Sure, you have things to say about your great new product. And you would love to get to “yes.” But if you are always closing, you are never listening. Ultimately, your product’s job is to solve someone’s problem. People love to talk about their problems to someone who is really listening. Let them.

4. Be challenging.

It’s important to listen. It’s even more important to engage below the level of “I hear you.” You wouldn’t be selling your product unless you believe it can make a difference — maybe even for this person. You wouldn’t be having a sales conversation if the prospective buyer completely agrees with you. The most important service you can provide is to challenge the buyer’s assumptions. Opening minds, politely but firmly, is what sales is all about.

5. Don’t waste anyone’s time — theirs or yours.

The reason people are so hard to get into conversations isn’t that they don’t like to talk. People love to talk. Some of them even like to listen. And it isn’t lack of technology. The telephone wiped out distance as an obstacle to conversation more than a century ago. PEOPLE ARE BUSY. I know it’s rude to “shout” in print, but it’s ruder to waste the time of busy people, including yourself. If you start a conversation that is not clearly worth the other person’s time, it is time to politely move on. Don’t worry — there are a lot of other people to talk to, and it’s not really that hard to get hold of them.

Which brings us to the wooly mammoth in the room, the monster assumption that has turned marketing and sales into an expensive, twisted mess. The assumption is that people, especially decision makers, don’t pick up the phone anymore. Like most absolute statements, this one is wrong. And like most assumptions, it has a kernel of truth.

It’s true that ubiquitous voice mail, convoluted phone trees and watchful gatekeepers stand between you and real conversations with real decision makers. In fact, it takes more than 22 attempts to get a modern businessperson to pick up. But the alternatives — using cheap labor to have the first conversation with your most precious future customer or, worse, waiting for some minion to cruise your website — are too grim to tolerate.

But it turns out there are new technologies that make it practical to have conversations when you want them, with anyone — including decision makers you want to talk with. That’s the beauty of big problems — sometimes they spur big innovations. But even if these technologies hadn’t been invented, the facts don’t change. Buying takes trust. Trust takes relationships. Relationships take conversations. Have more conversations. Win. It’s that simple.

Shawn McLaren is CEO at ConnectAndSell. His combined early successes selling encyclopedias door to door in the Michigan winter and building both code and company for the world’s first mainframe storage system led him in 1978 to build the first of his four CRM systems. His quest to figure out how technology can really make a difference in sales took a big step forward in 2007 when he invested in and joined ConnectAndSell, B2B sales technology that lets you have the conversations you want, whenever you want them.

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