How to Get Invited to the B2B Sales Dance
Why Market Awareness Often Trumps Sales Skills
My friend and client, Richard Hoffmann, just published a really great white paper on behalf of his company, Trade Only Design Library (www.TODL.com). The purpose of the paper was to tell manufacturers how to grow their market awareness among the architecture and professional design community. I was intrigued by the first two paragraphs of the paper:
Have you ever heard your VP of Sales say something to the effect of, “When we get invited to the dance, we can beat our competitors, but too often, we just don’t get invited because our prospects don’t know who we are”?
It can be frustrating when other manufacturers get the business not because they have better products, but because they were only better in another respect: name recognition. The marketplace leaders get invited because potential prospects know who they are, but they did not know your company, let alone the quality or suitability of your products. Even if your sales force is just as talented, you can only win if you have the opportunity to compete. So the first order of business when it comes to building a strong sales channel is to create enough market awareness to get your products onto the consideration list – to get invited to the dance!
To me, this is great stuff because in the B2B world, a lot of business flows to those companies that are known, not just those that have product superiority. This is true for all types of products and services, but is especially important when you are promoting expensive products that have a long sales cycle. The expression, “Nobody ever got fired for buying from IBM” existed not because IBM always had the best product or service, but rather because IBM was the giant in the industry and as such, people usually bought from them instead of their (relatively) unknown competitors.
So how exactly do prospects hear and learn about you? There are some excellent clues to be found in the below graphic from Lee Frederickson, in his Business 2 Community article, “Closing the Sale: Why the Best B2B Firm Doesn’t Always Win.”
Depending on how many of the 15% who found the company via a book were e-readers, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the positive referrals came through online sources. And regardless of whether a prospect finds you directly or through a referral of some type, almost all B2B buyers will check out a firm’s website before deciding to do business. Here is the key point: the company with the best website will often win the deal over the company with the better product or service. This is not to diminish the importance of having a great product, but rather to make sure your online presence is on par with (or ahead of) your products.
Of course, not all market awareness is equal. You can have high awareness combined with low opinion ratings due to factors like a poorly positioned product, quality issues (e.g. product recall), or a substandard promotional strategy. As my last post stated, For B2B Companies, Selling Better is Not the Answer. You need to first make potential prospects (suspects) aware of you with a relentless program of content creation and propagation. You then make it easy to engage with you and buy from you.
Yes, B2B sales skills are important, as is lead generation and many other attributes of a finely-tuned marketing and sales operation. But market awareness is often the factor that decides whether you get a chance at the business. Get yourself known. Get invited to more dances. Close more business.