B2B selling has changed under the pandemic, with business restrictions concentrating minds on how virtual selling tools can deliver even better results, writes LinkedIn’s Liam Halpin.
Successful business-to-business sales professionals always put the buyer first. And it isn’t hard to understand why. B2B buyers are consumers, after all. They search online for the best products and prices. They have little appetite for advertising, especially when it’s irrelevant. And they want to be treated as individuals.
This means that it’s never been so important for sellers to put themselves into the buyer’s shoes, to understand their needs and to develop a real partnership based on trust.
That can pose a challenge in the current environment. Because of the pandemic, salespeople are increasingly using technology to connect with potential buyers. Email and online ads can be used to contact large numbers of prospects. But without insight into the people you are selling to, this shotgun approach won’t get you far, even if some people do click on your ad or open your email.
Selling in a virtual world
Digital technology can support B2B sales. In fact, there is evidence that most buyers prefer this approach. A recent survey from McKinsey showed that only 20 to 30 per cent of buyers want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic struck. Succeeding with digital technology simply takes the right mindset, and sup- port from the right tools.
You need to talk to the relevant people. So go online to identify your prospects. Tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator are places where you can find up-to-date information on your potential buyers and be alerted to signals that they may be ready to engage with you. Finding prospects from this type of source means that, as well as finding the names of prospective customers, you learn something about them at the same time.
When you have your list of potential customers, it doesn’t mean it’s time to start selling. Sending out mass emails at this point will be ineffective, and even counter-productive, as you could simply irritate your best prospects.
“The important thing that we have had to realise as business leaders is that there is no going back to the way of selling that existed before the pandemic, and that many B2B buyers prefer the new normal”
Prioritise your prospects
Instead, you need to identify those prospects, and find organisations that need what you are selling and individuals who will be open to what you have to say.
There is a lot of freely available information online that will help with this. Monitor what people are posting on LinkedIn, the news in the trade media and announcements on the websites of prospect businesses. When you have identified the organisations with the most potential, you then need to find the right people to talk to in those organisations.
That’s not always simple. The average B2B sales process takes six months to conclude and involves seven people at a target account. All of these people are likely to have at least some influence on the final outcome, so getting to know them is essential.
Again, LinkedIn can be really helpful here. You can use it to identify individuals with particular interests or roles, unravel how people connect together, including how they connect with your competitors, and discover who has recently been recruited by organisations you are targeting: new recruits may be particularly grateful for advice from a trusted partner – which is what you want to be.
All of this takes time. It means being really curious about about both the challenges faced by different organisations and the people who are a part of them. But do this, and you will be able to talk to them about things that will hold their attention.
Engage to establish credibility
Establish your credibility first. Engage with buyers indirectly by contributing to LinkedIn groups they belong to: activity on these has doubled over the last two years, meaning they are a great place to learn more about your prospects and engage with them directly, sharing their posts, tagging them in your posts, commenting on what they have to say and asking them questions.
Armed with credibility, and knowing that you have something interesting to offer, it’s time to reach out to your best prospects. Personalise what you have to say so that it is uniquely relevant to them. And make it clear up front what you want – to talk to them about your products.
Close the deal
You have identified the most likely prospects and you have established credibility with them. Now, but only now, it’s time to start selling. You don’t do that by selling products, though. You do it by providing solutions.
When you understand what they need, be honest. Level with the buyer about the pros and cons of what you have on offer, so they can make the right decision. If it turns out you don’t have the right solution for them, admit it. If that sounds counter-intuitive, it isn’t. You don’t want a client who is unhappy. They aren’t going to be coming back for more or acting as a brand advocate. Quite the opposite.
But if you do have the right solution for your customer, try to uncover anything that might be a potential obstacle to making the sale. Will the client find using your product difficult? Are they likely to face opposition from colleagues who are also involved in the buying process? Are they still leaning towards a competitor of yours? If you know the obstacles, you can address them.
After the sale
Once you have made the sale, you want to ensure customer delight and success. Stay engaged, and make sure the buyer is happy with your solution. Share any updates relevant to their business. Remember, making a sale isn’t the end of the selling process: it’s the start of the next sale.
Pointing the way towards new opportunities for sales
The important thing that we have had to realise as business leaders is that there is no going back to the way of selling that existed before the pandemic, and that many B2B buyers prefer the new normal. Life has certainly been a lot different during the pandemic. And salespeople are having to get used to working differently as a result. But good sales professionals won’t let changed circumstances get in the way. The absence of face-to-face meetings might make things seem a little more difficult. It’s always good to be able to look people in the eye and shake them by the hand.
But the restrictions caused by the pandemic should not be seen as an insurmountable set of problems. Rather, they present an opportunity to make the most of the tools available online. Selling in a virtual world is not just feasible. In many ways it’s preferable: just as flexible as face-to-face selling but more time-efficient and more cost-effective. All you need is the right attitude and the right technology to assist you.
Liam Halpin is Vice President Sales EMEA and LATAM Sales Solutions at LinkedIn. LinkedIn Sales Navigator uses LinkedIn’s network of more than 700 million members and 30 million businesses to connect salespeople to the right buyers by helping them understand their prospects and stay in touch with them www.linkedin.com/in/liamhalpin