September 19, 2017 Ted Bauer

Complex B2B sales: The waiting is the hardest part

Remember that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song “The Waiting?” Apparently it’s stolen from something Janis Joplin once said on television, and Petty always viewed it as “an optimistic song” because it’s about waiting for your dreams to come true. (We all do this, let’s be honest.) Tom Petty probably didn’t understand how much it applies to enterprise sales either.

47 Sales Experts Get Together And…

Sounds like a bad joke about to come out, right? Well, there are a few punchlines we could figure out here, sure — but 47 sales experts (sometimes “experts”) spoke to The Huffington Post recently about the challenges and opportunities within enterprise sales, especially complex B2B sales. Not even an exaggeration to say 40+ of them referred to time windows or waiting in their answer. Examples:

“Selling to enterprises involves sales cycles which are far longer than selling to small or mid-sized organizations. Deals usually take a minimum of three months to close and might take up to a year or more, depending on the nature of the industry and your product.” [These are US numbers, expect EU numbers to be double!]

“For example, the wheels may turn a bit slower than in a smaller company and it may take a bit more time for each step of your sales process the prospect controls. For example, if you are waiting for the prospect to respond with data or information, it tends to take them longer to gather it and clear it for release. Understand it just takes a little more time and red tape to clear on your way to the sale.”

“What makes selling to large, complex organizations uniquely challenging is that you must deal with multiple stakeholders, often championing competing or misaligned business goals and then navigate frustratingly opaque procurement practices. Sometimes it is a miracle that buying decisions ever get made.”

Most of this part shouldn’t be a surprise. Anyone who has touched B2B enterprise sales in the last two decades should know about the time delays — which is logical, because the number of stakeholders involved has gone to an average of about 5-6 in the last decade. At some companies, it can be 8-10 — and many will be invisible to the sales rep, even though he/she needs to be targeting them.

What often is a surprise is this: what do we do about it?

The value of patience

The No. 1 thing most sales reps and principals are taught (or learn over time) is to be aggressive. This is true in many, if not all, respects around sales. But remember the person on the other end — the buyer — has multiple competing commitments of their own. Sometimes they don’t want to be hassled, even if you absolutely need that sale. If you over-hassle, you’ll lose the sale.

As a result, we need to speak for a second about the virtue of patience and how to show it within a working context. For that, we can turn to UT-Austin (United States) professor Art Markman and his article “How To Train Your Brain To Be More Patient.” To Markman’s mind and research, there are three key elements to being more patient in your work:

  • Get some distance (easiest way to think on this is spending time with family/friends)
  • Distract yourself (work on other accounts, lead gen, new business, and/or your hobbies)
  • Phone a friend (call up an old colleague and ask how his sales processes are going; discuss pros and cons of approaches and evolution of the market; get perspective)

Respond vs. react

This is an important distinction in sales. “Respond” is more thoughtful and value-add. “React” is quick and visceral; it’s actually connected to our reptilian brain. (Learn more here.) React can be seen as aggressive and a good quality in sales reps, but if the reaction is too fast and doesn’t reflect where the buyer is at in his/her journey, you risk losing the sale.

The best approach is to respond — i.e. be thoughtful — but do so in a quick manner. It can help to have templates/scripts/etc within your email or near your phone regarding specific products and services. Then you can draft thoughtful responses speaking to the value of whatever you’re selling without killing tons of time.

Being patient within sales can seem counter-intuitive, but as B2B decision-makers grow and sales cycles grow as well, it can be an under-discussed asset as well.

What we’ve also noticed in this “waiting phases” is that the salesman can be patient, but the sales manager is often the one pushing for another call, another email, the contact of another “champion,” etc. This, of course, is often counterproductive.

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