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My New Book, Complex B2B Selling

by David Brock on July 8th, 2020

A reader asked me, “Dave, when are you publishing a book on complex B2B selling? I’d really like to see something from you.”

I thought about it a moment, I hadn’t thought of doing a book on the topic. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books on the topic–and look at how little they have really contributed to changing how we sell and improving our ability to create great value.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many very good books available, some written by close friends. We can learn a lot from some of them. But how different are they, and taken collectively, how much impact have they had on improving our effectiveness with customers?

But, the idea challenged me, if I were to write a book on complex B2B selling, what would I write, how might I create something that would have a real impact on how we engage customers and move them through their buying process. What would be different?

Here are some thoughts:

  1. First, I would not make it about “selling.” Selling is a construct that means something to sales people, but means nothing to customers. We embed a whole bunch of words that immediately put a chasm between sellers and everyone else. We talk about our selling process, we talk about techniques and things like prospecting, qualifying, objection handling, closing. We create a whole set of processes, techniques and language that is foreign to everyone but sellers.
  2. Rather than creating something that reinforces the communication chasm between sellers and everyone else, I’d try to do something that eliminates that chasm. I’d try to write a book that eliminated that gap, aligning buyers and sellers. This means using words, techniques, processes that our customers understand and use.
  3. I’d start by never talking about the selling process. In fact, I’d never talk about the buying process–that only applies when the customer has decided to buy. And so much of our work needs to be about inciting the customer to buy. I’d talk about how “we” identify problems, opportunities to more effectively achieve goals. I’d focus on project management and how we establish goals, milestones, and critical activities. That’s what people in non selling roles do when they want to accomplish something, when they want to drive change, or even when they want to buy. They frame things in project and project management terms. So it makes sense for sellers to do the same thing.
  4. Then I’d eliminated terms like qualifying and BANT. I’d focus on how we collaborate in committing to change. Likewise, I wouldn’t talk about things like objection handling and closing. Those are foreign, and distasteful to non sellers. I would talk about agreement, disagreement, and managing conflict.
  5. I’d look at things that impact our abilities to successfully manage projects to achieve their goals. These might include topics on collaboration, facilitation. I’d realize projects are often about addressing new opportunities, solving problems or continuous improvement. So rather than using selling techniques or words that are meaningful to only sales people, I would use the same words and tools the customers are already using to do those things.
  6. I wouldn’t talk about prospecting, that’s meaningful to sellers in finding new opportunities. But non sellers think of the same thing using different words, they may be strategic initiatives, they may be research projects, they may be experiments.
  7. I would look at measuring sales success differently, not necessarily limited to the value of a PO. I’d think about sales success in the same way customers think about success, did they achieve their goals on time and budget? After all, we don’t get a PO until the customer has gotten through their work.
  8. I’d focus on change. Selling is really not about selling a product or service, but selling a customer on change. So why don’t we confront the issues on change, why change, what to change, how to change, how to manage change directly?
  9. Carrying off the previous point, we focus on our products and services, not change. Our products and services are means, not ends. When non sellers look at change, they are focused on the ends. The means are meaningless without having the end in mind. So we should be focusing, first, on the ends the customer is trying to achieve, then position the means to achieve them.
  10. I’d change the context of how we view what we do. When we talk about selling, selling processes, sales methodology, selling techniques; we tend to focus on what we do to the customers. When non sellers work together they talk about doing things with each other.

I’ll stop here. It seems everything we do when we talk about anything in complex B2B sales creates a chasm between how we act, speak, behave. and achieve and how our customers act, speak, behave, and achieve.

Rather than increasing the separation between sellers and everyone else, what if the next great book on B2B selling looked an eliminating that chasm by showing sellers how to align and work effectively with those who don’t sell. And the easiest way to do that is to use the language, processes and tools they use.

But those books already exist, I wonder how many sellers read and learn from them. I wonder how many sales enablement organizations leverage lessons from these in helping improve the skills of our sales people.

If we took this approach, we’d be reading and training on curiosity, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, project management, dealing with agreement/disagreement, change, risk management/mitigation.

Think about it for a moment. There is absolutely nothing we do as sellers that people in other roles don’t also have to do. We don’t have to invent new ways of doing those things that are unique to people who sell. Wouldn’t we be more effective not fighting them, but rather joining them in driving change and improvement.

Perhaps the best books to help people involved in complex B2B selling have nothing to do with Complex B2B selling. Perhaps, if we just read and talked about what our customers talk about, we’d be more effective.

What do you think?

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4 Comments
  1. Dave Olson permalink

    AGREED

    It has always seemed to me that we over complicate what is happening. It is about helping each other achieve our goals. Building that trust should take time and effort.

    Oh and don’t we “sellers” buy things all the time? As you so often and accurately point out how annoying it can be when the bots learn of our interests.

    Complex B2B is a fascinating journey. I would recommend setting it up so that you get to work with prospects and customers that you care about. Act natural but just be curious about them. The rest will take care to itself.

    It’s a short book.
    🙂 Dave

  2. Paul Hastings permalink

    Dave, this must be one of your finest posts. It reinforces why I have read many of your rants and deep insights on sales and sales management over the years. Recently I was in a conversation with a colleague on how real marketing leads are, and the BANT process in scoring leads. Process is important but where is the client or persons need in this process. How can we help with their needs? How can our company help their company with something that matters? I have been involved with the adoption of many sales methodologies over my career which definitely helped our sales process. But it still all comes back to what are we really doing as sales professionals. You nailed it in your post ……. again.

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