Five best practices for networking in b2b sales

Networking in B2B Sales

Everyone knows it – some because of a leap of faith and some because of experience.  A centerpiece for success in major B2B sales is getting the right message, to the right person, at the right time.  Easy to say, not so easy to do when selling into a major account where the buying process is complex and ever-changing.  

If the right message is to be delivered to the right person at the right time, then sales people have to have superior networking skills.  They have to be able to determine who’s who, know how to build and maintain relationships, and recognize that each of the key players has a differing view of what constitutes value.   

Managing a superior network in a large B2B account requires time, dedication, and skill.  There aren’t many shortcuts – five skills are key:

1. Remember it’s a Network.  In major accounts many players are involved in the decision.  A few are key decision makers.  Others are influencers.  Still others are gatekeepers who can’t say yes, but can say no.  You have to know who is playing which role, the relationship between the players, and what they think about you and your competition.  An average performer has a general understanding. A top performer has a comprehensive understanding.

2. Leverage Institutional Resources.  Major account selling is a team sport.  In addition to the sales person support people, technical experts, and senior managers are involved at various times during the sales cycle. In building and maintaining the network, top performers are good at leveraging internal resources – whether those resources are people or internal systems.  Yes, of course sales people have to work hard, but the question is: Are they working smart by leveraging all the resources at their disposal?

3. Develop and Rehearse Internal Champions.  It’s always a good idea to develop internal champions.  But in major accounts it’s a must do.  Because the network of those involved in the buying process is substantial and complex, a lot of “selling” in major accounts is going on when the sales person is not there.  Sales people need someone there to “tell their story” because most of the time they’re not there.  Remember, developing internal champions is resource-consuming.   So sales people must avoid the trap of spending time developing people who are “willing” but are not “able” to tell their story. Although this may sound like an easy task, in the middle of the chase it is sometimes difficult to distinguish unbridled enthusiasm from competent support.

4. Document Good News.  Particularly in existing accounts, the reality is good and bad stuff happens.  The troubling part is bad news documents inside – good news doesn’t.  Everyone can remember a horror story where something went wrong with an implementation and “all of a sudden” the bad news was broadcasted far and wide.  In many cases sales people may not be able to do much to stop the bad news.  So what can they do? The answer is – get the focus back to the good news.  Since good news doesn’t document itself – the sales person must take responsibility for making sure everyone involved in the buying process knows the good news story.  This is one of those situations where it’s okay to toot your own horn.      

5. Be Proactive.  The buying processes in many companies are going through significant changes – and in some industries, like health care, the changes are transformational.  From a managing the network perspective, this means that Public Enemy #1 is complacency.  There is no room for mindsets such as: “The business is ours to lose” or “Sure there have been a few changes but we are still number one” or “Our competitor is still on the outside looking in.”  Even a few changes in the customer organization can have significant ripple effects.  The moral of the story is – be proactive – constantly be working on building and maintaining the network.     

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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