Who to sell to is changing – what are you doing about that?

Buying process

Buying process

In a recent survey Bain found that “nearly 1/3 of the technology purchasing power has moved to executives outside of IT.”

Traditionally technology salespeople called on CIOs because they controlled the purchasing decisions.  But technology spending is moving from IT to general managers and heads of functions like: marketing, finance, human resources, sales and customer service.

The shift is a good news – bad news story.  On the bad news front it introduces complexity to the sales environment.  It means technology salespeople have to sell to a new set of buyers with a new and different set of needs and expectations.  This is not a matter of doing the same thing with a different set of people – it is about doing something different and the difference is significant.

On the sunny side of the street it means substantial new opportunities. But as Bain authors Brinda and Heric note, most sales reps are not in a position to leverage the upside.  They need help to adjust and adapt their approach to selling to these new buyers.

Now what is particularly interesting about this shift is – it is not unique to the tech world.  Over the last several years we have focused on medical sales training. There is no question that hospitals are changing what they buy and who is engaged in the buying process.

From the provider’s side, successful MedTech salespeople are comfortable calling on the medical side of the house – whether doctors, nurses, or technicians. But in many cases they must now move to the “carpeted” area of the hospital and engage administrators in business and economic discussions – a different sales interaction where the comfort level is significantly reduced.

So regardless of whether it is the technology or medical sales or some other market, what is to be done about this?  What should companies do to help their sales reps develop what it takes to adjust to selling to a new set of buyers?

We reviewed the Bain article and looked back on our own experiences to collect together three ideas for getting started:

  • Define the new reality.  The first step is to clearly understand what the new reality looks like – which buyers are important for pursuing the future growth opportunities and what is important to them. In times of significant change a new set of provider winners and losers will emerge.  The losers are those that wait too long and do too little about the changing reality.
  • Provide help – now.  On their own, some salespeople will not be able to make the required adjustments and many others will take too long.  Companies need to make the commitment to provide the needed sales training and sales coaching to help salespeople make the transitions.  Here it is important to recognize that in most cases one is dealing with experienced, successful sales reps. They do not need to be taught how to sell one more time.  They need to learn how to apply their existing sales skills to a new buying environment and that updating requires a different type of sales training and coaching than basic skill development.
  • Revisit institutional support.  In every complex B2B sale everyone has to come to the party.  So if the sales team needs to make some adjustments, it is likely that adjustments will also be needed in other areas such as marketing and technical support.  Fundamental questions like: “do we have the right pricing models?” and “are our product offerings configured so that the new buyers find them compelling?” need to asked and answered.

When who is buying changes so does what they buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it.  When buyers change how they buy – sellers need to change how they sell.  Some will and some won’t – and some will win and some will lose.

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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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