THE WHITE PAPER
The world of business-to-business selling, particularly in the marketing services sector, is changing and changing faster than we have experienced in the last twenty years.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS PAPER? WAS IT THE TITLE? WAS IT THE FACT THAT YOU AND YOUR TEAMS ARE HAVING TO WORK HARDER FOR DIMINISHING SALES CONVERSION? OR ARE YOU LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION ON HOW TO RE-ENERGISE YOUR SALES ENGINE?
Whatever the reason, we’re glad you are here because if any of the above rings true, this paper is what you have been waiting for.
Why? Because the world of business-to-business selling, particularly in the marketing services sector, is changing and changing faster than we have experienced in the last twenty years. At the heart of this change we are viewing an increasing number of clients feeling that they are being relentlessly sold to and agencies feeling that their sales processes are not delivering the top line revenue they are used to.
But hold on a second I hear you say, we are adopting a much more consultative approach to our sales and working towards trusted relationships and long-term strategic partners. Well if that’s true, does that mean that it is not working, not being implemented well or simply no longer relevant?
With such big questions challenging organisations we felt it critical to go out and research the marketplace and gather evidence on where this dissatisfaction was coming from, what the implications are for agencies trying to engage with clients and how you should be thinking about developing to future proof your sales processes.
We talked to 34 clients and agencies and over 320 client facing people from 46 countries to get to the heart of the matter.
CLIENTS AND AGENCIES
Crucially: This paper will outline the challenge, why the landscape has changed, how you can identify whether you need to change your approach and how you can get started.
CONSULTATIVE SELLING DEAD?
The leadership team of a large media agency, we will call them BrandR, were meeting for the third time that quarter to discuss the slowdown in sales and what they needed to do to stimulate their account team to proactively go out and source more business. During the discussion it was decided that the team needed to be up-skilled in their consultative selling techniques, key account management planning and the way they approach negotiations.
Meanwhile, a client of BrandR was sitting in a room trying to work out how they needed to change their approach to brand planning, but were not 100% certain of the best direction to go in and were discussing potential partners to help them learn and find fresh ways of doing things.
And therein lies the problem … clients don’t always know what their problem, or opportunity, actually is.
Over the past 20 years, business-to-business service organisations have been focusing on how to engage clients, getting them to buy more and more often around the core concepts of Consultative Selling, Solution Selling, and Strategic Partnering.
The relationship goes something like this:
Client identifies problem
Client sends out brief to supplier
Suppliers and client engage in conversations about the client’s needs
Suppliers build their solution
Suppliers send in their proposal
Preferred supplier is chosen
Client and supplier negotiate terms
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE ABOVE APPROACH?
IS THIS NOT THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO ENGAGE?
Here lies the bone of contention: clients are no longer certain about what their problems are, let alone how to approach fixing them.
If clients are not clear on their problem, it has big implications. For them, how do they know which agencies to engage, how do they get internal alignment and how can they be sure what they buy will make the impact they are looking for?
For agencies it means the quality of the briefs they receive massively vary, projects will evolve and change without clear outcomes at the outset and maintaining a satisfied client base combined with a healthy margin will be tough.
However, the biggest implication is on agencies sales processes.
Jeff Thull, author of Mastering the Complex Sale, put it perfectly. He said that we are moving into the 3rd Era of selling. Era 1 was focused on cold calling, presenting and closing. Era 2 has been focused on asking questions, learning about the client’s needs and creating a tailored solution for them, often referred to as consultative selling. Era 3 is defined by the fact that our client’s problems are becoming increasingly complex, even unknown.
This is challenging all client facing teams to rapidly learn how to change their approach from co-creating the solution with the client, to an approach of co-creating the problem.
COLD CALLING, PRESENTING
QUESTIONING, LEARNING NEEDS & TAILORED SOLUTIONS
PROBLEMS COMPLEX & UNKNOWN
This raises a new question for agencies: How do we build client relationships where we are co-creating and shaping our client’s problems?
CRITICAL TO ANSWERING THIS QUESTION IS THE DEEP UNDERSTANDING OF THE NEED STATES OF YOUR CLIENTS.
From the research conducted, five clear needs states appeared that all client facing teams need to identify with, and solve, if they are to be invited into helping shape their client’s problems.
‘We live in a messy world get used to it’
Clients no longer think in a linear way. Problems are evolving and agile ways of working are being adopted to solve them. Flexible and iterative ways of working are essential if clients are going to invite you to help shape their problems.
‘Learn with us, even teach us’
Clients are out in the marketplace looking for inspiration and new approaches to change their own ‘go to market’ strategies. If you are going to be given the time to navigate through your client’s complexity you need to have something clients want to learn about.
‘Help us spend more time on decision making and not simply understanding’
You need to be part of freeing up organisational brain space from simply understanding to focusing time and energy on the application of the knowledge, in order to drive decision making. Developing a track record in doing this is essential.
‘Have something extra’
Fantastic that you have new, robust, maybe disruptive solutions but they need to be relevant to your client. Clients need help in working out how you can add value to their future.
‘Make it stick’
With the proliferation of data, technology and approaches it is essential for you to bring to life the advice and make it stick in client’s organisations.
THESE NEED STATES ARE BROAD AND CHALLENGING AND NEED TO BE CONNECTED WITH OVER TIME.
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