Five years ago, I launched a consulting practice at IDC with the express goal of “fixing how the technology industry sells.” We made a lot of progress over the years, developing a formal sales productivity framework that provided a context for the conversation, identifying specific improvements for selling and related processes and changed team roles. Many of the practice clients have made substantive improvements in their sales productivity.
Today, however, most organizations remain stuck in their old paradigm – “let’s get what we can from our customers now”, or “we’ll get to transformation later, right now we have to keep the lights on.”
And I know why.
For most, what they’ve been doing is “good enough.” It has kept the lights on, engineering fed, sales people paid, investors or shareholders happy. Few technology organizations want to believe that their approach to selling is broken, that it’s damaging to long-term (and sometimes short-term) relationships, that the adversarial relationship that they create with prospects and customers is simply unhealthy for both organizations.
But “good enough” is crap.
It’s "short-term, this quarter" thinking, it serves nobody, and it robs the company of the opportunity to build real profitability and shareholder value into the relationship for everyone.
My ongoing research supports this perspective. Buyers willingly switch suppliers at the drop of a hat because they see no real engagement or commitment on the part of their suppliers. Buyers report that sales people continue to show up unprepared for the conversation with their key prospects. They do this not because they’re lazy or stupid (far from it!), but because it’s accepted by their own company. Sellers simply don't invest in the processes and resources to create the possibility of a powerful, productive, profitable relationship.
Sure, buyers have some culpability here too, but that’s a different conversation, one that led me to create the concept of a “Buyer-Seller API” a few years ago. For now, let’s focus on the sellers. While the buyers may have the upper hand with regard to the availability of information, it is the sellers that have the goods. And buyers need these goods to improve their productivity or competitiveness or customer service.
So let’s consider the possibility of creating powerful, productive, profitable buyer-seller relationships. Sure sounds better than fixing something that’s broken.
What do powerful, productive, profitable buyer-seller relationships look like?
We’ve all experienced great transactions…when I asked this question during my keynote at an executive lunch seminar in the fall, most of the audience indicated that they had recently experienced positive, productive transactions as buyers.
But transactions aren’t relationships…transactions can lead to relationships, or conversely, relationships can lead to transactions. For example, last summer Diane, a senior IBM executive, was clear with me – she had neither budget nor need for my services. What she was looking for was information, a conversation with a similarly minded person that might help her to do her job better.
Most transaction-oriented sales people would simply have moved on; I engaged in the conversation she needed to have and started to build a relationship of trust with her. Several months later I received a call from another senior executive, a referral from Diane that led to the first formal agreement between IBM and my company. And through that transaction, I'm starting to build a relationship with the person Diane referred to me.
How do we create powerful, productive, profitable buyer-seller relationships?
I’ll sign off with this teaser – it begins in marketing. Not in sales, where the dysfunction is so visible, but in marketing, which is tasked to provide both the Voice of the Customer and the overall direction for the company. Nowhere else do the market inputs and outputs meet so concisely; as a result, it’s up to marketing (with the necessary blessing and support of the executive team...and the active participation of sales) to drive sales transformation.
My next post will explore this question…stay tuned.