Amongst many things, b2b entrepreneurs spot a hole in the market, create something ‘new’ (or different) and move fast. They need to be cash conscious, astute risk takers, careful business planners, passionate and energised. They influence financiers, associates and (most vital of all) ‘new’ customers. Good entrepreneurs sell and sell well. (And in the current economy, many who were once in the order-taking-by-word-of-mouth business need to learn to sell too.) They start by raising customers’ curiosity. And once they have raised curiosity, how can entrepreneurs go about selling, a ‘new’ product or service to a ‘new’ customer, well? Answer: understand the sequence and the nature of the questions all customers ask. What questions?
1. Can I trust you?
When we consider trust, we can think of intent and effect. We may set out in a business relationship with good intentions BUT will it work? Do we really mean to deliver the value we promise to customers? Can we commit to our intentions confidently and genuinely? And even if we can commit, can we convey assurance of our ability to deliver?
Customers' trust thus has two dimensions:
I. Integrity: can I trust your intentions,to keep toyour commitments and remain loyal?
II. Capability: do I trust in your ability to deliver what you say you will?
I probably don't need to convince you that trust comes first. Just in case - in research (I was personally involved in a couple of years ago) across 120 b2b customers for a large corporation worldwide, the three most important determinants of a healthy sales relationship are:
i. Keep commitments
ii. Listen - demonstrate understanding
iii. Be trustworthy, honest and loyal (Before customer's trust, we must trust ourselves. For if we can't trust ourselves, how can we expect a customer to trust us?)
So what about value? This leads to the customer's second major question.
2. What value do you bring to the table?
The ‘science' to determine value discovers what's important to the customer. And once we understand the customer's priorities (business drivers and problems to fix) - how do we stack up (against our competitors) to deliver against them? What expectations do they have of us as a supplier? Can we over-deliver? And if we do, will the customer gives us any goodwill/credit for it?
We need to understand profoundly what's important in the hearts and minds of customers - and convey the value we bring to the table in their language, not ours.
This leads to the "crunch" question where the decision to purchase or not takes place.
3. Are you the right person/organisation (to give me/us what I/we want)?
Sounds straight forward but this question has two dimensions:
I. The Tangible or Intellectual - i.e. the business case
II. The Emotional or Internalised (this is where we win or lose the customer decision) - can I see your solution and our business relationship working? Does it feel or sound right? Am I inspired to go ahead with you?
So now we hopefully have a favourable decision from the customer - a signed and committed contract. We may have had a number of further customer questions to answer, to arrive here. They concern how our proposal will work.
4. How does your solution/product work? How will we work together? Who will do what, where and when?
The customer CEO may well delegate these types of questions. They still need to be answered. The ‘science' of selling here determines the right amount of information and the right time to give it, for the customer to make a buying decision. Our answers set the customer's expectations about division of labour, responsibilities and consequences when things don't go as planned.
Many of us start by leading with: here's how we (or our products) work, here are the features and benefits and here's the business case - i.e. we start with Questions 4 and 3. We work from the inside (of our product or service)-out. Top sellers leave these (still important) messages until later. They work outside-in. They start by building curiosity, trust and finding value.
The process to answer all the customer's questions, they require to make a buying decision, is not linear. The above sequence points where to focus our attention and flex if the customer so wishes. Pay attention to all the questions a customer asks and those that they don't. If the customer doesn't ask any of the above types of questions - find out why. They might harbour some objections that they keep from you. If you don't know, find out.