Tony Hughes, CEO of leading sales and negotiation specialists, Huthwaite International, examines how B2B selling is changing, and how we can best prepare our sales teams for the future.
I recently came across an old proposal from the early 1980’s to a global IT hardware vendor.
The needs presented were almost identical to the needs we see today; difficulty communicating value, lack of quality leads, weak competitive differentiation, losing margin in the negotiation phase and wasting resources chasing deals that ultimately end in a decision to do nothing.
Interestingly, not much has changed, and sales teams in 2018 are facing the same challenges as their pre-digital colleagues in the 1980s. It’s a fact.
It’s the same with B2B customer needs too. The fundamental phases that each individual goes through when making a buying decision haven’t changed. It’s basic human psychology. It’s timeless behaviour that takes centuries to evolve, if indeed it does.
So, if human behaviour is indeed timeless, are the things that do change of any concern? Absolutely yes, and they should be addressed. In fact, when it comes to B2B selling, there are two important strategies to consider, each as important as the other. Firstly, become an expert in the things that don’t change. And secondly, introduce flexibility and agility to respond to those issues that are changing.
So what doesn’t change?
- Customer needs
People buy for the same reasons they always did, to solve problems, avoid unwanted consequences, satisfy needs and reap the benefits and value of an improved situation. A sales person’s ability to uncover and develop those problems and needs and present their solution in the most persuasive way possible, is vitally important. Expert consultative selling skills are crucial to B2B sales success.
- The psychology of making major buying decisions
The core process when making major buying decisions is constant but each phase in that process needs a different approach. Sellers can monitor their markets and customer base to identify changes that will trigger the buying process. They can get close to the customer as their needs and requirements are being identified to build value and differentiation. Then, when the customer is evaluating the various options, effective salespeople will be identifying and influencing the decision criteria and analysing the competitive landscape to ensure you have the best match.
- Cost and value
People buy when the value of change exceeds the cost of that change. Huthwaite refers to this as Value = Benefits – Cost. It’s a balance. All too often we see sales people trying to tip the balance by taking things off the ‘cost’ side.
- Internal politics
As decision-making teams become bigger and more complex, effective sales people must become even more adept at understanding them. The sales team needs to accurately identify the role each individual has in the decision. This may or may not bear any relation to their job title, their attitude towards the project – are they an advocate or a blocker? Or to their opinion of your sales organisation – are they friend or foe?
- Personal motivators
All else being equal, individual buyers will favour the solution that best meets their personal interests. It’s human nature. But they are hardly likely to declare it, and may not consciously be aware of it. So how can a salesperson uncover, and sell to, these personal needs?There are always clues. They may be contextual; someone nearing the end of their career is more likely to be looking for an easy implementation, whilst someone starting on the career ladder may be looking for a boost. Or they may be verbal, little things like the use of a particular word or turn of phrase that gives an insight into the individual’s personal drivers.
How can we introduce flexibility and agility to respond to those issues that are changing in B2B selling?
Whilst it’s true most changes occur at the margins, that doesn’t make them insignificant. Change creates opportunities. Effective sales people actively seek it out. By monitoring your markets it’s possible for you to spot change before your customers do. That gives you an opportunity to raise those changes with your customers proactively, what we would today call ‘insight selling’.
- More sophisticated buyers
More sophisticated buyers require more sophisticated sales approaches and the ‘talking catalogues’ who focus on product/service capability and price are rapidly disappearing. As buyers take a broader view so must sellers. For example, by talking specifically about how the solution meets the needs the buyer has expressed and implied, by focussing on value not price, and examining more sophisticated cost models such as total cost of ownership, pay per use or life-cycle value.
- Rise of professional procurement
Professional buyers are customers too. However, excluding them from the process for as long as possible is a mistake. If the buyer comes in late, with no knowledge of the value and little understanding of the needs, they can focus on only one thing – price. Effective sales people engage with procurement early. They build relationships, uncover the buyer’s needs and drivers and seek to create value for them too.
- Pace of product development
Rapid product development is a real headache for the sales team. On the one hand it’s great to have something new to sell but how do you keep on top of it all? Unless there is an astute marketing team to work its magic, product development will give sales teams a list of product capabilities and features. And no one buys features. Effective sales and marketing teams take a step back. They review the information provided by product development and ask two questions; “What problems does it solve? And “What value/benefit does it bring?”
- More transparency
As it becomes harder to keep secrets it’s harder to hide inconsistencies and, more importantly, irregularities. Not only do you need one globally consistent sales methodology but one that is based on the highest possible professional and ethical standards.
Buyers will tell you they can buy your solution cheaper elsewhere, regardless of whether that’s true. Train your sales people to have the confidence and resilience to justify your value and the skills to defend it at the negotiation table.
- Size/complexity of decision-making unit
Everything we said when discussing internal politics earlier becomes even more critical as the decision-making unit becomes bigger and more complex. Sales people must be trained to penetrate and navigate it effectively.
Most change is gradual – evolution not revolution. As a result most changes are the modification of existing ideas and real game-changers are rare.
Because the core issue within B2B selling have been around, unchanged, for a long time, that means the core competency models that address those issues don’t need to change either. What worked 40 years ago still works today because it’s addressing the same issues now as it was then. That’s why SPIN® Selling, in its 4th decade, is as effective and in demand as ever. And why it remains the most researched, validated and sustainable sales methodology in the world.
It’s very easy to be seduced by the latest ‘revolutionary’ or ‘game-changing’ concepts, tools and models. When it comes to those rapid changes at the edges of B2B selling these ground-breaking solutions can give you the agility and flexibility you need.
Where change does happen, at the periphery, it is fast, so here you must develop the agility and flexibility to respond quickly.Seek out quick-fixes for the marginal issues but rely on an established methodology, like SPIN® Selling, to address the core principles.
Investing into a more sustainable future: changing businesses from the inside out
By Shawn Welch, Vice President and General Manager of Hi-Cone Worldwide
As industries across the world are facing unprecedented uncertainty and anticipating the economic implications of the current health crisis, business leaders have the unique opportunity to seize the chance to make lasting, positive changes and re-interpret the business challenges in a positive way – without forgetting or minimising the toll the pandemic has taken. When trying to identify a way forward, the future must be sustainable. We must take this opportunity to find a more sustainable way for businesses and manufacturers to survive.
Environmental and economic concern have only increased the gap on what consumers want – more sustainability – and how much progress businesses can make without risking their viability. However, rather than giving up on ambitious goals, maybe we need to reframe the way we look at sustainability. So far, businesses have tended to react to consumer demands, often without looking into the long-term implications and research-based due diligence one would expect. Therefore, now is the right time to be more deliberate: to continue on the path towards a truly sustainable ‘new normal’, businesses need to consider the bottom line impact more than ever before and truly invest in changing their business models to become more sustainable.
To meet the UN’s ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, businesses ultimately must thrive – working towards establishing a circular economy remains crucial. Instead of a linear ‘extract, use, dispose’ approach, materials need to be respected and re-used as many times as possible, which is only possible if products are designed for re-use, re-manufacturing, repair or restarting. After all, any and all consumption comes at a price. In manufacturing, processes draw on resources to produce items that, once they have served their purpose, become surplus to requirements. Yet, to ignore this is to take an incomplete view of sustainability: instead, materials are extracted from waste to re-enter production processes. Reuse and recycling initiatives are central to this and great strides have been made in raising awareness of this need. The full environmental cost of production and consumption includes the choice of materials themselves but also the level of carbon emissions generated, and energy consumed.
Once products and processes have redesigned for a circular approach, this initial investment will often easily be recouped, especially if we start with looking at the facts when starting this crucial process. To make the Circular Economy a focus for any business very often means changing the business model. Here, investing in research and development is vital. In the packaging industry, for example, we are seeing that customers and consumers are increasingly more focused on sustainability, and that surprising changes can unlock societal and business value. Through minimising a product’s carbon footprint or making recycling easier for consumers, lifecycle-assessment-based product redesigns or using recycled plastics instead of larger quantities of cardboard, companies are identifying these more creative options and enjoying the long-lasting benefits that come with implementing them. In any case, leadership is key. A research-driven approach gets everyone on-board and seeing management committing to these goals as part of business plans helps cement these. At a recent Reuters Responsible Business Summit virtual panel, I was part of an interesting conversation. Here, Yolanda Malone, Vice President Global R&D Snacks PKG, PepsiCo, discussed how leaders have to drive the behaviours within the organisation and the tone for the culture. She explained that her sustainable plastics vision is a world where plastics never become waste. Only through putting the mantra of “reduce, recycle, rethink and reinvent” can we bring circular products to consumer. She stressed that, if we don’t reinvent, we will fall back into old habits.
Of course, consumer behaviours play a part and the easier the solution, the more likely consumers will get behind it. End consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of packaging. So, to be truly circular, we need to take into account the entire lifecycle. Mindset change needs to continue to happen. Consumers need to be clear about what their choices are. To achieve this, we must change our businesses from the inside out, allowing for close collaboration inside and outside of our organisations. Other organisations – such as governments and recycling organisations – will need to be involved in businesses’ efforts, multiplying the impact our investments will have. We must address all aspects of sustainability and, for example, have better recycling, a focus on infrastructure and emphasis on consumer education. To recover, reuse and recycle, the R&D must be in place and dedicated to sustainability. Partnerships are important as we, as other leading global companies realise, cannot do this alone. Collaboration is key when investing in a more sustainable, more Circular, future.
Securing Information Throughout the Supply Chain – Preventing Supplier Vulnerabilities
By Adam Strange, Data Classification Specialist, HelpSystems
The financial services sector is experiencing extreme disruption coupled with rapid innovation as established institutions strive to become more agile and meet evolving customer demand. At the same time, new market entrants compete fiercely for customers. Increasing operational flexibility, through the deployment of cloud infrastructure or via digital transformation initiatives, is critical for future competitiveness but it has also driven regulatory and security challenges, particularly around working with suppliers.
That said, the benefits of a diverse, interconnected supply chain are compelling: agility, speed, and cost reduction all weigh on the positive side of the equation, prompting financial institutions to pursue close, collaborative relationships with suppliers, often numbering in the hundreds or thousands.
Weakness in the supply chain
On the negative side is the increased cyber threat when enterprises expose their networks to their supply chain. In our modern interconnected digital ecosystems, most financial organisations have many supply chain dependencies and it only takes one of these to have cybersecurity vulnerabilities to bring a business to its knees.
As a result, breaches originating in third parties are common and costly – a Ponemon Institute/IBM study found that breaches being caused by a third party was the top factor that amplified the cost of a breach, adding an average of $370,000 to the breach cost.
Concern around the supply chain was also evidenced in a recent report we have just issued, whereby we interviewed 250 CISOs and CIOs from financial institutions about the cybersecurity challenges they face and nearly half (46%) said that cybersecurity weaknesses in the supply chain had the biggest potential to cause the most damage in the next 12 months.
But sharing information with suppliers is essential for the supply chain to function. Most financial services organisations go to great lengths to secure intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data internally, yet when this information is shared across the supply chain, does it get the same robust attention?
Further amplified by COVID-19
Financial service organisations have always been a key target for cyber attacks. Our research showed that since COVID-19 hit, the risk has elevated further, with 45% of the respondents seeing increased cybersecurity attacks during this period. Likewise, hackers are rejecting frontal assaults on well-defended walls in favour of infiltrating networks via vulnerabilities in suppliers.
But financial services organisations must maintain reputations and ensure customer trust. Firms are keen to demonstrate that they are protecting customer assets, providing an ultra-reliable service and working with trustworthy partners. So, what can they do to better protect their supplier ecosystem?
At the very least, they need to ensure basic controls are implemented around their suppliers’ IT infrastructure. For example, they must ensure suppliers maintain a secure infrastructure with a minimum of Cyber Essentials or the equivalent US CIS certification controls. Cyber Essentials defines a set of controls which, when implemented, provide organisations with basic protection from the most prevalent forms of threats, focusing on threats which require low levels of attacker skill, and which are widely available online.
Likewise, they need to ensure good information management controls are in place and this begins with accurate information/data classification. After all, how can you apply appropriate controls to your information unless you know what it is and where it is?
How ISO27001 helps organisations put in place a data classification process
The international standard on information security, ISO27001, describes the basic ingredients for data classification to ensure the data receives the appropriate level of protection in accordance with its importance to the organisation. It comprises three basic elements:
- Classification of data – in terms of legal requirements, value, criticality and sensitivity to unauthorised disclosure or modification.
- Labelling of data – an appropriate set of procedures for information labelling should be developed and implemented in accordance with the organisation’s information classification scheme.
- Handling of assets – procedures for the handling of assets developed and implemented in accordance with the organisation’s information classification scheme.
Adoption of this methodology will help financial services organisations and their supply chain take a more data-centric information security approach. However, there are essentially four key stages for implementing a data risk assurance supply chain approach and these are:
1. Approval – in organisations with complex supply chains senior management, vendor management, procurement and information security will all need to support a robust risk-based information management approach. Details of previous incidents and their impact alongside the business benefits will be essential to gain stakeholder buy in.
2. Preparation – Organisations should start with Tier 1 suppliers and initially identify the contracts with the highest business impact/risk. They should identify and record information repositories and the data that they contain together with the responsible business owners. Define a business taxonomy based on information categories of that data and include supply chain factors such as what information categories are shared.
For example, they need to understand the business impact of compromise against each of the information categories. Have any suppliers suffered security incidents? What assurance mechanisms are in place? Once all this information is collated the organisation can create a data classification policy and define a set of controls for each data category.
3. Discovery – Select each data category and identify the associated contracts. Then prioritise the data category based on the risk assessment and verify that the data security controls and arrangements for each data category and contract meet the overall requirements. Once complete, hand over the contract for inclusion in the vendor management cycle.
4. Embed process – the overall objective is to embed information risk management into the procurement lifecycle from start to finish. Therefore, whenever a new contract is created there are a number of actions required which embed data risk at each stage of the bid, tender, procurement, evaluation, implementation and termination phases of the contract.
To summarise, organisations should start by researching the information risk and security frameworks such as ISO27001 and others. They should then focus on defining their business taxonomy and data categories together with the business impact of compromise to help develop a data classification scheme. Finally, they should implement the data classification scheme and embed data risk management into the procurement lifecycle processes from start to finish. By effectively embedding data risk management and categorisation into their procurement and vendor management processes, they are preventing their suppliers’ vulnerabilities becoming their own and are more effectively securing data in the supply chain.
Deloitte: Middle East organizations need to rethink their workforce in the wake of COVID-19
Organizations in the Middle East have had to take immediate actions in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as shifting to remote and virtual work, implementing new ways of working and redirecting the workforce on critical activities. According to Deloitte’s 10th annual 2020 Middle East Human Capital Trends report, “The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward,” organizations now need to think about how to sustain these actions by embedding them into their organizational culture.
“COVID-19 has created a clarifying moment for work and the workforce. Organizations that expand their focus on worker well-being, from programs adjacent to work to designing well-being into the work itself, will help their workers not only feel their best but perform at their best. Doing so will strengthen the tie between well-being and organizational outcomes, drive meaningful work, and foster a greater sense of belonging overall,” said Ghassan Turqieh, Consulting Partner, Human Capital, Deloitte Middle East.
According to the Deloitte report, many organizations in the Middle East made quick arrangements to engage with employees in the wake of the pandemic through frequent communications, multiple webinars where senior leaders addressed employee concerns, virtual employee events, manager check-ins, periodic calls and other targeted interactions with the workforce.
The report also discussed how UAE and KSA governments have reexamined work policies and practices, amended regulations and introduced COVID-19 initiatives to support companies and the workforce in the public and private sectors. Flexible and remote working, team-building and engagement activities, well-ness programs, recognition awards and modern workspaces are among the many things that are now adding to the employee experience.
Key findings from the Deloitte global report include:
- Only 17% of respondents are making significant investments in reskilling to support their AI strategy with only 12% using AI primarily to replace workers;
- 27% of respondents have clear policies and practices to manage the ethical challenges resulting from the future of work despite 85% of respondents saying the future of work raises ethical challenges;
- Three-quarters of leaders are expecting to source new skills and capabilities through reskilling, but only 45% are rewarding workers for the development of new skills; and
- Only 45% of respondents are prepared or very prepared to take advantage of the alternative workforce to access key capabilities despite gig workers being likely to comprise 43% of the U.S. workforce this year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Worker well-being is a top priority today, and similarly to the rest of the world, companies in the Middle East are focusing their efforts to redesign work around well-being by understanding workforce well-being needs,” said Rania Abu Shukur, Director, Human Capital, Consulting, Deloitte Middle East.
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