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12 Credible Ways for B2B Marketers to Disrupt UPSTREAM Decision Phases (Insights from a “Buy-Side” CXO)

Traditional B2B sales processes/funnels are designed to launch, albeit with latency often measured in months, during what I call the Standard Operating Buying (SOB) Decision Phase, otherwise known as the traditional “buying cycle”.  What a colossal strategic mistake!  B2B marketers may love to “discover” and actively pursue SOB “opportunities” and “leads”, but customer CXOs know the SOB Decision Phase to be the low-value (read transactional) back-end of a more comprehensive customer decision process that kicked off months earlier.

Aside from the funnel attach latency issue, the real problem for B2B marketers is there are 3 additional Decision Phases upstream from SOB being neglected by traditional opportunity planning sales processes.  I call these upstream customer decision phases the Influence Window.  Without credible outside intervention during the Influence Window, customers will naturally proceed in making their own investment decisions, sometimes existential decisions with a narrow margin of error.

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Customers Profile Sellers as TRADERS, SAVERS, or INVESTORS

Like it or not, you are being profiled by your customers.  Every interaction refines your seller profile, thereby improving its value to your customers.   As a buy-side executive, I can confirm that many customer CXOs deploy an informal classifying system to profile sales and account professionals assigned to their company.  Personally, I did it to avoid low-value interactions with low-value sellers and I know that many of my executive colleagues used the same classifying system as I did.

Customer executives make snap judgments of your latent value as a Business Advisor in order to maximize their personal ROI from investing in a business relationship with you.  So it shouldn’t be surprising to know that your personal seller profile can negatively impact the quality of your customer relationship.

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Know Thy Customer ~ Unknow Thyself

President Abraham Lincoln was a masterful communicator.  What was his secret?  It was his ability to prepare what he was going to say by thinking like the audience he was going to address.  Mr. Lincoln was known to have said, “When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two-thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one-third of the time thinking about what I want to say.”  Interestingly, President Lincoln spent no time thinking about himself.

There is an important lesson here for B2B marketers, especially those selling at the executive-level.  President Lincoln, arguably one of the best message developers and deliverers of all time, purposely allotted the majority of preparation time to deepening his understanding of the audience (i.e. “customer acumen”) and the remainder of time to crafting a powerful tailored and aligned message (i.e. “solution impact”).

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The ALARMING Decline of Executive-Level Selling Skills

I consider myself a BUY-side CXO “clinician”. What exactly is a “clinician” you ask? In the healthcare industry a “clinician” is generally defined as a credentialed expert having direct contact with and responsibility for patients, rather than one involved with theoretical or laboratory studies.

I consider myself a “clinician” in the B2B sales industry since I have 40 years of direct contact experience with sales/account executives (the “patients”), albeit from the BUY-side of the customer conversation. For the first 25 years I negotiated transactions with thousands of sales/account executives as a BUY-side CXO at 4 Fortune500 companies (including as a Chief Financial Officer). And for the last 15 years I led and facilitated hundreds of onsite training workshops where I had direct contact with my B2B “patients”, deploying Socratic questioning techniques and role play simulation of actual executive selling conversations to diagnose their condition. My B2B “patient” population was large and diverse, including 12,000 sales/account executives employed by 150 sponsoring companies.

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Don't Let Your Company Executive Go Into a Customer Meeting UNPREPARED

I have been a buy-side executive most of my professional career. I never counted but a rough estimate is I’ve experienced 2,000 face-to-face encounters with sales/account executives, 5,000 phone calls and 20,000 emails, voice messages, text messages, and old-fashioned letters. As you can imagine I have seen all kind of sales strategies, methods, techniques and gimmicks ranging from value-adding to time-wasting.

Interestingly, I only remember the extremes: the 10% of the very best sales interactions and the 10% of the very worst. The 80% in the middle are undifferentiated fuzz in my mind. If I remember your name and the company you represented, there’s a 50/50 chance I either loved you or hated you - not personally mind you, but professionally.

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