‘Hey’, ‘No Problem’, Linguistic Ticks, and Other Informalities in Today’s B2B Lexicon

For the past 7 years my goal has been to write thoughtful blog posts, free from hyperbole and emotion, and full of actionable suggestions for B2B sales and marketing professionals.  I’ve tried to be frank yet uplifting by sharing my 25+ years of experience from the “other side of the desk” as a CXO Buyer.  I genuinely want to help thoughtful B2B marketers gain more relevance with “buy-side” customer executives.

Looking back, I can’t recall a post that could be characterized as an EMOTIONAL RANT.  Rants have no redeeming value, other than to make their authors feel better.  Furthermore, rants are not inspiring or motivational to the reader; rants serve no purpose.

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B2B Sales Managers Should Coach to Develop Future FORCE MULTIPLIER Reps

B2B Sales Managers should only deploy Coaching Effort when the outcome of that allocation of time will result in the emergence of a Force Multiplier Rep on their sales team.

Like a swinging hammer, which is an example of a force multiplier at work, a Force Multiplier Rep will “multiply” the influence of the Sales Manager across the entire sales team.  In some ways, a Force Multiplier Rep’s influence on his or her peers may be even greater than the Sales Manager’s influence on them.  This is human nature, isn’t it?

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Do You Think CXO Buyers Would Rather Talk To a "Problem Solver" or a "Business Advisor"?

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, B2B Marketers got it in their heads that “Problem Solving” sales reps are highly-valued by all customers at all levels (from procurement to the analyst level to middle management and up to the C-suite), and therefore CREDIBILITY is earned by being perceived by the customer as a “Problem Solver”.  They probably read a popular book at the time.

Confessions of a CXO Buyer – “I Didn’t Highly Value PROBLEM-SOLVING Sales Reps”

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After 10,000 Hours of Challenging Customers, Are Your Sales Reps EXPERTS?

By 2016 the first generation of Challenger Sales Reps had been Challenging customers for over 10,000 hours. That seems like a lot of Challenging!

This post is a retrospective look back to attempt to answer the question “Is Challenger working as planned, and if not, what mid-course corrections should be made?”

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The Dumbing-Down of “ROI” by B2B Marketers and What You Can Do To Counter That Customer Perception

Have you noticed over the years how the word “ROI”, a term formerly reserved for the outcome of a sophisticated in-depth investment analysis conducted by CXO Buyers, has been dumbed-down by B2B Marketers to a buzzword implying some kind of financial benefit?

“ROI” is right up there with the other waste words offered by B2B Marketers like “efficiency”, “effectiveness”, and “productivity”; all completely meaningless words, unless they are followed with a specific example incorporating some unit of measurement.

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The DuPont Formula: The Quintessential EQUATION to Help B2B Marketers Demonstrate FINANCIAL Impact

B2B sales professionals often ask me during Business Advisor training workshops which one financial ratio or KPI metric is most important to CXO Buyers.  My standard response is, “It depends on the company/organization and the preference of its CXOs, but if you would like to know the one financial equation that is most important to CXO Buyers, I would say it’s the DuPont Formula.”

At this point in the conversation I would normally see a blank face staring back at me.  Invariably they would ask, “What is the DuPont Formula?”

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Why “Solution-Selling” (Problem-Solving) Is the WRONG Conversation to Have with CXO Buyers

“Solution-Selling” and “Problem-Solving” are a sure-fire way to diminish your perceived value and chance to sustain multiple conversations with prospective executive-level buyers. As a B2B seller, you are not along: it is a common self-inflicted forced error that has been going on now for decades.  But that fact should not be comforting to you.

The CXO buyer is the RIGHT person to engage, but Solution-Selling is the WRONG conversation to have. If you intuitively believe this to be true (because you don’t have CXO buyers pounding down your door to talk to you again and again), but you choose nonetheless to proceed anyway with the Solution-Selling mantra (clinically that’s called cognitive dissonance), odds are better than 50% you won’t get a 2nd or 3rd meeting with that CXO buyer.

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FINANCIAL COMPETENCE is the Ultimate Critical Success Factor to Successful C-Level Selling

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey says trust is not built solely on integrity, but on competence as well.  For B2B sellers wanting to become trusted business advisors to customer executives, I believe business competence is an essential personal competence.  In my view, business competence is more important than “softer” communication/negotiation skills or detailed product knowledge.  I also believe that financial acumen skills, knowledge, and capabilities are the foundation of business competence and that most sales people underestimate the importance of financial competence in articulating solution value and building trust with senior decision-makers.

Financial Knowledge is the Foundation of Business Acumen

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Do the “Discovery” and “Qualification” Stages of Your Sales Process Deliver a Personal ROI to Your Customers?

This may come as a surprise, but as a former “buy side” C-level executive, I believe one of the primary goals of the discovery and qualification phases of a B2B sales process should be to deliver value and a personal ROI to the buyer.  Bet you never heard that before from your sales manager or a “sell-side” trainer!

Unfortunately, most B2B sellers believe discovery and qualification conversations are ONLY about asking probing questions and interviewing the prospective customer. In other words, the discovery and qualification phases are purposely designed to benefit the sales person, with no personal ROI intended to be delivered to the person or persons sitting (unfortunately) across the desk from them.  This early behavioral signal and disconnect during the start of the sales process will likely manifest itself later on in a weaker qualification outcome and longer sales cycle, or worse yet, in a stalled deal.

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Are Your Customer Success Stories “Sticky” with CXO Buyers?

Customer testimonials are a widely used prospecting tool by most of you who sell technology solutions to B2B customers. But, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Most of your customer success stories or reference stories aren’t “executive sticky”.  They don’t provide sufficient business value insights or compelling financial reasons to cause a busy CXO buyer to dig deeper into your solution.  They don’t act as a catalyst to make your executive engagements, well, more “engaging”.

Today’s executives know a lot about your company before they ever agree to talk with you. As a buy-side executive, I did my homework to get ready to meet prospecting B2B sales professionals.  If they piqued my interest enough to get on my calendar, I intended to get a ROI on the meeting.

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"REV" It Up To Get On The CXO Buyer's Radar Screen

If you are a sales professional, you have probably spent a good deal of time communicating the financial value of your solution: the so-called value proposition.  Your company’s marketing department has probably spent a good deal of time crafting it for maximum audience impact.  And your company executives probably have spent a good deal of time traveling around the world repeating it to anyone who will listen.  It might even appear in an advertising campaign or in your company’s annual report.

Chances are your value proposition is structured as one simple financial message suitable for all customer audiences. It’s easy to understand, easy to articulate, and universal in appeal; it’s a beautiful elegant work of prose.  Your competitors repeat a similar mantra, but your company is well-respected and known to deliver on its promises.  Right?

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Make Your “Customer’s Customer” Your Personal Sales PURPOSE

Except for young children and occasionally teenagers, nothing keeps the CEO of a B2B company awake at night more than worrying about customers and the customers of customers.  Why?  Because an enlightened CEO knows his/her company’s customer loyalty is ultimately driven by the passion and purpose of employees to positively impact the loyalty of the customers’ customers.

For example, the CEO of a technology company selling branch systems to community banks worries about the commercial customers of the banks and whether their experience with cash collections is positively impacted by the expanded capabilities of the new branch system. The technology CEO wants her company’s purpose-driven culture to be focused on helping commercial banking customers improve their cash flow and loyalty to the banks.  If the technology company can penetrate the customer-to-customer value chain, they will be rewarded with high levels of loyalty and the customer lifetime value that accompanies it.

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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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E=mc2 and the Physics of Executive-Level Selling

I am a big fan of Brian Greene, an American theoretical physicist, because he opens my mind and challenges me to think differently about the world of science.  I enjoy intellectually immersing myself in his writings, which are designed to popularize theoretical physics, if that aspiration is remotely possible.

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Get Going: Now Is The Time To Go STRATEGIC With Buy-Side CXOs

During my career as a buy-side executive, B2B sales professionals rarely expressed interest in my company’s strategic planning process. That surprised me. In my current life in the training industry helping sales teams become Business Advisors to their customers, I’ve confirmed my fears: most B2B sales professionals are not engaged in their customer’s strategic planning cycle.

In my view this represents the ultimate missed opportunity to influence the customer’s investment decision process. So, why are B2B sales professionals MIA?

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The 40-Year Solution Selling Echo Chamber

Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, says, “The only way to get ahead is to find errors in conventional wisdom”.  If you are a B2B sales executive trying to “get ahead” of your competition, Mr. Ellison offers some good advice.  As you race to establish your business advisor credentials with executive-level decision makers, you may discover that your commonly used sales methodology doesn’t work very well with the unique executive persona and decision mindset.  Is there an opportunity to “find errors” in conventional wisdom by adapting your sales methodology and separating yourself from the crowd?

One of the most universally accepted sales methodologies goes by the label “solution selling” or some variant of that theme. For over forty years the merits of the solution selling sales methodology have been passed down through three generations of sales professionals, from Boomers to Gen-Xers and now on to Millennials.  This solution selling “echo chamber” has been reverberating for nearly a half century within the sales and marketing profession, self-reinforcing the selling behaviors of its devotees and punishing the occasional deviants who may have strayed off the ranch from time to time.  Suffice it to say, solution selling is as “conventional wisdom” as it gets in the sales profession.

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