I’m not a sales guy, but having been in multiple companies where I have had a sales force selling my products, I’ve worked closely with sales people. My understanding of theB2B sales process was that of the classic funnel: the job of marketing is to generate leads that fill the top of the funnel. Then sales takes over to qualify those leads. Once leads are qualified either an inside or outside sales rep starts the actual selling process: arranging for demos, setting up meetings, collecting prospect feedback, determining who the decision makers and influencers are, providing testimonials and other information. The goal is to move prospects in a linear fashion over time from qualified lead to actual customer. This linear process could take anywhere from weeks to month.
As a mentor of startups I generally find zero sales experience or expertise amongst founders, who are virtually all engineers. Occasionally they bring in a “business type” – often an MBA from MIT or Harvard – who might have more sales experience, but is often brought in as COO or VP of Business Development. As a result I end up providing short tutorials on the sales and marketing process and recommending all the MIT founders participate in the great sales seminar offer by The MIT Venture Mentoring Service. The only downside of this seminar is it’s only offered once a year, so often my mentees have to start the sales process without its benefits.
Well I got the proverbial shock to my system from the Forbes article If You Think The Customer Journey Is Linear Or A Funnel, New Research Suggests You Are Wrong by Kimberly A. Whitler. Gartner, a pre-eminent research and advisory service firm presented the findings from their annual research project at a marketing roundtable she attended.
I’m going to briefly summarize Gartner’s findings, but I’d say this article is required reading for all B2B startups!
What Gartner found is that B2B sales process is more like a maze than a linear process. The sales process is really a set of jobs that the prospect or prospects need to complete in order to become your customer. Only by understanding what these jobs are and how you can help your prospect to complete them will you be an effective B2B sales person.
The jobs that comprise the he buyer’s journey: 1) finding decision-enabling information, 2) validating the information acquired, and 3) driving alignment among key internal stakeholders (according to Brent Adamson from Gartner, the average B2B firm has roughly seven internal stakeholders to align). What is important is that the buyer will go in and out of all three sets of jobs; rather than being a linear process, it is a concurrent process of searching for information, validating, and aligning key stakeholders across time.
So rather than attempting to either push or pull your prospect through a linear process to buy your product ,as a sales person you need to be their guide through the B2B maze of information seeking, validation, and driving alignment. The sales person needs to be a guide, an assistant, and to work in service to the prospect. The great thing about this new, far more sophisticated model, is that founders don’t have to unlearn the old funnel sales funnel model – they can start fresh understanding the maze they need to help their prospect navigate. It’s the old mentors like me that need to unlearn the sales funnel and get familiar with the maze model.