It's Getting Harder to Do a Deal

Having attended weekly forecast calls for years at both Vlocity and Salesforce, there’s one story I heard over and over:  A rep describing the perfection to which she’s run her deal - yet it didn’t quite close, even though their sponsor said they were going to buy. It’s a phenomenon that most sales leaders observe every week, and there’s reason to believe it’s becoming even more prevalent.

Selling is getting harder, but as friend and positioning guru April Dunford explained so persuasively on her recent podcast, buying is getting harder, too!  It’s getting harder to do a deal for both sides of a transaction, and sellers in particular need to adapt to the new reality.  Here’s my take on what’s going on:

First, let’s talk ‘digital transformation.’  It can mean different things to different people, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a very common theme - if not the biggest theme - in both sales offers and corporate strategies over the last five to ten years.  Already underway, but accelerated and made mandatory by the pandemic, every function and industry needed to become more hands-off and meet both their customers and suppliers online.  

With a digital transformation mindset, virtually every new initiative became more complex and multi-functional.  The initiative in the contact center is now extended to customer self-service, so marketing is involved for branding, digital for the web connections, and compliance for the data security.  Finding a new supplier isn’t just about their products or services, it means ensuring their ordering system integrates with your fulfillment systems - thus pulling IT, sales, and logistics into the mix.  As a result, as UK-based researcher Raconteur reports, B2B buying centers have expanded to nearly 12 stakeholders on average.  That’s a lot more people to sell to.

It’s also a lot more stakeholders to have to agree on a solution, especially when the stakes are high - as they are with digital projects.  As Matt Dixon reports in his excellent book and research project, The Jolt Effect, this complexity has led more deals - 56% per their research - to be lost to customer indecision.  As Dixon writes, “Customers are less worried about missing out and more worried about messing up.”  Customers are simply stymied, and as a result, do nothing (which their sales rep thus has to explain on the weekly forecast call).

The answer to a tougher selling environment might seem obvious for the sales managers reading this: just sell harder.  Grind it out!  As a serial entrepreneur, I agree that’s always a part of the answer.  However, we’re now in a post-pandemic world where customers have dramatically reduced how much they let sales reps engage.  Gartner reports that vendors are only involved in 17% of a buyer’s purchasing activities, with any one firm involved in just 5-6%.  McKinsey adds that 94% of buyers prefer the pandemic-necessitated approach of remote sales, and that 8 in 10 buyers prefer a ‘hybrid’ model, combining in-person, remote, and digital engagement with their vendors.  So, if your plan was to build confidence in your forecast by having your reps ‘walk the halls,’ you might need a new plan.

There is some alignment between thought leaders like Dunford and Dixon and many executives I speak with about how to address this challenging environment.  Most agree that customers want vendors that offer a firm prescription for their pain and are willing to assume greater responsibility for solving it.  It’s not just features and benefits, and listening to the customer's requirements; it’s providing a firm point of view, and then delivering on it.

I’m committed to running Revolear within the context of these new customer expectations and making our platform the absolute best at communicating and negotiating a more complex solution, with a more diverse set of stakeholders.  Keep following our blog as we share more updates in the coming months.

Author Raja Singh

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