Sunday, December 23, 2012

Year-End Lessons From the Past

Early in my business career, I was privileged to have a great B2B sales mentor. I met William in 1988 and interacted with him frequently until his retirement in 1995.

William sold printing presses to commercial printing companies and businesses that had internal printing departments. The company that William worked for was (and is) highly respected within the printing industry, and William was a very successful salesperson.

Early in our relationship, William told me that one important key to his success was identifying which prospects in his territory were ready to engage in a serious evaluation process that would lead to a buying decision. William also told me that, at any given time, only about 10% of the prospects in his territory would fit this description. William realized that he could use his time more effectively and close more deals if he could consistently identify which prospects were ready to begin an "active buying cycle." So, William spent a significant amount of time "taking the pulse" of his prospects.

How did he do this? Well, he spent three or four days of almost every week visiting prospects. Sometimes, he would make appointments, but frequently, he would just drop in. In most cases, the business owner or another senior manager was willing to spend thirty minutes or an hour with William, even when he showed up unexpectedly.

During these visits, William and his prospects would discuss a range of topics - what was happening in the prospect's business and in the overall printing industry and, most importantly, any issues or problems the prospect was having with his equipment. Through these visits, William could get a pretty good idea of which prospects were ready to have a meaningful conversation about buying new equipment. When he identified these "sales-ready" prospects, William would move to a more focused selling process.

I frequently write in this blog about how B2B buyers have changed and why these changes require a new approach to demand generation. So, it would be easy for me to devote this post to a discussion of why William's approach won't work in today's environment. But, as I think about what William taught me, I'm struck more by what hasn't changed.

In 2013, as in 1990, B2B companies will need a way to determine which prospects are ready to begin a serious sales conversation . . . and which ones aren't.

In 2013, as in 1990, B2B companies will need to "stay in touch" with prospects who aren't ready to begin a serious buying process . . . because some day they probably will be ready.

In 2013, successful demand generation will be more about demonstrating value and providing prospects the information they need to make a sound buying decision than about "persuading" an unprepared or reluctant prospect to buy. And, this was largely true in 1990.

The B2B marketing and sales landscape has changed, and the new rules of B2B demand generation do require different tactics and methods. I don't believe that William's tactics will work as well today as they did in the 1980s and early 1990s, but his objectives are just as valid now as they were then.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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