It seems to me that most B2B sales thought leaders are telling us that all our tried and proven sales methods and processes are outdated – that we need to transform the way we sell. It seems they are telling us that our buyers are now dictating how we interact with them.
Graham Hawkins is one of those thought leaders.
He has recently written many controversial posts stating things like; ‘Personal relationships no longer matter‘, ‘Cold calling is really bad‘, ‘Sales pipeline should not be measured‘. In most cases I think he has his tongue in his cheek. Yet he raises issues that are important for us to think about. The world of sales is changing and we need people like Graham to make us think about how we need to respond
On top of all the other outlandish statements he then told me that “sales process is killing sales”.
This I was not happy about – I have lived and breathed the importance of sales process for a long time. Much of my consulting and training business depends on it. So I decided to get him in front of my camera and explain himself thinking that he would have a challenge justifying that statement.
Well his answer made some sense and did get me thinking. View the video, or read the transcript below, and tell me what you think.
Graham Hawkins is a thought leader in B2B technology sales and an author. He has recently published his book “Sales Transformation“
John: I’ve got Graham Hawkins with me again – welcome back, Graham!
Graham: Thanks, John!
John: We’ve had some great discussions, loved them, and you made some controversial statements. But I think they’re important, because we really do have to rethink the way we sell and go through a transformation process. I want to talk about how we do that in a future interview, but in the meantime I really want to get in more depth and understanding some of the issues that are driving us to transformation. I know you’ve made a statement that a lot of sales leaders are very focused on sales process, and you’re saying you need to get that focus away and focus on the customer’s buying journey or buying process.
Graham: That’s correct.
John: Are you saying forget the sales process and just go to the buying journey?
Graham: You’ve got to understand the buyer before you can apply the sales process. Now, in 27 years of selling I’ve read every book and learned a lot of different methodologies for selling. They all have their place, but nowadays increasingly the balance of power has shifted to increasingly educated buyers, so we have to be able to adapt our sales process to each buyer, and every buyer’s different. In the research phase of my book, I spent a lot of time understanding buyers, the vendor stack, the new buying journey, and everything I’ve learned in the past, John, has if not subtly changed then changed dramatically.
Graham: Well, your ability to influence the customer right from the start. When I first started selling, I could go in, have a discussion with a customer, highlight and identify pain, go away, come back with a solution to that pain and influence and control the sales cycle. Nowadays, as you know, buyers are able to get access to a lot more information than they had in the past. They don’t need a salesperson as much to help them solve their own complex problems, they know how to solve their problems, so you’ve got to be able to adapt your sales process to this new paradigm.
John: Okay. And you do that in every single deal? Because I expect every enterprise and every buying exercise has a different process. Are we changing our sales process every time we go through a buyer journey?
Graham: We’re adapting. Again, in the research phase of the book I spoke to a lot of enterprise customers, from banking and financial institutions to airlines to large telcos, and they’re all saying various versions of the same thing; they’re all needing to do more business with less vendors, they need to reduce their costs of engaging with so many vendors. Take a large bank here in Australia, 1,100 vendors currently supplying that bank to help them run their business… Imagine that, there’s 1,100 salespeople calling that bank every week presumably…
John: It’s probably a lot more than 1,100, because they’re the successful ones; there’s all the other ones trying to break down the door.
Graham: Correct, correct. So that’s just the existing suppliers, right? So, those sort of banks, those sort of institutions, enterprise level, are trying to reduce that cost, that overhead, and not have to deal with so many vendors. So, increasingly we have to adapt the sales process to fit each of these different businesses and the way they want to engage, and if you don’t understand that now then you’re in trouble, because everything is transforming and changing with this new customer-led era that we’re in.
John: Okay. So, for the sales leaders out there but also the salespeople, you’re saying your focus and attention needs to be understanding and working with the buyer journey, working out your role in that buyer journey – when it starts, how you help the buyer through that journey – and ultimately hopefully get success for your own organisation. But it’s about helping the buyer, from what you were saying, rather than focus on, “Here’s my sales process. I’m going to take the buyer through my sales process.”
Graham: It is, and there’s a lot of people that will be left behind to some extent, if they’re not prepared to adapt and change and learn. When you look at the way most vendor salespeople operate, it’s a very inwardly focused operation. “It’s the sales process, I know the sales process and I take my customers through the sales process.” You’ve almost got to flip that on its head now and say, “Let me understand what the buyer wants.” One of the great questions I heard a sales guy ask recently of a buyer was, “Can you tell me an example of when a vendor came to you, a salesperson came to you and gave you a really good experience right through the journey and beyond sale, post-sale?” That’s the kind of question to a customer that you need to start to understand.
John: And not just sales, it’s marketing as well. Again, I’d like to come back and talk about what marketing’s role is in the buying journey, and the fact that we need to plan that whole thing and make sure we’re providing a good customer experience, both for marketing and sales, aligned together and working on one strategy.
Graham: Correct – you’ve got to put your best team on the field.
John: Okay. So, it’s all about buyer journey, all about the buying process, and not about our sales process.
Graham: Yes, correct.
John: Okay. Great message – we’ll talk more about how we adapt to that in future interviews, if that’s okay.
Graham: Sounds good – thanks, John!
More interviews with Graham Hawkins:
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John leads three related organisations, Custell, Strategic Selling Group and Sales Masterminds APAC. These help B2B selling organisations, who recognise the need to transform their sales capability, to respond to the tsunami of change that is starting to wash over us all. He works with people who recognise that to survive they must more strategically support their customer in their buying journey - and understand that they must become specialists in the customer's domain in order to be of value to them. He also helps sales teams build differentiated personal brands and leverage the digital and social worlds to engage to create trust and value.