The death of traditional selling for B2B startups

This caricature below encapsulates rather distorted dynamics between enterprise clients and B2B startups but somehow reflects the true reality.

Today, B2B selling has become increasingly challenging, in particular for startups.

In the past, corporate clients did not know how to solve the problems even though they knew where the pain point was.

Now corporate clients have transformed into visionary birds while startups remain like focused frogs. Because:

  • The digital era drastically reduced the barrier of information asymmetry. More corporate clients choose to conduct their own research, evaluation, ranking, pricing benchmarking etc even before talking to potential solution vendors
  • Corporate clients are constantly besieged by the sales pitch from a wide variety of suppliers, so they can quickly gather a full picture of the ecosystem; just imagine your clients can access to all your competitors’ information while you as a B2B startup simply cannot
  • B2B sales reps also realized they have far less knowledge than their clients in clients specialized areas, so at the end of the day, they no longer hold an upper hand and are unable to proactively progress the sales conversation
  • Big-name consultants such as McKinsey, BCG, Accenture, often hired by large corporations, are getting in the way as well. They usually have their own portfolio partners to recommend, or simply dissect and analyze every vendor on the menu of their PPT deck, dragging many startups into the commodity trap

A cynical view persists that if you possess sufficient power and network, you can sell even a shitty B2B product. Still let us assume a much fairer corporate world, despite all the hypocrisy we know, is there any playbook to follow?

There is, in essence, no magic wand for B2B selling. But there should be some basic guidelines to avoid faux pas.

  1. Do not overly curry the favors with C-level executives

It is quite common that B2B startups pine over the connection with C-level people in the big company. However, unless you are his BFF, this C-level might move the mountains for you to push the deal; most of the time, C-level acts as a Budda who keeps smiling and introduces you to his minions for the followup. According to some insiders’ estimation:

On average, a typical procurement process involves 6~7 decision-makers

Spending too much time on C-level might be just pointless. You have to convince a bunch of people, not just Mr. C.

2. Distinguish between sales leads and sales opportunity.

Your sales process should match with a typical procurement process within an established organization.

Startups are often mistaken leads with opportunity. Sometimes they are so hot-headed into pursuing one lead without realizing their solution is not even on the client’s budget priority list. As a small startup, you cannot afford to lose too much resource and time on one fruitless exercise.

It is only after step 3 that you should consider it is a true opportunity on the horizon and you seriously start to strategize your sales efforts.

3. Time to switch from solution selling to insight selling

7 years ago, one article from HBR already talked about the concept of “Insight Selling”.

Now, it seems to resonate with few B2B startups out there. One IT software startup told they begin to design application scenarios for the clients instead of waiting and asking clients to offer problems to solve during the pitch meeting.

In a nutshell, the secret weapon of a star performer in B2B selling should be about creating demands and offer insights out of thin air while wielding an urgency feeling on your potential clients who would have the proclivity to act upon such psychological trick. On the other hand, the traditional B2B selling methodology will probably languish in the background.

By: Cecilia Wu