We’ve all heard the song Aretha Franklin released back in 1967.
‘Respect’ was written and recorded by Otis Redding two years earlier, but Franklin added her unique twist.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T” she sang, “Find out what it means to me. Take care, TCB.”
‘TCB’? That refers to ‘Take Care of Business.’
Over the years, Franklin’s version of ‘Respect’ has become known a feminist anthem. And rightly so. Women everywhere, in all areas of society, deserve more respect than they receive.
The song is also, in my opinion, the ultimate ballad for business-to-business (B2B) salespeople.
Rule #1 in B2B selling – respect your prospects
B2B selling and B2C selling require very different approaches.
A mindset that may work when selling to consumers will often fail in B2B. This is because business owners and managers, as a rule, are much more conscious of time and cost.
A poorly-crafted, generic sales message or ill-informed pitch will alienate them. It may also shut down further opportunities, as business decision-makers are quicker than consumers to say ‘no’, often before you can explain the benefits of your solution.
In addition, B2B buyers are informed. Whether you’re selling professional services, commercial property or software, they’re likely to be as savvy as you are about technical specifications, cost structures and alternative options.
Rule number one in B2B selling, therefore, is to ‘respect’ your prospective customer’s time, their budget and their intelligence.
Rule #2 in B2B selling – know your target market
You cannot respect your prospects, however, if you don’t even know them as individuals and as a group. So my second rule for successful B2B selling is to do your research. Get to know your target market before you approach a single person.
I don’t agree with the sentiment that everyone and anyone is a prospective customer for your products or services. Before you engage with individual prospects, ensure they are viable members of your target market.
Define your prospect list by asking yourself some relevant questions. What industries align best with your offering? What size of company? Where are these companies based? Who is the decision-maker within each company? Who are the primary influencers, within the company and externally? And so on.
Rule #3 in B2B selling – tailor your message
The message you deliver has to resonate with the members of your target market.
In consumer selling, a one-size-fits-all approach can often work. In B2B, it will invariably fail.
Before you deliver your pitch, you need to be armed with open-ended questions that will resonate with different decision-makers. In this way you uncover the different problems they may be facing – problems that you can solve.
Do what you can to understand your customer’s unique situation. Try to walk in their shoes. Demonstrate your understanding of their industry, their company and their place within their company. Speak their language.
If you can do this, they’ll see you as someone who understands them and can help them.
Rule #4 in B2B selling – create a positive vision for the future
When you speak with a B2B prospect, your mission is to help them change their ‘current view of their situation’ (CVS) to a ‘better view of their situation’ (BVS).
In this conversation, your solution is the catalyst for the transition from the CVS to the BVS.
If you can achieve this mission, you automatically build rapport and will quickly become a trusted resource that your prospect can rely on for professional advice over the long term.
It’s easy for business decision-makers to be weighed down by their day-to-day engagement with the problems of their organisation. Your optimism, fuelled by the power of your proposed solution, can be the light at the end of the tunnel that they’re looking for.
Rule #5 in B2B selling – stay in touch
Staying in touch is vital to the success of business-to-business relationships.
For the majority of salespeople, over 80 per cent of prospects leak out of their sales pipeline. More than two-thirds, however, will end up buying a solution like yours from someone.
If that someone is not you, it’s most likely because you failed to maintain the relationship. You failed to follow up and to stay in touch.
This reminds me of another classic song from the 1960s – ‘Stand by me’. The most successful B2B salespeople are those who stand by their prospects in good times and not-so-good times.
The best way to stay in touch, by the way, is to regularly offer something of value to them, such as a referral, an event invitation or useful information. The least effective way to stay in touch is to regularly ask for a sale.
An additional benefit of staying in touch with business decision-makers is that, even if they never buy from you, they’re very likely to refer you to others who will.
I like to think of it as business karma.
Rule #6 in B2B selling – see Rule #1
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of respect in business-to-business marketing and selling. Respect your prospect as a professional representative of their organisation and as a human being.
Without mutual respect, there’s no trust. And without trust, there’s no business.
Aretha Franklin said it best.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me. Take care, TCB.”