No, your clients don’t know how to buy…

Most B2B sales representatives are convinced that they increase their chances of success by fulfilling the client’s requests: requests for information, requests for workshops, requests for demos, etc.

That belief is based on the idea that the client, or prospective client, is fully au fait with its procurement process and the service provider has to show that it can align itself with it.

Not at all.

It’s even the exact opposite, as shown by the latest studies of the very serious CEB, reported in the article The New Sales Imperative  (Harvard Business Review, March 2017).

In reality, particularly in complex environments, the client is drowning under a deluge of information. The number of people involved in the decision, often with divergent interests, is increasing. As the client moves along the process, more options arise. The decision-making process grows longer, and may even be aborted. And the post-decision ‘level of regret’ (“did we make the right choice?”) rises to 40%.


In this context, and contrary to popular belief,

The client needs to be coached on its own decision-making process:

  • What issues will be raised and when?
  • What interests are at stake?
  • Where will the pitfalls and traps be?
  • What are the stages and in what order?
  • What are the critical points of the process?
  • What criteria are going to sway you?
  • etc.


In other words, the client says: “help me buy” (although it’s rarely stated so clearly).

“Stay one step ahead, anticipate the obstacles, help me avoid them.”


That requires us to reposition the role from a service provider who says “yes” to everything because he’s trying to sell to a potential business partner who helps the client steer its own decision-making process. It’s an important shift. Here too, ‘what’ takes precedence over ‘when’ (see the article The clock and the compass).


That work on ‘prescription’ must meet several criteria:

– following the client’s decision-making pathway, and not the sales processes that we would like to see;

– avoiding being seen as manipulative, which is to our benefit, although the indirect aim is to lead the client towards our approach;

– management by the entire organization (sales and marketing) and not just a few isolated sales representatives.


The most surprising aspect is probably the impact of this approach, which is described as ‘prescriptive’, versus a classic ‘reactive’ approach:

In short, it’s time to take things in hand…

François Drillon

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