Content Marketing
How To Design Your B2B Sales Conversations

How To Design Your B2B Sales Conversations

May 24, 2016
6 min read

To paraphrase David Packard, sales conversations are too important to leave to sales people. B2B sales conversations for key touch points should be designed. This optimizes conversation effectiveness and simplifies selling. It provides a common baseline that makes feedback and continuous improvement possible.

How have you designed the sales conversations for your key touch points?

How well do each of your sales people handle conversations at key touch points, or with different stakeholders? How consistent is the delivery of your messages across your sales teams? How does stress affect these results?

I’m talking about the conversations where, when they are performed well, you’re in the game. You’re gaining respect and trust that makes it possible for you to educate buyers and influence a buying vision and decision criteria.

Poorly performed conversations mean you might not even get into consideration, or might just be pricing fodder.

According to SiriusDecisions, 71% of sales leaders identify customer conversations as their biggest challenge to hitting their revenue targets.

Why Design Sales Conversations

Our premise is, for complex, B2B, solution or value sales, “how you sell” is more important that what you sell. This sales requires educating and gaining consensus from 4 to 14 buying team members, 5.4 is a considered average. At this level it’s ALL about sales conversations.

The objective is to actually create value for customers, and differentiation for vendors, through conversations that deliver insights and useful ideas. To optimize effectiveness, sales conversations must be relevant to the interests of each buyer and based on their stage of consideration.

We’ve learned that emails perform best when developed by proven design principles, and A/B tested. Why wouldn’t we apply the same rigor to more complex and important sales conversations?

By thoughtfully designing key touch point conversations you:

  • Simplify a complex and daunting set of tasks for sales people
  • Improve sales team efficiency by not requiring each person to figure out each conversation for themselves
  • Accelerate new sales people’s time to proficiency
  • Establish a baseline for comparing performance across rep execution
  • Makes sure they are aware of all the popular sales terms
  • Make feedback happen naturally, with focus on specific aspects of each conversation

Designing effective sales conversations is an important part of the broader trend to design “a compelling customer journey.”

Poor sales alignment with buyers is a common B2B sales weakness. Sellers feel a natural urgency to accelerate the sales process. Forrester Research reports that nearly 90% of sales conversations fail to meet the expectations of executive buyers.

Over decades of coaching sales people, we know sales people regularly don’t complete their full meeting agendas.  By not managing their “Air Time” they miss the opportunity to confirm key meeting points, and establish next steps.

The value of sales conversation design goes far beyond improving the effectiveness, efficiency and selling experience of individual sales people.

This exercise also informs people across the organization in ways they almost never experience. This is an opportunity for the checklist points below to be fully considered and appreciated by product marketing, training, customer service, and especially sales management.

These areas when considered, are sources of insights and risk identification. They improve understanding of specific support sales people require. Examples of client epiphanies we’ve seen include realization of the need for research, customer explanations or better proof points. Often visual and other conversation support tools are identified as well.

 If You Adopt A Provocative Or Challenger Customer Sales Approach

The CEB work documented in the book The Challenger Customer introduces the ideas of developing “commercial insights” based on buyer mental models of their business. They provide research that indicate a major selling obstacle is dysfunctional buyer decision making. Specifically, buying team’s inability to reach consensus around the right approach to solving a business problem, once they agree on the problem.

If you are applying this sales approach you must help your sales people “make functional buying groups, not just find them, by taking control of the purchase process, and ensuring Collective Learning happens.”

This involves sales people facilitating group interaction to “get the entire group collectively on board with a broader vision of what they should be doing in the first place, irrespective of supplier.” (Italics in original.)

CEB concludes Collective Learning is a “by far the single biggest driver of deal quality we found in all of our data.”

Clearly, these kinds of conversations require design. Organizations must develop the competency to effectively design many kinds of sales conversations.

Steps To Design Sales Conversations For Key Touch Points

This isn’t about scripting every conversation. Think of this similar to an architect who designs building specifications. The builder then applies their skills in the art of execution. But the core design is provided by an architect following careful planning, consideration, design and testing.

These are the primary activities we suggest you conduct.

Map Your Sales Conversations

Leverage your buyer decision process from your content strategy or sales playbook development. Assess the conversations and decisions at each buying stage to identify your key touch points. Google refers to these as ZMOTs — zero moments of truth.

Use Case Requirements

Start with the most critical touch points. Define conversation and content use case requirements for each engagement. Identify in bullet fashion, options and considerations for:

  • Context (for each conversation) — Key stakeholders who participate at each stage or touch point; Business problems and underlying causes, the topics or themes that would be discussed,
  • Buyer decisions — Activities, questions, info requirements and sources  — leverage your Persona work
  • Your sales objectives — Desired outcomes, next steps
  • Competitive considerations

What To Say

The source for “what to say” and “how to say it” should be available from your content strategy work. It can be extracted and quickly edited for each stage and context factor. Otherwise interview your best reps for this information.

Frame the key conversation points based on:

  • Business Problems-Causes
  • Impact (Costs)
  • Solution Approach — Required capabilities
  • Topics, Key Points and Insights to discuss or deliver
  • Value Model
  • Decision questions — objections
  • Customer education points and support — facts, research, examples

How To Say It

Develop these sections in as simple and modular a way as you can. Focus on providing recommendations and key conversation guidance points more than full narratives. Include specific language such as words and phrases to use and avoid, when it makes an important difference.

In performing this work you may well discover fresh insights. Be sure to add those to your content strategy frameworks:

  • Develop Sales Analysis Questions for diagnostic conversation, as well as the core sales practice of “selling through questions”
  • Put language to the “what to say” points
  • Develop each core conversation (see our starting list) such as Point of View, Storyline, Value (proof),
  • Develop core explanations of key points and insights, stories, subject expert quotations, metaphors/analogies,
  • This is a good place to highlight specific words and phrases to use, and to avoid. They can be documented in the conversation template explained below.

Two important conversation elements that are frequent and egregious omissions from sales guides are analysis questions and stories.

Sales professionals know that asking the right questions the right way is a primary sales technique. Provide your sales teams those questions. This applies to suggestions for conversation starters, ways to raise important points, as well as the full diagnostic conversation.

Along with questions, stories are an important conversation technique. But sales people, especially new hires, need aninventory of sales stories, customer testimonials and examples that align to key touch points and selling purposes. Provide well-constructed and easy to deliver stories (with visual support).

How To Deliver

Since many sales conversations are not conducted live and in person, considered all the ways your sales people will be conducting or delivering sales conversations.

Use this exercise to define the visual and other content sales people will need to make their conversations fully effective. Once you’ve completed this work, you should have a robust list of content your sales organization requires.

If your sales training organization have developed training modules for key conversation elements, be sure to capture those links for this work as well. If not, this work will identify the most important, and challenging conversations for your sales people. Develop sales practicums to help them learn and practice these conversations. We recommend you introduce each conversation with a video that models quality delivery. Then, have sales people practice in preparation for a live, interactive role play.

Final Steps

Create a Sales Conversation Checklist, a summary document for each buying stage or key touchpoint for each conversation.  Use and edit a document similar to this template we’ve provided.

Think of this as a “header” document. Provide links to the substantive pages for specific conversation segments.

Support your sales teams with content. Find or develop the content you identified that sales people require. Package and deploy that content so sales people easily find it, and can use it with minimal work. For example, if content will be delivered by sales people to customers, package the content on an appropriate web landing page. Develop a draft email for sales people to send, with links to the content landing page in the email.

Coach for mastery. Your sales people must master their key touch point sales conversations. Mastery is the result of continuous practicing, using the right methods, under the direction of a coach. Have your sales managers regularly coach their people, or hire professional external coaches. Sales conversation design provides a good starting point. Continuous improvement will make all the difference.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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