Big company buyers are pushing sellers further towards the end of their buying process unless the sellers are prepared to be strategic decision-making partners. Can you get there quickly?
Strategic account sellers—listen to what your buyers are saying:
- “Don’t keep coming at me with your script and demo. Learn to ask questions that get to the heart of problems I’m trying to solve to improve my business.”
Buyer quote from Trinity Perspectives Mood of the B2B Buyer Report, 2018
- “Well, I’d certainly appreciate a seller who did all necessary research into our industry needs beforehand and did not ask unnecessary questions!”
Buyer quote from CSO Insights 2018 Buyer Preferences Study
- “We are tired of sellers who are shallow. Who are focused on their products and solutions and what they can do. We want sellers who can will help us devise and achieve strategic outcomes.”
Buyer consensus from my research
If you boil these statements down to action items, they amount to three questions that buyers want you to understand before you meet them:
Who am I (my company)? What context am I operating in (my industry)? What am I trying to accomplish (my strategy)?
When you are going after big accounts, it’s worth investing some time to get this right before your first call. But I know—you don’t have much time! I will give you some tips to finding the right information quickly and easily, so you can show up well on your way to becoming that strategic advisor that your prospects are looking for.
Who am I? Let’s use Caterpillar as an example. I picked them at random from the middle of the Forbes Global 500, a list they’ve been on for 24 years. Caterpillar is a $45B global company with 98k employees in 3 primary segments: construction industries, resource industries, and energy & transportation.
The first thing to understand is what part of Caterpillar you are calling on. The parent company is public, so information is readily available. If your company has proprietary data, start there. If not, simple free sources are Reuters, Yahoo Finance and the company website. Look for Investor Relations in the footer of the homepage to find annual reports.
Caterpillar has 732 Corporate Family Members, including Caterpillar Financial Services — $2.6B Banking; Caterpillar Global Mining — $2.1B Machine Manufacturing; Progress Rail Services — $2.9B Travel & Reservations; Solar Turbine Inc. — $2B Machinery & Equipment Manufacturing; as well as Caterpillar Consulting, Logistics, Securities, Forest Products, Software, Computer Programming, and country-specific operations. The subsidiaries are huge companies. Each Caterpillar subsidiary is both a unique entity and a functioning part of the whole. Be sure they know that you understand the relationships.
What’s Going on in My Industry? If your sales role is industry specific, perhaps you have the luxury of deep industry knowledge. But if you sell products or services into many industries, you have a challenge to show up with industry awareness plus an opportunity to leverage your understanding of how your product operates in other contexts and to offer outside perspectives. You can’t do that, however, unless your buyers are confident that you know something about their industry first.
Do a simple internet search for “top issues in the global energy industry,” or “challenges in the US construction industry” or “what’s happening in global transportation.” You’ll get a page of top resources. You can tap into two or three in just a few minutes time.
What’s My Strategy? If you can find a statement of the corporate strategy, you can craft questions around it that demonstrate you’ve done your homework. Ask how any executive’s personal job responsibilities line up with the overall strategy, for example. Test how far along the company is in achieving the strategic objectives; consider how your company’s products/services align with the direction their company is trying to move. You will have a huge competitive advantage in such a conversation.
Caterpillar embraced a new business strategy called the Operation and Execution Model in 2010. Their industries have been and are being disrupted catastrophically, and it’s important for you to know that.” Fortunately, the strategy is clearly illustrated and explained on their website. That’s rare! Do an internet search on “company name corporate strategy.” Another place to find the strategy is the company’s 10-K SEC filing, which they submit each year one quarter past the end of their fiscal year (typically end of March). All US companies and foreign companies traded in the US submit a 10-K. Search for “company name 10-K 201X” –for the last calendar year—to find it most easily. Look for the section called Management Discussion and Analysis.
One more info practice that I use is searching on “company name SWOT.” Many data analysis firms, graduate students and independent researchers create SWOT analyses on big public firms. Some are better than others, but if you look at a few, you’ll get a glimpse of major issues that the corporation is dealing with—problems and opportunities.
Put these three quick research tactics to work, and you’ll be on your way to a more strategic sales role by asking more informed questions within a more robust context.