Who really closes a deal? The obvious answer would be the sales representative. After all, “always be closing” is a sales mantra for a reason.
But what if that’s no longer the case?
It’s a realization that struck Nate Nasralla, founder of buyer enablement platform Fluint, several years ago, and one that has started to gain traction in the profession in recent years.
“The way I stumbled upon this was building a B2B sales team and selling myself and always having the same problem, which was that buying decisions were never made on a sales call,” Nasralla said.
The modern business-to-business buying process now includes anywhere from six to 10 decision-makers on average, according to research from Gartner. Deals no longer hinge on a sales rep convincing a single buyer to sign on the dotted line. Instead, they happen behind closed doors. And in those meetings, it’s not the sales rep but their main point of contact within the buyer’s company — their champion — who’s responsible for closing the deal.
What Is Buyer Enablement?
As a result, the best reps aren’t consummate closers, they’re buyer enablers. And their success doesn’t just rely on how well they can pitch a product and handle objections, it’s how well they can coach and support their buyer to close the deal, Nasralla said.
What Is Buyer Enablement?
Buyer enablement represents the flip side of sales enablement. The latter is designed to equip sellers with the data, templates, tools and information they need to sell a product, while the former focuses on providing and tailoring those resources to the buyer’s needs.
Instead of selling to a buyer, the sales rep is selling with them. This often means finding a champion to carry the deal forward, aligning the sales cycle to their buying process and tailoring sales resources to their needs.
It sounds simple, but this approach can have a tremendous impact on a deal. Gartner reported that buyer’s are three times more likely to purchase a bigger deal when sales reps supply them with information they perceive as helpful to advancing the transaction forward.
4 Steps to Enable Your Buyers
- Find your champion.
- Identify their buying process.
- Use their language.
- Tailor your materials to help them close the deal.
For Matthew Rogers, a strategic account executive for utilities software platform ARCOS, taking a buyer enablement approach has helped him speed up his sales cycle. Adjusting to meet the needs of his buyer allowed him to close a recent deal with a large utility firm in four months rather than the average nine to 15 months it typically takes.
“I realized as I grew in my career that I’m not going to be in the room for a lot of conversations,” Rogers said. “Sometimes it’s better that I’m not in the room because people can have a frank conversation, and somebody who’s internal at a company, their words are going to weigh more than mine always.”
It doesn’t require overhauling your sales strategy or methodology, either. It’s just about being flexible, thinking about what your buyer needs and putting them in the best position to succeed.
How to Enable Your Buyers
Find Your Champion
Every deal starts with finding a champion.
This is the person who you will rely on to carry the deal forward within the company. Their job will be to connect you with other stakeholders, help you navigate their company’s buying process and ultimately be the one to push for and promote the product internally. Put simply, they are your sales rep on the inside.
Finding the right person who’s willing to carry your deal forward can be tricky.
Since you’ll be working side by side for the next month to a year, depending on their buying process, they need to be bought into your product and motivated to partner with you. But they also have to have enough internal authority to arrange meetings, loop people in and be involved in the buying process.
This is where it’s important to distinguish the champion from the other group of people you’ll run into during a deal: coaches.
A coach is someone who can tell you how things operate within their company. They can tell you about the current workflow and identify key stakeholders. They’re a valuable resource, but they have no leverage or authority to bring in the stakeholders or push the deal forward. This could be a passionate end user or even an executive who has no involvement in the purchasing process but can reveal how things work internally.
What’s the Difference Between a Champion and a Coach?
- Champion: This is someone within a target account who will advocate for the product and partner with the sales rep to carry a deal forward. They are the sales rep’s proxy within the target account. They must play a role within their firm’s buying process, have enough authority to introduce the rep to other stakeholders and be passionate about the solution.
- Coach: This is someone within a target account who can give the sales rep insight into their company’s internal processes, workflows and organization chart. They’re valuable sources of information, but unlike the champion, they don’t have a role in the buying process and don’t have the authority to introduce the sales rep to other stakeholders.
The challenge is a coach can sound like a champion, but they won’t be able to back it up with action.
To distinguish the two, Rogers looks for someone who is willing to bring peers and superiors into follow-up meetings and follows through on their actions.
“If they say they’re going to do x, y and z, do they actually do it?,” Rogers said. “If they don’t, then you probably have a coach.”
Once you find your champion, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page. This is the person who will introduce you to other decision-makers and promote your product internally, after all.
To do so, Rogers suggests asking the champion what information stood out to them the most after a demo or product presentation. If they struggle to articulate the value of your partnership, then it’s important to step back and figure out where there may be misalignments or confusion.
“I’m testing my champion all the way through to see if they’re selling on my behalf,” Rogers said.
Identify Their Buying Process
Once you identify your champion, it’s time to figure out their buying process.
While you may follow a standard sales cycle that involves qualifying the prospect, educating them on the product and closing the deal, the buyer will likely have a different process. Forcing them to adhere to your steps — like asking them BANT questions (budget, authority, need, timeline) to determine if they’re a fit when they’re already interested in a demo or overlooking their internal review process — only adds friction to the deal.
That’s why it’s important to create a sales process around the buyer’s cycle rather than your own. You may discover that there are three leaders you need to get on board before you can advance to the signing stage, or that the buyer requires a request for proposal before they can move any deal forward.
Overlooking those steps leads to backtracks and situations where your champion either has to do more work to get internal buy-in or gives up on the project altogether.
So, how do you align with the buyer’s process?
Once you’ve got buy-in, Rogers suggests creating a timeline with the buyer starting with the preferred date they want the product to go live and then working backward to identify what stages are in their buying cycle and who needs to be involved when.
To tease out additional information, you can ask questions like:
- How have you made purchases like this in the past?
- How do you get approval for funds?
- Once you get approval for those funds, who needs to be involved?
He’ll then document their responses in a shared document to create a mutual action plan. An effective mutual action plan should be detailed with who needs to be involved at each stage in the buying process and when each step needs to happen. This becomes his blueprint for the sales cycle and he makes sure to check off every box required to close the deal.
One word of caution: Make sure you know who needs to be involved in signing the document and keep tabs on their schedule, Rogers said.
“The biggest reason I’ve had deals slip is I don’t know somebody’s on vacation, and now it’s sitting in that person’s inbox and they’re gone on vacation for the next five days,” Rogers said. “So, as you get closer to closing, ask, ‘Does anybody have vacation?’ and ask that over and over again.”
Use Their Language
When you start working with a champion, it’s important to remember that there are two conversations happening at the same time. There’s the one you’re having with them, and then there’s the one they’re having internally with stakeholders to generate buy-in.
This is where disconnects often occur, Nasralla said. The way the customer speaks about their problem, its cost and the value of solving it is often different from the way your pitch decks, white papers and demo recordings frame it. As a result, this puts a lot of pressure on the buyer to translate the information you’re giving them into their own terms to convince other team members.
“If you’re not [framing] your emails and your follow-up materials [in their language], you’re either requiring the buyer to do it or leaving your message up to chance.”
To truly enable your champion, you need to frame your product in their terms from the start, Nasralla said. That way your buyer can easily repackage the information you’re giving them and make a compelling case to their colleagues.
“If you’re not [framing] your emails and your follow-up materials [in their language], you’re either requiring the buyer to do it or leaving your message up to chance,” Nasralla said. “[It] also allows you to tap into a narrative that the leaders are already sold on. What it means is that you’re no longer having to convince the skeptical.”
In most cases, you can identify how the customer will frame your product internally just by listening, Nasralla said. They’ll often repeat a few phrases over and over, like, “Our goal is to drive more efficient organic marketing growth” or “Our goal is to have more engaged, raving fans in our customer base.”
You can also ask your champion about what topics they’ve been discussing during their last couple meetings with their boss or what makes their company unique to tease that information out, Nasralla said.
“If you can talk about issues relevant [to the buyer] like, ‘Creating engaged raving fans’ to a chief customer officer, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, this person is clearly well aligned with what I believe to be my highest priority,’” Nasralla said.
The next step is to ask questions about why this problem matters to them, what will happen to the company if it goes unresolved and what this means for your champion. Those details will help you create a value story, which is a shared document the buyer can use to position your product internally. The value story should be no longer than two pages and include what the challenge is, why it matters, how your product can help solve it and the value it’ll provide.
“If you can’t nail that storyline in one, one-and-a-half pages at most, it’s going to be very difficult to get somebody to wade through a 25-page white paper and pull out the takeaways themselves,” Nasralla said. “It’s a lot of mental effort that you’re putting on the buyer or somebody who hasn’t even met you.”
Tailor Your Materials to Help Them to Close the Deal
The final stage is to put your champion in a position to start closing the deal for you.
As a sales rep, you’re often equipped with shiny product demos, slick pitch decks and informative white papers to share with your champion and help them generate internal buy-in. It can be tempting to send that information over as is. It may even contain a lot of useful information and look snappy.
The problem is, that information is rarely relevant to the buyer’s stakeholders.
Before Nasralla launched Fluint, he interviewed nearly 300 buyers about how they get internal buy-in for a purchase. Most respondents said they either winged the pitch because they didn’t receive any material from the sales rep that felt like their team, or they plucked just a few important bits of information from materials the rep sent over and created their own presentation.
“When a buyer is committed, they’re essentially taking on the time and effort to develop materials for them to sell with. So they’re essentially doing the sales person’s job,” Nasralla said. “And that is asking an awful lot from the buyer.”
The best way to support your buyer at this stage is to ask them what information they need to close the deal and how they’d like to present it. In some cases, it might involve filling out the blanks on a pre-made deck. In others, a shared Google document.
“Rather than me doing all this work … and having all these sexy decks and slides and things that I think are really cool that they don’t really [care] about, we worked off of their stuff.”
While selling to a large utility company, Rogers asked his champion what they needed to present their business case to their buying committee. They didn’t care about his fancy internal resources like his return-on-investment calculator or screenshots of the product. All they cared about was crafting a narrative around what their current state was as a company, what their future state would be, where they were missing the mark as a company and how the product would help them improve, with a metric attached to that, Rogers said.
And it was all packaged in an Excel spreadsheet template.
“Rather than me doing all this work … and having all these sexy decks and slides and things that I think are really cool that they don’t really [care] about, we worked off of their stuff,” Rogers said. “We were able to breeze through all of their approval processes because we were already speaking their language, and we had it in a format that they needed.”
Not every deal will hinge on a spreadsheet nor should you rely solely on what the buyer tells you they need. In some situations, it’s important to push back if you think the buyer is missing important information, Rogers said.
Ultimately, that’s what buyer enablement is about. While you won’t be in the room for every deal, you can coach the person who will be, and that can sometimes be even better.