What is “Buying in the New Normal?”

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, coined the term “the new normal” to describe the current sales environment. He says, in the “new normal,” traditional complex sales approaches no longer work; sales levels, margins and average deals sizes are down and sales cycles are longer with many ending in non-decision. Prospects are spending less and even consolidating and in some cases eliminating suppliers in an effort to save money. Selling in the new normal doesn’t work the way it did in the “old normal”.

So to differentiate, I’m going to coin the phrase “Buying in the New Normal” to describe a 180 degree shift in the way we look at the interaction between a product or service vendor and the ultimate user. In the old terminology they were the seller and buyer and sales teams always thought in terms of selling to a customer.

Buying in the New Normal

But the new normal has to rethink itself. The focus has to be on the process of buying. The seller has to see only the process of buying by his customer. To do that, he has to know why the customer buys, what they need, what they want to do with the product and what their motivation is to make the buy.

When they do that they come to understand the real issues that drive their customer’s buying decision. They’ll discover the critical business issues (CBI) that have to be satisfied by the seller and their product or service. The most important CBIs will be found at the C-level (what we call “Power”) and not below. This is where they will uncover the executive-level problems felt at their prospect’s organization and determine how their product or service addresses them.

Most companies sell products and services based on the day-to-day problems that they solve and their features and benefits. But this is a mistake. The people with budget authority in your prospects’ organizations don’t evaluate products and services based on day-to-day functionality. They make buying decisions based upon executive-level problems that are solved. This is especially true for high-value products and services with complex sales processes.  C-level executives “buy”, they don’t get “sold” to.

3 Changes to the Sales Process

However, by thinking always in terms of “why does my customer buy”, not how can I sell them something, the sales team runs a great risk. First, they may discover, much to their dismay, that they customer does not want to buy their product because it does not address the CBIs of the C-level decision makers.

Second, they have to change a fundamental point of view of the salesperson.  Sales people tend to pursue every possible lead. It’s in their nature. And while this results in a lot of sales activity, it doesn’t result in more closed deals. But, if the Forrester survey earlier in this year is correct and B2B companies are only closing about 15% of their pipeline deals in any given time period, then the sales team has to brutally purge their pipeline. This is so difficult, but so necessary.

Third, sales executives also have to adapt to “Buying in the New Normal” as well. They have to develop a comprehensive definition of the perfect prospect, keep focusing their sales reps’ efforts on the best opportunities and allocating resources to deals with the greatest potential. In addition, they need to establish a formalized, consistent method to score a prospect’s value and status, implement an approach to identify gaps in the sales process and enforce consistency and discipline in sales forecasting.

In other words, the pipeline has to be filled with real prospects and the CRM has to reflect quality of the contacts and not just activity.

ZEBRAselling to the rescue

ZEBRASelling methodology does all of that. When you work with Selling to Zebras, we uncover the executive-level problems felt at your prospect’s organization and determine how your product or service addresses them. Through careful research of the prospect and its industry, we identify the critical business issues that weigh on Power’s mind. Then we determine how your product or service helps to resolve these issues and either create revenue or reduce costs.

(Originally published in Pulse on LinkedIn, Nov 15, 2014)