"A vital cog in your customer’s business machinery"

In B2B sales and marketing, a single false note can ruin it all

When I, as a very young product manager, first accompanied one of our seasoned sales reps to customer meetings I was both intrigued and impressed by their getting along so well.

Somehow I had expected their encounters to be defined by hard sell, tough negotiations and conflicting interests. Instead, they acted more like mutually respectful colleagues and, well, old friends. 

I do recognize that it’s not always like that, but in B2B the product, system or service sold is typically part of the buyer’s business infrastructure. Like the production or distribution system, or the knowledge and experience required in R&D, admin, marketing or HR. Another vital cog in their intricate business machinery. So, to conduct their business efficiently, the right customer needs the right supplier, and relations evolve over time. 

As a writer I keep reminding myself that I am not addressing an opposite party, but rather seeking common ground. Offering a coherent context. Making the customer’s management decisions a bit easier to make. Introducing alternative focal points, different time perspectives or new problem definitions.

To achieve that, you obviously need a perceptive, never-ending dialogue with all stakeholders – from the C suite to specialists and users. An analog and digital  dialogue built on genuine trust.

A dialogue built on trust

Why did I, the young product manager, expect distrust and confrontation? Was it due to some age-old caricatures of the dishonest, ingratiating or loudmouthed car salesman? Or, God forbid, did my perception of buyer/seller relations have anything to do with the partial, exaggerated or twisted messages too often displayed in media advertising?

I don’t know. I only know that the trust between a B2B customer and sales rep is as vulnerable as the trust between friends and colleagues. One false note, one cheap trick, one indication that you are not on the same side, sharing the same aims and objectives, can ruin years of "brand building". And the very same rule applies in the corresponding "mechanized" dialogue. 

Outright “selling” usually makes a person defensive.

  • Offer some relevant, novel, worthwhile facts, ideas or coherent context instead.
  • Don’t tell them that you “understand their challenges” – demonstrate that you do.
  • Highlight some aspect or buying motive that plants a seed with the recipient. Start an internal dialogue – one that your sales reps can explore further.
  • Discuss pros and cons; don’t pretend like your competitors are all bad.
  • Be honest, don’t give anybody reason to believe that you are hiding negative facts, or twisting the truth. Because a single false note can ruin your entire relationship.

 And because that’s what friends and colleagues do.

Rolf Andersson
Senior Writer & Strategist at Freya News

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