Customer Experience


The Successful B2B Relationship: It’s About Time

Respect is a vital ingredient in any mutually beneficial relationship, and that’s never truer than in the case of business-to-business buyers and sellers. The most elementary way a seller shows a commitment to a healthy customer relationship is through an ongoing display of respect.

That doesn’t mean some single, impressive gesture, like giving a potential customer a pricey gift. It means an ongoing respectful relationship, one in which the seller shows an understanding of the buyer’s needs and appreciates the buyer’s approach to meeting them. The buyer has a role in this as well.

For sellers, however, it’s easy to allow internal pressures — everything from expanding quotas to demands from executives — to erode the respect relationship. They can cause sales to behave in ways that disregard respect in pursuit of the deal; while they may win a deal today, those behaviors likely will hurt profitability in the long run.

Respect Equals Time

What does respect look like in a B2B context? The normal human aspects are there — empathy, courtesy, thoughtfulness and so on. Your salespeople should have these abilities, and if they don’t come by them naturally, they should at least learn that they need to develop them.

In this day and age, however, respect is often tied up with time: B2B buyers do not have unlimited time to spend with your sales team, your collateral or the sales process itself. They need to get transactions completed and get on with the business of their business.

How vital is time? Forty-two percent of SMB executives worked more hours per week than they had five years earlier, 72 percent of them worked both longer days and more weekends, and 40 percent took significantly less vacation than five years earlier, according to a2012 Sage survey. Those are SMB numbers, but anyone who thinks that larger companies afford their executives more time have not worked in an enterprise-level company lately. The same demands for time are present there, too.

If you’re in sales, how do you respect the precious but dwindling commodity that is time? Here are three commonsense but commonly ignored areas where you can maximize selling effectiveness while demonstrating that you know how valuable your customers’ time is.

Don’t Allow Disorganization to Waste Customers’ Time

There is little reason to be late to meetings or miss them entirely — but it happens, despite alerting in CRM and in an assortment of other commonly used contact management and calendaring applications.

Psychologists have many explanations for why some people can’t or won’t control their tardiness: They may they feel guilty about something, so lateness gives them a chance to apologize and seek forgiveness, according toAlfie Kohn. They simply may be indifferent to the effects of making others wait for them, a symptom of a more general egocentricity — they’re caught up in their own needs and preferences and fail to understand the perspective of others.

No matter the reasons, buyers see only that the salesperson — and by extension, the selling company — does not respect their time.

One incident of lateness early in the process may or may not sour the entire relationship. A pattern of lateness certainly will send customers packing.

If you have a tendency to lose track of time and miss or arrive late to customer meetings, you need to rely on technology to change your behavior. There is no such thing as “fashionably late” in B2B selling.

Don’t Let Your Content Waste Customers’ Time

Marketing and sales content is as much a part of the sales process as the in-person visit, but much of it is created and distributed in ways that fail to account for busy customers and their chronic time shortage. When it comes to content, you’re battling for a space in the “attention economy” — that finite amount of time that people have after their work is completed to read or view things to educate themselves about their business.

Sadly, even when some businesses win the first battle — getting people to click a link because of a well-written headline or description — they lose the war by doing dumb things that are so wasteful of the customer’s time that the customer never proceeds to reading them.

Here are several examples of time wasters (and deal killers), according to Gartner’sHank Barnes:

  • Enticing prospects with basic but useful content, then forcing them to register early in the buying process;
  • Telling a prospect from a large company that your product is a fit for businesses of all sizes, when it’s really idea for small or midmarket companies;
  • Writing case studies that take three or four pages to get to the most important part — the business results your customer achieved;
  • Making customers to tell you all kinds of things you should know before you provide support; and
  • Putting videos on your site without any context, thereby forcing prospects to watch some of it to determine whether it has any value.

Those — and many other simple unforced errors — send the message that your content is more important than your customers’ time. That’s an obviously absurd assertion that no business would make out loud, and yet many do through their actions.

Set Yourself Up to Add Value

Even when your content actually connects with customers and you show up or call in exactly on time, there’s still a chance you’ll end up showing how little you value the customer’s time.

In fact, according to Forrester, executives say only one in five salespeople they meet with manage to create value. Even after securing that priceless spot on the customers’ schedules, 80 percent of salespeople show up unable to help customers advance in their path toward a decision, and wastes that executives’ time.

How do you avoid that? First, you need to turn your salespeople into subject-matter experts. The day of the salesperson being able to use selling talent to overcome a limited knowledge of the product is over.

When you secure those precious meetings, you’re going to encounter customers who have done their homework, who have an understanding of the competitive landscape and have knowledge about your products and your competitor’s products. They’ll probably also have a list of questions about you phrased in ways that reflect their own business context.

You’ll need to be ready for that, and that means two things: training, delivered in ways that make sense for your schedule (perhaps through a mobile platform that allows you to learn when you have a chance), and a sales-enablement solution that delivers content to you and to the customer on demand — not just generic content, but precisely the right content for the individual customer.

Those two things will help you provide specific information and make your meeting with the customer valuable to both the buyer and the sell. Are you ready for that? If not, don’t waste the customer’s time.

The trite saying “time is money” becomes more true every year. It’s vital to realize that by wasting customers’ time, you’re hurting their productivity and taking money out of their pockets. Take the steps to ensure that your B2B buyers will profit from your relationship, not pay a price for it.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director, content marketing, for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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