The Five "Whys" of the B2B Sales Process

In 1925, Edward Strong, Ph.D. – a professor of applied psychology at Stanford University – made the concept of AIDA famous. The four steps in AIDA stand for attention, interest, desire, and action. This applies directly to the inbound sales funnel stages.

AIDA is a convenient framework for thinking about the stages buyers pass through when making a simple business-to-business (B2B) purchase. But for those of us with high-ticket products and complex sales processes, AIDA doesn’t quite fit. To be successful today, your sales process and sales development strategy must align with the way your prospects think (often called the buyer’s journey).

Why Listen? Why Care? Why Change? Why You? Why Now?

The Five Whys are questions that prospects ask themselves along the way in a complex B2B purchase. As we walk through The Five Whys, put yourself in your prospects’ shoes. Remember, every vendor is squawking and screeching trying to gain prospect attention. To stay ahead of all those competitors, you have to take their reality into consideration.

Looking at the sales process this way, we can appreciate just how much effort it takes to move a company from prospect to customer. We can also appreciate what a journey prospects have to make from “unexpected sales call” to “this is something I want to pursue” and finally to “replacing the status quo.” In a transactional sale (think high-volume, low-touch, and quick sales cycle), all five gates might be crossed in days or weeks. In an enterprise sale (think complex, high-ticket, and long sales cycle), it might take quarters. And if selling to the Fortune 500, just crossing from Why You to Why Now can seem to take a lifetime. (I’m looking at you, purchasing departments)!

There’s one piece I want you to pay special attention to. Notice just how distinct the first two whys (Listen and Care) are from the last three (Change, You, and Now).

The final three whys (Change, You, and Now) are about gaining commitment and closing a sale. They are the domains of account executives, and as such, we won’t be discussing them further. But take another look at the first two whys (Listen and Care). These two are about opening doors and sparking interest. At first glance, they might seem similar, but there’s quite a bit of distance between the two. The essence of sales development strategy is deciding how far down The Five Whys your reps can and should take prospects. Where to draw the line is a decision that you’ll have to make and likely revisit as your team grows. Here’s how to get started.

Why Listen and Why Care in a B2B Sales Process?

Okay, we’ve established that Why Listen and Why Care are the domain of sales development. But what exactly should you expect your team to be closing on? Sales development teams can be tasked with either: 1) Setting introductory meetings, or 2) Generating qualified opportunities.

I tend to think of the introductory meetings model as addressing the Why Listen stage only. Teams that address both Why Listen and Why Care are generating qualified opportunities.

Sales development is a tough job. Reps have to reach often unsuspecting (a.k.a. cold) prospects and get them to stop what they are doing and listen. That’s miles easier said than done. Think of all the people competing for your attention on a daily basis: your family, your employees, your peers, your boss, and countless sales reps trying to get “just twenty minutes on your calendar to discuss your strategy for blah blah.” Regardless of what you’re shooting for, an introductory meeting, technology demo, or fully qualified opportunity – your reps’ first hurdle is to arouse curiosity and get prospects to listen.

Let’s assume mission accomplished and the prospect is curious. Now, onto the second hurdle. Your reps have to demonstrate an understanding of their prospects’ industries, priorities, and challenges. They need to shine a spotlight on gaps in the prospects’ current approach and bring them around to your way of thinking. In short, your reps have to evolve curiosity into interest while at the same time qualifying for fit.

I know that there are nearly the same numbers of companies with the introductory meeting as qualified opportunity models. The argument I’m making is that the starting point for sales development shouldn’t be which model you, your CEO, or your board prefers, but which model best addresses the realities of your specific market.

To learn more about how to improve sales outcomes, please invest an hour on Thursday, June 23rd, at 10:30 am MST, where Flawless Inbound will invite a HubSpot specialist to speak about sales and marketing for business-to-business interactions.