June 4, 2017

B2B Sales Effectiveness: You Are Not Selling What You Think You Are

And if you don’t make the shift, you won’t be selling much of anything.


This article is written for sales professionals, sales leadership and company leadership who want to get better and more efficient at selling. The key insight in this article is that effective selling begins with the careful consideration of what matters most to the buyer.

I am really digging the “The Challenger Customer”, written by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon.

The reason I like the book is that it wraps definitions around how I used to sell back in the days when I actually worked as a sales professional in a B2B sales environment.

Xerox and Customer Insights

In the book, the authors drive home a number of points. One of the most important, in my view, and based on my own experience, is that prospective customers, and customers care much less about how they see you, as much as they care about how they see themselves.

This is another way of saying that you should focus on the buyer more than you focus on yourself.

But what does that really mean?

In the book, Xerox is used as a case study to drive home the point. A division of Xerox was planning to try to sell brand new color printers into schools. The leader of this division, the person in charge of growing the business, decided to approach the situation as follows:

  • She got the players on her side assembled 
  • She then got the players to embark on a mission
  • The mission was guided by the following simple exercise. In one circle, list what Xerox was really good at. In an outer circle, list what the schools care most about
  • Then link the things that the schools cared about to the things Xerox could do to positively impact those things.

A few critical rules were added. The circle with the customers priorities:

  • could not be limited to the people Xerox typically sold to.
  • could not be limited to only those things normally aligned with what a Xerox copier does.

In a nutshell, and over the span of a few months, this brilliant person was after some insights that would inform Xerox of what the schools cared about across roles and across functions, and how Xerox, if at all possible, could actually positively impact any of those things.

Great case study with a lot more detail revealed in the book. In summary, the Xerox team took off like a blast from a cannon because they made the determination that they were not selling color copiers. They were selling, what ultimately became, the ability to impact the student learning environment via the introduction of colors.

According to some research conducted by Xerox, as a result of this entire exercise, students learn better when there is color involved.

How do you get this done?

Great question, with a somewhat tricky answer. 

If you are a sales rep, working for a company that is interested in this kind of mind shift, you are good to go. If you work for a company that is not interested, you should either find a new job, or try to accommodate this kind of thinking on your own.

In either case, the method for coming up with the ability to link to what your target audience cares about is really actually pretty simple. The hard part is doing the following:

  • Nail down who your target audience is
  • Put a plan in place to find out what their top 3 to 5 priorities are for the coming period
  • Figure out what you do better than anyone else
  • Link things you do well to the things they care most about

The challenging part is making the mental shift away from thinking your audience actually cares about what it is that you do. They don’t.

They are far more concerned with what it is they are able to do, or want to do, and if you can align with any of that, you will be a selling machine.

Why does this work so well?

There are many reasons this way of selling works so well. I will list a few that are the most important.

  • When you are selling a B2B solution, you are really selling change. People don’t like change. They will stick with what is good enough in order to avoid change. 
  • People will change when you link the change to the achievement of something they cannot live without. In simple terms, it’s the same as a person who just had a heart attach waking up every morning to walk 5 miles. They are walking because they fear death, not because they were told 20 years ago that walking is good for you. 
  • When you sell this way, by the time you link back to what it is that you do, you are downstream of first helping the prospect diagnose the problem, and the identifying the possible solutions to the problem. In other words, by using this approach effectively, you are selling on their side of the table, not yours.


Professional selling has gotten a bad rap over the years, but if it is done properly, it still has a place in a B2B sales and marketing.

The key, absolutely must do first step, is to make the mind shift that you are not selling what you do, you are selling how what you do can impact what they care about most.

You need to start with trying to understand what they care about most. The rest will kind of fall into place from there.

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