How to build the B2B sales funnel
of high-tech innovation?

start with a peer...

Little nightly thoughts
by Business Exploration

Dear Fellow Innovator,

Complex B2B sales are extremely difficult to target right.
Decision makers count in the dozens, they shift role faster then the sales cycle and are hiding in mass-organizations. This template helps you decide which of the 3 B2B sales funnel models use in your case, and how.

The B2B Funnel

It depends by the type of your offer:
  1. a Product
  2. a Service
  3. an Innovation

and where it will impact, if in:

  • the client's business model
  • the client's organization
  • the client's offer

Read this template by horizonatal layers, and start with a peer.
(If you do not know why a peer, continue reading...)

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When to use a B2B Sales Funnel:

B2B is a bit a broad definition. Let’s divide in at least two:

  • B2B for STD (standardized) Product & Services ( i.e. Saas, accounting, RE…)
  • B2B for ETO - engineered to order solutions ( i.e. custom designed )

The STD work horizontally across industries, they count Clients in the thousands or even millions. All the providers of STD can benefit of a B2B promotion. they know it and they are happy to find an agency that can support their sales. But:

  • you should anticipate competition ( once a supplier of promotion is in, is very difficult to unscrew it. Promotion is pervasive and involves a lot of the company’s organization: from sales to engineering to services - if done properly)
  • you should bring a surprising and more effective “new” methodology, one that may leave behind those who dare not to adopt it

The ETO work vertically, tackling a verys specific segment need, they counts Clients in the dozens - sometime even the dozen. In this case a B2B promotion may sounds dispersive, and even if theoretically appealing, the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) could be not justificable. There are cases, however, where I witnessed the need to take this route:

  • When a Company enters a new market. In this case may be not obvious which the decision makers are and how to reach them
  • When a SMB faces Big Companies. IT can be very difficult for a small sales team (often the Business Owner plus a sales manager) to navigate the complexity of large organizations, where people stay in position for a number of years lower than the sales cycle, organizational processes change and decision making is done by committees
  • When the real goal is a bit more subtle than simply “sell”. E.g.: when a company need a bit of promotion because is looking for investors or to increase the price in the eyes of a new business owner.
  • When the company R&D has developed a real game changer but it needs to shake up the target industry from the couch, building general consensus and acceptance of the “new rules of the game”
  • Said that, you may then want to go a step further and choose the best B2B sales funnel for your target decision makers. The best one depends by the type of solution you are proposing.

Why the B2B Funnel is different from the B2C Funnel:

in B2B nobody impulse-buys just because of your advertising like in B2C.

  • B2B decision have a life-long impact - the decision maker will live with the consequences of her decision for a long time.
  • B2B decision makers are very competent people - often they know about your stuff more than you do.
  • A B2B buyer makes “purchasing” for a living - a buyer is someone whose job is to minimize purchasing risks, and no one buys a Space Rocket from strangers.

For this reasons the B2B sales funnel is made of 3 steps:

  1. Build the Relationship with the Client
  2. Build the Client's Trust
  3. Build the Client’s Value

As Americans say, “business follows relationship”, or , better:

“Business follows Relationship … and Relationship follows Surprise”

Building the Relationship is the critical step of the B2B Sales Funnel and herebelow you find a few hints and a template to make it happen.

Building Relationship:

I would like to start this section with a tale:

The New Boy in Town

If, like me, you have been moved a few dozens of times, changing city, or even State, you have for sure experienced the “daylight dream” effect of showing up the first time in the public square, corner, pub of your new community.

You are there, dozen of person are busy talking on the other side and it seems you are watching through a windows. You should be able to talk with many persons but nobody seems to notice you.

What is missed? The hundreds of previous contacts that these people had among them and you do not have done. Or have done, but in your previous city.

What you can do to “move” the situation? Well you can join a local association, throw a party, buy a sporty car and park in front of the pub… and many other things… It takes time but generally you work it out.

After a while you can even propose a deal to your new friends and make business.

But what is the rational of so doing? What is that makes the people slowly start to interact with you?

Let’s end the tale now. And move on the “Relationship” step of the Lead Generation funnel. What the tale shows is that:

Relationship rules:

  1. You cannot “go and sell”. Relationship comes first. Through a Peer
    You shall sell you “personal brand” before to propose any deal. In this phase you do not sell product or services. Nobody comes to a perfect stranger and offers a deal hoping to get results on the spot.
    You have to attract the attention. And Attention is given to “differences”. E.g. You notice more easily a waving hand in a crowd.
    What makes you relationship start, is wheter in this phase you are able to establish yourself as someone that has brought a difference:
    a “Surprise” to the attention of the Client.
  2. Relationship is made into Customer’s Brain. Through a Surprise
    Ok, if this sounds like the “Positioning theory” - you can bet it is, because Relationship happens in the prospect’s mind, first. How?

Starting the relationship:

  • First: You must be noted – acknowledged.
    Don’t sell. I warned you. Don’t sell.
    Don’t act like shouting your “apple!” at the market.
    You must pass through a “peer”. Someone that has (already) the credibility to bring you on the board, under the spotlight.
  • Second: You must be remembered
    You must emerge from the white noise, bring a “surprise” - the “Un-expected”
    What is a surprise for a “Business”? It’s a difference in the status quo.
    Any Business is always interested to understand if it’s lagging behind the pack, if the usual performance has been jeopardized.
    In this phase the Decision Maker is not interested in you because you bring a product or a solution, but because you make notice a change in the status quo, that is per se a problem. A problem about which you sound like to be an expert.
    What happens in your prospect brain is: a neural blizzard forges a synapsis connection between: “You” and “the problem”.
    Not a bad start if you then add another connection between “You” and “Solution”.

What is a PEER?

To reach your prospects you have to pass through a Peer, if you want to scale up fast your market entry.

A Peer is the channel, the medium through which you deliver yourself. It should be a Peer of your Prospect, not your Peer. Someone who is somehow already accredited by your prospect. It’s should be “disinterested” and even better: willing to actively introduce you.

Furthermore it should be “industry focused”. Your Clients do not want to waste their time with people that are not tuned, alerted , activated to their business.

The right Peer depends on the industry, but we can set at least a couple of categories:

  • Direct Peers:
    All those that introduce you in person, like associations, public speaking occasions, expos, conferences, meet-ups, market places, sport competitions, and sometimes even Charities and no-profit, pioneers, mentors and even Competitors.
    Not only they can introduce you, but each networking event is an occasion to gather keywords and messages for your “communication” fine tuning.
  • Indirect Peers:
    they are the ones that introduce you but not in person: like newspapers, magazines, rankings, and leaving a trace on peers blogs, groups and social networks.
    In general any event that mixes Prospect’s Peers and “your” topic, has the advantage to abate barriers and focus the argument.

What is a SURPRISE?

A surprise is an information that highlights a difference in the status quo.

The rational is that any Prospect wants to know how they stand compared to their industry peers: if they are lagging behind the pack, if they are going to be in a Status quo that will differ from the present one for any reason.

A Surprise is an “un-expected comparison”

  • Un-expected:
    Something that challenges the status quo.
  • Comparison:
    Something that forces the recipient of the message to compare the ex-ante and the ex-post situations. (and not: “compare about solutions”. Solutions don’t matter in this moment)
    What triggers the comparison is not a comparison among solutions but among situations. It shall challenge the status quo. It could show trials, traumas and triumphs associated to moving between the two situations.
    A Surprise is not a comparison about differences in performances, outcomes or benefits. It’s about the differences of the two Status.

A Surprise ( un-expected Comparison) is that aha! moment that associates You to a Customer’s problem.

It’s the moment when you create the Relationship in the Customer Brain.

I have always in mind the reaction of my 2 years old kid when he saw for the first time a balloon going up, instead than falling on the floor when I released it.

Now “balloons” are forever associated with “new” unexpected and fantastic surprise. The fact that I have introduced him to the fantastic world of “balloons”, it’s probably a bonus that I will leverage for some time.

This examples teaches also a further observations:

If the Surprise comes from an “industry expert, it’s even better. People value specialists the most, even if what you say has an horizontal applicability.

If you belong to the industry, you eat like the industry, you breath like the industry, then you can describe the “status quo” with the right key words, the ones that resonate with your Customer’s brain.

What is surprising your prospect?

There are at least 4 kinds of surprise that make your prospect feel a change in the status quo:

  • Un-forecasted issues/problems
  • Un-anticipated market drivers’ changes
  • Un-derestimated results
  • Un-presidiated factors

Un-forecasted issues/problems

Any kind of issue or problem your prospect’s peers have suffered, are suffering or going to suffer and that most probably your prospect will have to deal with soon.

Un-anticipated market drivers’ changes

Here you can refer to classic Porter’s

  • 5 Forces
    Change in the Customers base, new suppliers, new competitors, substitute products, and new moves of actual competition and
  • 5 Environments:
    Change in the Environment/Ecosystem, new Norms and Regulations, Shift in populations trends, impacts of fashions and moods, impacts of new technological trends and innovation.

Un-derestimated results

Some big surprise comes from comparing the final results with the expected ones.

  • Within a company,
    e.g. the “steady state” status quo can be harmed by slow deterioration, fatigue and catastrophic failures of components.
  • From an outside view
    a company can startle at the news of improved Peers results or the change of expectations by their stakeholders.

In general any discordance among imagined / planned / desired results and actual facts capture prospects attention.

Un-presidiated factors

A further source of surprise comes again from failing of considering a company as an evolutionary system, instead of a steady system.

A system may fail not because of a part crash, but because the supporting functions are given for granted:

  • External Resources may be no more available
  • Supporting systems may be no more available
  • Intoxicating factors can overcome safe limits
  • Internal reserves and stocks may suffer ruptures

A Surprise signals to your Prospect that “the World has changed”

A Surprise says to your Customer:

  • You made the right decision at the time, but the world has changed.
  • Yes, this was the leading technology last year, but the world has changed.
  • Now that your competitor is doing X, the world has changed.
  • This new shift in consumer behavior means that the world has changed.
  • The current cost of X means that the world has changed.

If you can play out with the consequences of inaction via a SWOT analysis, you may end inviting your prospect to re-think the alternatives, and fight the costs of inaction, and her resistances to Loss, making do-nothing : not an option

Applying the "Relationship Building" model to your B2B Funnel:

Now that you have a better sense of what is a surprise and a peer, you can decline this concept taking into consideration:

  • The type of innovation you can deliver ( Disruptive, Service , Product )
  • The type of client is the decision maker ( CEO, Functional Leader, End User )

Here you can download the B2B Funnel template that allows you to select the correct type of B2B Funnel elements depending your innovation:

The B2B Funnel

Note: this template is the result of collecting and assembling ideas and concepts from several Authors:
Al Ries, Neil Rackham, Goeffry Moore, Clayton Christensen, Tony Ulwick, Bob Apollo et al.

Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you!