Commercial teaching change the way you influence clients

Business colleagues working together and analyzing financial figures

© Tweeter Linder – All rights reserved. Photo by iStock

B2B sales has for a long time been about offering a product or solution with a better value than your competitors. This reality created inside-out driven propositions centered around the offering and its unique differentiators. Clients now struggle more with the understanding complex business contexts. And how solutions can solve their specific business needs in contexts. This drive demand for new sales approaches.

Vendor offerings with unique differentiators

Building engagements around offerings has become challenging.  The challenge is multi-facetted. The customer needs are less clear at the start of the engagement, pushing out solution choices in time. The needs are more business centric in nature. Where the buyer wants to buy business outcomes rather than solutions and products. And buyers’ needs are more unique calling for vendors to engage deeper on specific.

All these factors combined change the vendor role from selling to become more helping and educating. The essence is about educating client’s about their own business rather than vendors offerings.

Commercial teaching explained

CEB have conducted research of 6000 sales professionals in 900 companies after the market collapse in 2008. Among high performers an number of aspects stood out.

The best performers, “Challengers”, have an ability challenge clients beyond their own perspectives. Challengers differentiate themselves by using “Commercial Teaching” as a way of interacting with clients. The essence of commercial teaching is about:

  • An outside-in perspective starting with client’s situation
  • Focus on business/commercial aspects of the client’s business.
  • Specific and tailored to the unique needs of a client.
  • Vendors teaching clients about superior options rather than just following fulfilling client requests.
  • Sales and marketing combined into one holistic approach.
  • First build a case for taking action and leading towards vendor/solution preferences in a later phase.

Commercial teaching represents a big step for sales professionals. To execute well you need to understand your client’s business situation better than your client do. You also need to turn specific business needs into tangible outcomes your solutions can support. Perhaps one of the bigger sales development journeys you will go through in your career.

The DNA of a Commercial Teaching session

CEB has broken down the flow for Commercial Teaching into 6 distinct steps. With a clear structure you can expect a faster understanding of the concept and a faster path to implementation. The 6 steps start close to your clients and finish with solution benefits:

  1. The warmer – show your understanding of the super-set of customer needs shaping the opportunity. go beyond cold talk and make clients warm about your understanding of their needs.
  2. The re-frame – a specific business centric view of an new frame for your client’s challenges. Your primary value is to teach them something new about their own business. Disagreement is not a bad thing her. It is the nature of the conversation.
  3. The rationale drowning – Your client need input on the numbers driving the opportunity. Replace your market descriptions and trend articulations and with crisp numbers. Focus on the concrete business parameters in play. Commercial teaching is number driven.
  4. Emotional impact – Business decisions today are based on predictions about the future. Blended with emotions created by numbers. Your task is to make your client to see themselves in your story and to get emotional.
  5. The new way – The purpose of commercial teaching is to make customers pursue a different route. At this stage you need to help your client to see the critical choices between option A as a better alternative than plan B.
  6. The solution benefits – Less on how the solution work. More about which benefits and business outcomes your client can expect.

Commercial teaching in these 6 steps is a framework used for initial engagements as well as deeper dives. By focusing on 6 anchor points you can iterate and come back during the journey. This is the first in a series of blog-posts going deeper into how you can work with each step.

Questions for you and your team

  1. How much do we think we need to change our go-to-market model – The commercial teaching framework might be a too big step for your team. The foundation is a clear set of business insights to start with.
  2. Which parts of the Commercial Teaching idea resonates with our sales challenges – see it as a framework to choose from. It is not templates leading to instant success.
  3. Which sales professionals can be candidates to run a pilot – target Challenger Sales profiles as the model do not fit all.
  4. How large gaps do we need to close in understanding specific business needs for our client’s – expect this to be the single biggest success factor.

Additional reading suggestions

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