We often approach B2B sales selfishly: “How do we close more deals inside our sales process?” The problem is we don’t close deals, only buyers can — we can only guide them.
Buyers must corral a growing number of stakeholders, which amplifies the problem. The average buying group has more than doubled in just seven years. Today, according to Gartner, “An average of 11 individual stakeholders are involved in a B2B purchase; that number can occasionally flex up to nearly 20.”
Managing group dysfunction with so many people is seemingly impossible for many buyers, which is why they fall back into old behaviors — a loss to the status quo.
Buyers need support in more intelligent ways. When technical sales teams focus energy, planning and resources on enabling buyers rather than on forcing their own processes, buyers make decisions faster (shorter sales cycles) and in the sales team’s favor (higher close rates).
The Theory Of Constraints In B2B Sales
How can sales leaders more effectively enable buyers? The Theory of Constraints helps.
The Theory of Constraints is a methodology for identifying the most important limiting factor — or bottleneck — that stands in the way of achieving a goal and systematically improving it until it’s no longer the limiting factor. Manufacturers have applied this theory successfully, but imagine bringing in buyers through a buying cycle as a type of manufacturing process. What are we manufacturing? New deals and lifetime customers.
Consider funnel attrition in sales — the failure rate at each buying stage. If manufacturers had the same stage failure rates as we see in sales, it would be inexcusable! It should be as equally inexcusable in buying cycles. If we apply it to B2B sales, we can more quickly and more effectively move buyers through their processes. Anecdotally, my personal close rate increased from 38% to 74% as I focused on eliminating limiting factors.
When you do this across an entire team, helping buyers get unstuck from constraints, you shift from a sales enablement to a buyer enablement approach.
Instead of thinking of the buying journey as a pleasant winding path, envision a maze-like labyrinth and the minotaur in Greek mythology. You’re sending buyers into that maze with not one, but multiple minotaur threats. They don’t just have to navigate turns — they’ll face objections, political entanglements, competing projects and solutions, apathy, fear of change and a myriad of other challenges.
The key to making it easier, faster and more enjoyable is to anticipate, before they do, where constraints exist, warn them and provide resources to succeed. Proactive education about their constraints builds trust and accelerates their decisions.
It also improves their experience. Buyers buy more often and stay longer when they have a better experience. Eighty-four percent of customers say the experience a vendor provides is as important as its products and services, according to Salesforce.
The Bottleneck Of Repetitive Product Demos
Sales engineers used to be relegated by sales to later buying stages: consulting, delivering technical demos and guiding buyers through proofs-of-concept (POC). But in buyers’ minds, those are the most valuable engagements.
A global SE enablement leader I spoke with said that that PreSales content — with rich, technical detail — was two times more valuable than content from sales reps and three times more valuable than content from the executive team. Buyers are more trusting of, and place a higher priority on, direct answers to burning questions about how solutions deliver value when it cuts through the hype.
Buyers today demand access to PreSales resources earlier in the funnel, unwilling to wait for high-value interactions until the end. This means sales engineers get pulled into engagements more often, stretching them thin and creating long “lag time.” The median time between a demo request and demo delivery is at least a week. Sometimes it lags two or more weeks, even up to several months. Compound this by the fact that buyers need multiple demos for different stakeholders at different stages.
This is arguably the biggest bottleneck in the buying process for enterprise software. How do high-performing teams apply the Theory of Constraints to solve it?
First, they identify the bottleneck by measuring “demo lag time.” Then, they resolve it with demo automation: reusable, pre-recorded interactive demos, which sales sends to customers on demand and which automatically personalize to each stakeholder’s unique interests. Buyers get what they need earlier and engage other stakeholders sooner, shortening the time required to make a decision. One sales team our company worked with on this reported a buying cycle drop of 68%.
Teams using interactive demos to relieve this bottleneck say buyers report enjoying the experience more. By applying the Theory of Constraints to the “early stage demo demand” bottleneck, technical sales teams improve the customer experience and close more deals more often.
The Theory Of Constraints Throughout The Buying Journey
Now, imagine how a systematic focus on finding each constraint and methodically resolving them would improve your sales effectiveness.
To do it, follow this process:
- Interview key buyers from closed-won and closed-lost deals; learn the hardest parts of their experience.
- Gather technical sales leaders, successful AEs and SEs to identify their common constraints — look for patterns across deals.
- Combine and stack rank those insights by which causes the most friction.
- Improve the top constraint first until it’s nearly or completely eliminated.
- Move to the next constraint and repeat.
By applying the Theory of Constraints to B2B sales, you remove frustration and complexity from the buying process. Do this methodically over time, and buyers will discover that buying from you is not complex, painful or slow, but straightforward, enjoyable and fast. That’s how B2B buying should be.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes Tech Council.