The business-to-business market is tougher than ever. Here are three different approaches to improve your sales efforts. Choose the one that works best for your business.

A big shift has happened in the way large companies make decisions. I described it in my blog on “Zombie Apocalypse“. Big companies have taken away the purchase power of middle- and higher-level executives in favor of either senior executives or purchasing/procurement buyers. In order to set your growth strategy for this reality, you need to consider the three approaches below and then choose which one to bet on most heavily. Most businesses will need to take a diversified approach in order to cover all their current customers as well as attract new ones, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put more emphasis on the approach that seems to be your best bet.

Here are your options

1. Get good at selling lots of small sales to many customers.

Companies such as Amazon and UPS have figured out the ratio between volume-and-efficiency necessary to produce customers and profits. For B2B companies, the challenge is shifting your culture to handle service and sales to an efficiency model without losing the high-touch. Some companies have changed focus from high-touch to high-visibility by using online portals for order placing, tracking, and customer-satisfaction feedback. Others have created relationships that are demand-based, so that there are fewer interactions between customers and providers. This drives down service costs and the amount of time employees spend on each order.

2. Become great at winning RFPs, reverse-auctions, and bidding.

This is the sacred cow of many companies, however much they despise them. I should know, I wrote the book, “RFPs Suck!, ” which was written for companies navigating the RFP process. For lots of reasons including governance, price comparison, and free market intelligence, companies are relying on these tools for choosing their vendors and suppliers. Often the same tools used in these structured approaches show up as procedural requirements for procurement departments. If you become good at navigating these waters, you can be successful in winning more sizable pieces of business. It is distasteful for many companies who are not good at it. That is what makes it a great competitive strategy for those companies who become good at it.

3. Learn how to reach higher level decision-makers.

Everyone knows that you should target higher-level decision makers. The problem is that your current level is not high enough. In the modern buying scenario, you need to go at least one, if not two levels higher. There is an old saying, “You get sent to whom you sound like.” If your sales people are not connecting with the higher-level decision makers it is probably because they are not effectively representing your company’s ability to solve higher-level problems. Your sales people’s strategies, contacts, and processes that were effective five years ago are no longer going to work. The reason is the loss of both the “knowledgeable buyer” and the trend of stripping middle-level executives of true buying authority.

To be successful in this quickly evolving B2B marketplace, you will need to improve in all three categories. Most companies do not have the resources or people to equally attack all three. It is the job of the CEO to decide which strategy to put the most resources behind. It’s a lonely decision and the risk is all yours. The choice can often produce internal conflict when one area of the business is favored over another. However, in stormy waters the CEO has to make the choices and steer the boat.

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