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5 "Early Interaction" Mistakes to Avoid in B2B Sales

Posted by Alex Chapman

Businessman meeting his colleague outdoors

Unfortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes in the B2B sales process. Many of these mistakes can be fatal. Everyone wants to get those first contacts off to a positive, friendly and social start, but B2B social niceties are contingent upon business-to-business realities. Most of these realities are easily knowable with a little bit of homework. Why risk saying the wrong thing to the wrong contact at the wrong time? Here are 5 potential mistakes that can determine how well your first interactions go with your contacts.

Mistake #1: Not Having a "Public" Understanding of Your Prospect's Business

 
Most prospect businesses have sufficient public information available. You can easily get a sense of who they are, what they do, and how long have they been around by looking at their organizational information online.
 
Try to have at least a general sense of how the company is doing financially. Is your prospect losing money every month, or are they growing so quickly that they are dealing with growing pains? Knowing this alone should influence every move and comment you make with a prospect. A good rule of thumb is to learn all you can online before ever entering into a conversation with a B2B prospect. Then you are in a position to impress your prospect with informed questions. When you do you homework, the prospect is in a better position to tell you what you need to know to be successful.

Mistake #2: Not Having a "Public" Understanding of Your Prospect

 
LinkedIn and social media are golden tools to help you avoid saying or doing the wrong thing with the person you are prospecting. This can include simple things like not telling cat jokes to a prospect whose social media is full of their work as a kitten rescuer. You can also gain insights into the way your prospects thinks. It's easy to get a sense of how they fit into their organization, and what their motives may be. For example, your prospect could have been with the company for 5 days or for 5 years... and your approach should reflect that. Similarly, if your prospect is an engineer, for instance, you would want to approach them differently than if they were a sales manager. If your prospect is from another culture, it is helpful to do a bit of research on how that culture makes decisions. 
 
In all the above cases, the approach to decision-making can vary wildly. Yet, with a little bit of preparation, you'll be able to see your prospect's "wheels turning" as they interact with you and your team. Make sure you work to carefully define your MQLs to get the best insight. Understanding your MQLs will help you before the initial outreach.

Mistake #3: Sailing Against the CEO Winds  

 
Often, a CEO publicizes where he wishes to lead the organization. Why, how and when he plans to accomplish that are also frequently available online. Understand how your product or services fit into the CEO's vision! In a complex B2B sales process, this can be overlooked. After weeks or months of hard work and investment -- from both sides -- overlooking this may spell disaster.  Keep in mind, the prospects you deal with may or may not be aware if their department is moving in-line with the CEO. It's a classic case of your prospects not seeing the forest for the trees. Make it your responsibility to position your sale to support and fit within with the CEO's publicly-stated vision (before the CEO says it does not).
CEO's business vision

Mistake #4:  Engaging in We-We Conversations

 
We-we conversations stink. This is where your prospect speaks as the pronoun "we," meaning to represent his employer and not himself as a real person. Then you respond as "we," the supplier. The only good thing about this is you can use it to measure how long it took you to improve the relationship! You are only having a human-to-human chat once your prospect says  "I."
 
Keep in mind, in these early interactions, prospects may keep you at arm's length. They occasionally have to fend-off aggressive salespeople. The we-we conversation is a tool that helps prospects to do that. To counter it, separate your personal self by saying "I."  And call your company by name. Your prospect will follow your lead when you ask a couple (unintrusive) personal questions (e.g. Have you lived in this city most of your life?). In a B2B sale, key relationships between individuals must be developed -- relationships that transform the B2B formalities into individuals working toward a win-win. 

Mistake #5: Not Spending 90% or More of the Time Speaking About the Prospect, Company and Their Challenges

 
Let's face it, it is easier to talk about ourselves and our business than just about anything else. We know a lot about these things. It is comforting and can be a big confidence booster boasting about what you know. The trouble is, little of this matters to the prospect (except for the fact that you wasted their time).  And the clock is ticking.  Look at it this way: there is little or no chance that you walked into a B2B meeting with a full understanding the prospect's situation or challenges. In fact, most prospects don't yet understand fully either -- and they have the inside information! 
 
These early interactions are about passing the test and earning the prospect's trust. The more trust, the more they begin to open up about the real challenges -- and the consequences of not meeting those challenges.

Conclusion

 
Avoiding these 5 early B2B interaction mistakes will help to position you for the next step in the prospect's journey. Remember: we want meaningful diagnostic interactions and discussions to identify the real challenges they face, and to help find opportunities for the businesses and individuals involved.
 
To find out how the selling process differs between B2B and B2C, check out our B2B marketing guide. You can also schedule a free, one-hour strategy session with one of our digital marketing experts to learn what you can be doing to be more effective with your B2B marketing campaigns.
 
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