B2B Sales Series: The Four Phases of a Sales Meeting

As promised I’m continuing the series with the four phases of a sales meeting. This is the third article and you can read the previous Why are B2C and B2B sales so different and Contacting Potential B2B Customers by clicking on the links. Based on my experience and on the SPIN Selling book the 4 […]

by Stoyan Mitov

August 21, 2018

6 min read

StockSnap XXEZLFWMHN scaled 1 - B2B Sales Series: The Four Phases of a Sales Meeting
As promised I’m continuing the series with the four phases of a sales meeting. This is the third article and you can read the previous Why are B2C and B2B sales so different and Contacting Potential B2B Customers by clicking on the links.

Based on my experience and on the SPIN Selling book the 4 phases of a sale are:

B2B Sales Phases

The most important one for me is the investigating phase but I will share why later. Now, let’s start with short description about the phases.

  1. Preliminaries is the phase where the warming up things happen. These are the initial small talks, how you present each other and how the conversation begins.
  2. Investigating – where you are figuring out facts and hints that will help you make the sales.
  3. Demonstrating Capability – showing that you have something valuable to offer.
  4. Obtaining Commitment – a successful sale will end up with some sort of commitment. It depends on how big the sale is. Details later.

Why to focus on the investigation phase?

Let’s elaborate on the most important phase – the investigating one. The name suggests that here you should ask questions that will get you the information needed in order to make a sale. What type of questions though you should ask and in what order? How should you structure the conversation? These are important questions and the SPIN selling methodology has proven that if you ask certain type of questions the chances for success improve significantly. The SPIN abbreviation comes from:

  1. Situational questions – these are data gathering questions with which you start. Ex. “For how long are you using this machine?”, “How big is your company?”, “What is your position in the company?”. Although situation questions have important fact finding role they can easily irritate and bore because they are one way questions. Only you are benefiting from them. So try to make your research beforehand and ask such questions as little as possible.
  2. Problem questions – after the data gathering is over you should start asking questions to explore problems and difficulties which your products/services can fix and improve. Ex. “Are you satisfied with the quality of your supplier?”, “How often this machine gets broken?”, “Are there many bugs in the code you deliver?”. Experienced sales people are really good in these.   
  3. Implication questions – these are the ones that are key for getting the larger sales. In smaller ones the Problem questions are mostly enough but for larger ones you need to increase the damage felt in the potential customer. You have to explore further the effects and consequences of the problem. Typical questions are “Does having the machine most of the time broken lead to sales lost? How about decrease in the utility rate of your workers and higher costs for fixes?”, “Are the many bugs you deliver demotivating the developers? Are they leading to bad reviews from the customers?“, “How will this problem affect your future profitability?”. These questions are super hard and even experienced sales people don’t ask them enough. However, you should be aware that asking too many of them may depress the customer and that’s why the last type of questions are coming.
  4. Need – payoff questions – these questions make the customer tell you what benefits they are expecting. Ex. “If your machine is on all the time, how will you benefit?”, “If there were no bugs, what would this lead to?”, “Would it be useful to speed this operation by 10%?”.

Moving to the phase of obtaining commitment

Knowing the questions, let’s elaborate also on the phase of obtaining commitment. Based on the data in the SPIN Selling book it’s obvious that the closing techniques increase the chances when dealing with small sales but they REDUCE the chances with the big sales. In the large sales it’s a long-lasting relationship that continues for years so ask yourself how the standard closing techniques affect it. It’s very important in a large sale to obtain the right commitment – called advancements, not continuations. Advancements are things like obtaining a commitment to come and see your machine working or introducing you to a higher authority. Below you can see some sample conversations taken from the book:

Seller: (using Assumptive Close)… so I’ll arrange from our technical people to set up a demonstration next week.
Buyer: (who has an unresolved concern) Hey, wait a minute, I’m not sure whether I’m ready for a demonstration.
Seller: (using Alternative Close) Then would it be better if, instead of setting it up for next week, I set it up for the week after?
Buyer: (feeling pressured) Now, not so fast. You still haven’t explained how this leasing arrangement would work. What are you trying to hide?

A more successful seller would have checked that all concerns have been addressed.

Seller: (checking that all key concerns are covered) Well, I think that covers everything, Ms Brown. But before we go further, could I check whether there are any areas that you feel I should tell you moe about?
Buyer: Yes, you haven’t mentioned the terms of the leasing arrangement.
Seller: Then let me cover that now. The way it works is…

A very important one in a large sale is to summarize the benefits in the end.

Seller: (checking key concerns) Is there anything else that we need to cover?
Buyer: No, I think we’ve discussed everything.
Seller: (summarizing the benefits) Yes, we’ve certainly seen how the new system will speed your order processing and how it’ll be simpler to use that your present one. We’ve also discussed the way in which it can help you control costs. In fact, there seem to be some impressive benefits from changing, particularly as a new system will get rid of those reliability problems which have been worrying you.
Buyer: Yes, when you add it all up, there’s a lot of value to us from making the change.
Seller: (proposing a commitment) Then I might suggest that the most logical next step would be for you and your accountant to come and see one of these systems in operation.

Hope you found the article valuable. Next one will be about customer’s needs but let’s finish this one with a quote from the SPIN Selling book coming from the the Swedish consultant Hans Stennek:

“I’ve never been a believer in closing, because my objective is not to close the sale but to open a relationship.”

What to ask if you are in the software industry?

As a bonus, here are questions that you may ask if you are in the software service industry:

1. Problem questions
1.1. Are all these open positions (for software developers) a problem for you?
1.2. Is it hard to find the right candidates?

2. Implication questions – develops and highlights the problem
2.1. Is your backlog increasing as you can’t find enough people to fill these positions?
2.2. Is you customers’ satisfaction decreasing due to lack of resources?
2.3. Are the delivery deadlines unachievable due to lack of resources?
2.4. Are you missing your revenue targets due to the unfilled open positions?
2.5. Is the extra workload your employees experience leading to decreased morale and demotivation?
2.6. Does your technical debt increase?
2.7. Do you need to sacrifice quality and security?
2.8. Does the lack of resources resonates to longer response times when you have a breakdown or customer inquiry?
2.9. Do you feel a prisoner/dependent on your developers as they can leave anytime and easily find a new job?

3. Need-payoff questions – these questions focus on the positive opportunities after the previous has focused on the negative effects
3.1. If you have these additional experts available next month will it better the delivery? How?
3.2. How much will your revenue increase if you have the open positions filled from next month?
3.3. If you have the resources needed will you be able to build these new features in the backlog?
3.4. If you have enough engineers will these lead to higher customer satisfaction?
3.5. If you have available two extra senior devs how will it better the backlog/your product?
3.6. If you can involve DevOps people will this increase the performance of the entire team?
3.7. If you get additional QAs will this decrease your time to release new versions?

Please share – what are the SPIN questions you ask?

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