Transactional vs Strategic

The biggest difference between a transactional and a strategic B2B sale is the ability of the sales rep to listen. This is not a knock on the former and an endorsement of the later; this is simply an observation based on many conversations with players from both backgrounds. When a sales rep is choosing her/his next career move, it is important to understand the differences between these two types of sales.

In transactional sales, you are rewarded for speed and efficiency. You might close two or more deals every day, some of which are one-call closes. In this game, your quota is still 800K per year. Therefore, you are motivated to slam home as many deals as possible. Speed and efficiency, that’s the game. With strategic B2B sales, you don’t sell to just one buyer; you sell to a number of buyers. Therefore you have to get multi-threaded in an account to sell your product. In this situation, you are rewarded for thoroughly qualifying the opportunity, power-mapping the organization, and intelligently shepherding your group of buyers through a multi-month buying cycle.

In a transactional sale, you will hone in on the two or three questions you need to ask before blasting off into your pitch. In this situation, developing the ability to really listen to the prospect is difficult--because it’s not as highly valued. When you have only a few minutes to understand the schematic outline of the situation before painting a picture for the Director of IT, listening intently to the tonation, vernacular and nouns of your prospect is not as rewarding.

When making a strategic sale where a committee, not an individual, is buying the product, the first discovery call might be one of many you will have to make throughout the organization as you build consensus for your offering. While attending the TOPO Summit recently, I listened to a talk from a VP of sales and he described a 12 month buying process where there were 17 people involved from the customer. In this sales situation, listening to your customer and navigating the organization is highly valued.

With a transactional sale, you might start the first sales call by asking the prospect: “So what about our platform caught your eye?” This gives the prospect the opportunity to tell you why they took the call and what their interest is. It also starts the call speaking directly about your product. From that question the rep can then ask situational questions for the next couple of minutes before jumping into their pitch.

For enterprise sales, understanding someone's project and how your solution might work for this specific company, plays second fiddle to learning about the company and the organization. Because when you are selling to a committee of buyers, understanding why someone was interested in your product doesn’t always help you and, in some cases can hurt your chance to sell. Instead of asking a generic question like “what caught your eye…,” the enterprise rep will spend time researching the company and will have specific questions prepared to ask the prospect the moment the call begins. These questions should be based on personal curiosity and should lay the foundation for the enterprise rep to garner answers regarding where this person sits in the organization; who else needs to be involved in the buying process; how might my solution impact different parts of the company; to whom can this person refer me; who can become a champion, etc.  

Looking at another hypothetical example, when a prospect says the following: “well, what we really need is a better option for what we’re doing at this facility.” If this is a transactional sale, you might simply want to find a little pain, quantify that for them personally, and then describe how your product will solve the problem and provide a brilliant result.

For a complex strategic sale, there are many red-flags in this sentence above--starting with “we.” You need to find out who that is, because you know there are multiple buyers and the earlier you get that on the table the better. You also probably need to understand what’s going on at the different facilities. Then you can decide if it’s reasonable to get into the “why” and how your product might solve the challenge at this “facility.” However, you might decide, after understanding the “we,” that this first person you are speaking with has no power. What you really need is a referral to a colleague to discuss your product in detail.

From a career development perspective, it is important that the sales reps understand the type of sale of the organization before they join. If you grasp the type of sale, then you can make the best choice for you and your career. Some people love the fast-paced transactional nature, others enjoy a more methodical multi-month sales process. It all depends on the individual. But knowing what type of sales team you are joining is critical to your success and the type of skills you will develop. If you are used to listening to the simple technical setting of a prospect before rocketing off into your product pitch, it is a big jump from there to listening for plural pronouns and drilling in to understand what they mean and whom they involve. Two different scenarios for two different kinds of sales. Know the one you want.