In business, whether you’re a fledgling startup, an expanding middle market firm or a long-established large enterprise, growth is the goal. And while it shouldn’t require this qualifier, I know cases where it does, so I’ll add that it must be profitable growth.
The Situation in Distribution Today
At various stages of company maturity, the approaches to growth may differ. Most wholesale distributors, however, have been in the game for a long time. In much of our industry, growth has occurred either through the organic expansion of current customers (meaning that we guide accounts to buy more through upselling and/or cross-selling) or through merger and acquisition.
When I joined the industry full-time about five years ago, I was initially surprised how little new business development I saw. For clarity, I define new business development as new account acquisition – prospecting and onboarding new customers who weren’t previously buying from your company. In some verticals, this is referred to as “acquiring new logos.”
Eventually I came to (almost) understand why. Very established distributors were often selling to other very established companies, many of whom worked together for years. In addition, in distribution, customers often pick a supplier from which to buy certain products, and then “buy, stock, use or resell, and replenish” inventory on an ongoing basis.
Of course, there are many distributors that do sell solutions to a specific problem, both generic and bespoke or engineered, with a product and/or service that their customers purchase and implement (the “buy, implement, use” model). In many of those cases, though, those opportunities arise when the buyer approaches the distributor, versus the distributor’s outbound sales efforts.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Over the past few years, navigating through a pandemic and a host of accelerating industry disruptions, I have seen views toward outbound selling and new business development shifting. An increasing number of leaders are evolving sales models to adapt to B2B buying behavior changes, and as part of that, are working to move at least some of their sellers from “market-serving” roles to “market-making” roles.
A few distributors have recently used the phrase “big game hunters” with me, in describing the business units they were forming to specifically focus on new account acquisition. One has identified opportunities in some new verticals to serve and expand, while another sees opportunities to exploit competitor weaknesses and steal market share. Hopefully, this is something that you or someone at your company are considering, as well.
Achieving success in these endeavors will require a strategic and buyer-centric approach. And while there are similarities between all types of professional selling, new business development and hunting, as it’s sometimes called, does require a certain sales DNA for the sellers, and a different approach than strategic account management. Very few people truly excel at both.
In the remainder of this article, I’ll walk you through a blueprint to elevate your new business development efforts and grow through account acquisition.
Lay the Foundation with Buyer Acumen and ICPs
Before diving headfirst into the world of new business development, it’s important to establish a rock-solid foundation and create a workable plan. Buyer Acumen is the best place to start.
Buyer Acumen goes beyond superficial demographics, delving deep into roles, goals, behaviors, preferences and common situational factors. It’s the roadmap that guides you toward understanding your ideal customer. When you get this right, everything that cascades out from it is more effective.
Your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is the cornerstone of your new business development strategy. This profile sets the stage for more effective targeting and messaging.
If you haven’t done this before, think about the problems that you solve for your customers, and for whom in those customers that you solve them (meaning, what roles). This is a great start. Boiled down to its simplest form, selling is about finding people who have problems that you can solve, who want to solve them and have the means to do so. If you think about it that way, it gets easier to identify your ICP.
Personify Your ICP with Buyer Personas & COIN-OP
With your ICP in mind, the next step is to personify your ideal customers through Buyer Personas. This step allows you to gain invaluable insights into their roles and goals. My COIN-OP model proves instrumental here, documenting the most common Challenges, Opportunities, Impacts, Needs, Outcomes and Priorities of your target buyers. This Situation Assessment framework is used for discovery, after you earn an appointment, but it’s helpful for putting COIN-OP into context.
I highly recommend outsourcing this work to experts, especially those who will interview your customers and others like them, rather than build from internal, biased or insulated perspectives.
Each persona is akin to a unique puzzle piece, offering insights into the roles and goals of your potential customers. The Situation Assessment with COIN-OP provides a structured framework for understanding the Challenges, Opportunities, Impacts, Needs, Outcomes, and Priorities of your buyer personas. For more on the Situation Assessment, see the Related Reading at the end of this article.
In addition to persona frameworks, you can consider buyer archetypes, which segment buyers into behavior-based categories, based on what matters to them and how they prefer to buy. Archetypes can be very clarifying because the same buyer roles and titles may appear across them. Yet they will behave differently based on their archetype and variances in their COIN-OP.
Here is just one example of the factors you can consider in building buyer profiles with both archetypes and persona factors.
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When done well, this deep understanding empowers you to tailor your approach and messaging for maximum impact, as well as fuels content marketing and buyer engagement content development.
For more on Buyer Acumen, see the Related Reading at the end of this article.
Build a Library of POSE Value Stories
The traditional value proposition pales in comparison to the potency of POSE Value Stories. POSE is an acronym, and Problem, Outcome, Solution and Explore encapsulates the key components of a compelling value story from your buyers’ perspective. Unlike a generic, singular, value proposition and the antithesis of a product pitch, you can tailor POSE Value Stories to address problems you solve and the outcomes you’ve delivered. These stories become a versatile tool, and you can organize them by problem, persona and/or vertical industry, enabling a more targeted and personalized approach.
POSE Value Stories are the secret weapon of new business development. This library of stories enables you to find, select, and personalize relevant and compelling approaches to create awareness, generate interest, and begin to build relationships with your target audience. For more on POSE Value Stories, see the Related Reading at the end of this article.
Target and Select Accounts to Uncover Opportunities
Armed with deep Buyer Acumen, a well-defined ICP and a rich library of POSE Value Stories, it’s time to focus on your target account list. Targeting and selecting accounts is about finding the hidden gems that hold the greatest potential for your business. Look for accounts that fit the profile of your best customers but have not yet engaged with your company.
Using sales analytics and/or AI to do data mining, possibly using industry lists and NAIC codes, seek out these potential accounts who have yet to do business with you that align with your ICP, mirroring the profile of your most valued customers.
Additionally, while you are doing this work – and even though it may not apply to your new business development team – explore your existing account base for potential upsell and cross-sell opportunities, by comparing your occasional or sporadic customers to the profiles of similar companies who are buying a far more diverse market basket.
In both cases, Identify the key personas within these accounts to form your contact lists.
Tip: Don’t have your sellers do this analytics work. Not only have they not done this work before, but they will also likely have far too many cognitive biases and emotions tied to their current customers, and will want to approach their current contacts, who may not be the right contacts or right decision-makers to expand and grow. When they are, great. But don’t start with that assumption.
Do Pre-call Sales Research to Unearth Nuggets of Insight
Research is the preparation that sets the stage for meaningful, relevant and compelling interactions – from the buyer’s perspective. The depth of your research should be proportionate to the size of your target account and contact list, and the diversity of anticipated problems.
Tailor your approach based on the level of the buyer you’re engaging. Whether it’s a 3×5 research approach (spending 5 minutes to find 3 nuggets of information to appropriately personalize) or an in-depth examination of the senior executives and their company (If working with a smaller, targeted account list with senior executive contacts), the aim is to establish credibility, identify and validate problems that you can solve, and forge personal connections and the beginnings of trust (or as we say in Modern Sales Foundations, pump up the interaction with AIR – Awareness, Interest and Relationship).
Craft a Contextual Prospecting Sequence
Crafting a prospecting approach and sequence is where the rubber meets the road in new business development. It’s about combining your research, POSE Value Stories and outreach strategies to create a powerful engagement plan. Your sequence should be contextual and diverse, encompassing a range of communication channels. This may include phone calls, voicemails, emails, LinkedIn connections and InMails, drop-ins (for local companies) or introductions at trade shows, direct mail or package delivery, links to materials or white papers, and whatever makes sense to generate AIR. Obviously, the more relevant your messaging (based on your research, targeting and POSE selection), the more effective it will be.
Remember, personalization and research-driven messaging are the keys to effectiveness. And for clarity, since there are wide interpretations around this, when I say personalization, I don’t mean their name, title or company. I mean a comment from their 10-K or annual report, a presentation they made that you found or observed, a post they wrote on LinkedIn or an article in an industry publication that indicated the presence of a problem you solve or an important achievement, something you uncovered that obviously means great deal to them, or a referral or favorable introduction from a mutual connection.
Execute and Measure for Success
Executing your campaign is where all the preparation pays off. As part of this, you’ll want to be ready to both navigate disinterest (and determine whether it’s a defensive smokescreen or some real reason for temporary or long-term disinterest), as well as resolve other concerns that may arise. These are detailed topics that I will address in a future article.
Keep in mind that new business development is a dynamic process, and results may not be immediate. However, by adopting a problem-solving mindset rather than a sales pitch approach, you’re positioning yourself for success. This buyer-centric approach is not just a competitive edge, but a necessity in today’s busy marketplace. It enables you to cut through the noise, connect with modern buyers and differentiate yourself from the average salesperson.
There is obviously more to this than I can fit into a single article. This is an effective set of steps, though, and does produce reliable results, when well executed. Don’t let fear, uncertainty or doubt hold you back. You don’t need to be perfect. If you get this only 70% right, it will be 100% better than those who did nothing. I always try to remember what Peter Drucker said:
“Doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right.”
Get started. Do your best. If you need help, or have questions, reach out. And even if you don’t, I’d enjoy hearing about your successes, if this article helps you.
- More on Buyer Acumen
- More on conducting a Situation Assessment
- More on crafting and delivering POSE Value Stories
- For other considerations, see this post on Prospecting
Mike Kunkle is a recognized expert on sales enablement, sales effectiveness, and sales transformation. He’s spent over 29 years helping companies drive dramatic revenue growth through best-in-class enablement strategies and proven-effective sales transformation systems. In doing that, he’s delivered impressive results for both employers and clients. Mike is the founder of Transforming Sales Results, LLC and works as the Vice President of Sales Effectiveness Services for SPARXiQ, where he designs sales training, delivers workshops, and helps clients improve sales results through a variety of sales effectiveness services. Mike collaborated with Doug Wyatt to develop SPARXiQ’s Modern Sales Foundations™ curriculum and has authored SPARXiQ’s Sales Coaching Excellence™ course, a book on The Building Blocks of Sales Enablement, and collaborated with Felix Krueger to develop The Building Blocks of Sales Enablement Learning Experience.