an archer facing a target with bow drawn
PHOTO: Annie Spratt

Outcome (noun): The way a thing turns out; a consequence

Whether you know it or not, everything you buy or sell is motivated by an outcome. In your personal life, these outcomes may not always be explicit. Think of the last thing you purchased on impulse — or something impractical you bought even though you didn't need it. The outcome wasn’t something you wrote down or even thought about all that much.

Emotion also plays a role in B2B buying decisions. But here, the outcome is much more explicit. Maybe we don’t need to apply logic in spending our own money on a two-seat roadster, but we’d better show up with sound rationale when committing company resources.

In B2B buying and selling, the promised outcome is what matters most. And the selling organizations that do a better job at understanding and associating with a prospect’s target outcomes are in a much stronger position to get a deal done. Here are five things you can start doing today to improve your sales performance with an outcomes-based approach:

1. Understand Your Buyer

The best sellers do their homework. They show up with a deep understanding of the buyer — both by studying and becoming expert in their target segments and ideal customer profile but also by committing the time to perform due diligence on the individual prospect themselves. If you’re selling to a public company, read their annual report or listen to an earnings call to learn about company performance, priorities and strategic initiatives. Study review sites like G2 and TrustRadius. Filter out the fives (the fan boys/girls) and the ones (the haters) and study the twos, threes and fours. Look for the patterns and the business challenges they reveal.

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2. Ask Smart Questions

Think of the last time you were on the receiving end of a relentless sales pitch. Did you feel like you could exit the monologue without the seller ever noticing?Talking too much, listening too little, and demonstrating limited curiosity in your interlocutor are the least endearing of qualities in any relationship, much less one in which trust is hard to come by. On the other hand, doing your homework and asking smart questions that go a step beyond the superficial things you can learn from a company’s website will set the buyer at ease and demonstrate a level of investment in the relationship that the buyer will feel compelled to reciprocate.

3. Get Aligned on a Set of Target Outcomes

Don’t allow these outcomes to exist only in the shared imagination between you and the buyer. Write them down. This creates clarity of thought and a sharp focus on the outcomes that makes them real. Crafting an effective outcome is as simple as one, two, three:

  1. What will change? Describe the business impact you wish to achieve.
  2. By how much? Define the measurable impact you expect to see.
  3. By when? Specify the time frame within which you expect the change to occur.

_________________  _________________  by _________________ by ________________

(directional change)        (object of impact)            (degree of change)            (time frame)

Example:

     Decrease               Support ticket volume        25%                        EOQ4

_________________  _________________  by _________________ by ________________

(directional change)         (object of impact)           (degree of change)             (time frame)

Writing down outcomes helps you get aligned. By explicitly stating your understanding of what the buyer wants to achieve, you’re able to ferret out any misunderstanding, while also working together to co-create a shared vision for the future. As your buyer invests in helping to craft these outcomes, they’ll become more invested in making them real.

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4. Demonstrate Proof

Many outcomes are easy to promise and hard to achieve. That’s why the buyer wants to see proof. While you’re co-creating outcomes, use this opportunity to share examples of how these outcomes were achieved by other companies. Show metrics that reveal improvements in the KPIs they care about, and help the buyer envision themselves in this picture. By showing examples alongside the promised outcomes, they become more tangible and real, and as doubts recede, the buyer will gain confidence and conviction in you as a legitimate partner.

5. Show Commitment to These Outcomes

Everything you’ve done so far in orienting the sales process around outcomes is promising, but the real buying conviction happens when the seller puts skin in the game. Demonstrate your commitment by showing the buyer how you’re going to deliver. Introduce the playbooks you will use and the players who will be assigned to assure the buyer that they won’t be forgotten — as has happened so often — once the contract is signed. Show the buyer how you’re going to measure performance and hold everyone accountable to the promised outcomes and the milestones necessary to their achievement. Suddenly, these outcomes become more than a vague promise or a hollow platitude: They become a plan worthy of strategic investment.