b2b sales

Fri 31 May 2024
Over the past month, I have been obsessing and diving deeper into research from Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – specifically Daniel Kahneman’s Prospect Theory (of which Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002) and their research on loss aversion.

Despite this research being out for 20+ years, I believe that most sales and business development professionals are practicing outdated methodologies. Up until now, these professionals were able to achieve some semblance of results with brute force tactics. They still race to the bottom to see who can provide a product or service cheapest, or cycle through business development representatives instead of building relationships with prospects and then pass that prospect to someone else and potentially other people on the team to try and get a deal signed. Or they are spending money on Google Ads or other ads with the hope of booking conversations. 

With the tightening of spending by companies and increased private equity scrutiny around how budgets are spent, I believe that a gap is widening between business development professionals who understand this information and those who don’t.

And business development isn’t just isolated to professionals in sales. It includes anyone looking for a job, or trying to convince dotted line team members to get their work done in the manner they want it, or any behavior change that one may want to see in another person.

Loss aversion is the concept that people will do more to avoid pain than gain pleasure. 

From a business perspective, this means that professionals would rather do more to avoid getting fired than to do something that could make them a hero and swiftly work up their company’s organizational hierarchy.

Here are some examples:

Getting a company to purchase your consulting services

A company has decided that they need consulting services to improve their performance and operational abilities. They have a $100,000 budget for this service and have appointed a leader in the organization to decide which consulting company to go with. 

Outdated perspectives would assume “If I can deliver more than what they are asking for in my proposal and come in way under their budget, they would have no choice but to choose me and my consulting firm.”

That perspective would be wrong.

Why?

Because the decision-maker in this scenario didn’t choose to pursue this consulting. In fact, if it were up to them, they likely wouldn’t change anything about the way the business operates. Why? Because change represents time and energy and as long as that decision-maker continues to get paid by their company, they aren’t exactly incentivized to change the way the company operates. 

However, because the company appointed them to make a decision, they are essentially forcing this decision-maker’s hand. They are essentially saying “if you don’t make a change in this area, we will make a change for you.”

This decision-maker also doesn’t see a dime of savings from the budget allocated for this service. Therefore, if you are a consultant and you come in $1,000 under budget or $50,000 under budget, this doesn’t really affect the decision-maker because as long as the project is under budget, that is all that matters to them.

The number one factor that the decision-maker is contemplating in terms of who to hire for this consulting work is “who represents the least likelihood of getting me fired.”

That is it! And if they can get away with stalling the decision and ultimately get to no decision without putting their job at risk, that is their number one option. 

When people share the adage “nobody ever got fired by hiring Deloitte (or KPMG or Ernst & Young or whoever the largest, most dominant competitor is in your market)”, they are referring to the simple fact that they represent the status quo. If Deloitte does a bad job and the executive team is dissatisfied, can you really fire the person who hired Deloitte knowing their reputation? Not as likely. Or, if you go with a smaller, lesser-known consultant and they do a bad job, when going with a Deloitte was an option for them (and within budget), is it easier to justify firing the person that decided to make that hire? Much more likely. 

Landing a job

This can also be applied to people seeking a job. If you are a candidate with a lot of experience AND you fall within budget*, you are much more likely to land the position compared to someone who doesn’t. Taking a risk on a candidate you like but who doesn’t have the qualifications creates risk for the business. If that candidate fails or leaves, in a post-mortem, we can observe “were there flaws in our hiring process?” 

*Caveat on falling within budget. From a hiring perspective, this is oftentimes subjective based on assumptions as to how much a person will cost to bring in. Some candidates have heard the feedback “you are just too experienced for this role” or “this role would be beneath your capabilities”. This is oftentimes HR speak for “we assume we know how much you are going ask for in terms of salary and we don’t have the budget to afford it so as opposed to going through fruitless negotiations in which we think we know we can’t meet your salary demands, we might as well end the interview process short.”

Getting a dotted line team member (a team member who doesn’t directly report to you, but you need their work to get your work done) to change their behavior

The same holds true for getting a dotted-line team member to change the way in which they behave so then you can get your work done more effectively. If you are waiting on another team member or entire department to get work done in a specific way and they consistently come up short, elongating the time and energy it takes for you and your team to complete the work, your respective mid-level managers might jump in and try imploring their respective teams to be more amenable to the change, but this oftentimes doesn’t work. 

Why?

Because a mid-level manager isn’t going to fire one of their teammates for not adjusting their work output to make it easier for a team in a different department to get their work done. As long as the incentives and metrics they are being measured against are consistently achieved, it is really hard to achieve a behavior change.

However, if the person who wants to see the behavior change from the other team can quantify the financial impact this extra time and energy has on the bottom line (perhaps they can say that they wouldn't need to fulfill an additional headcount because they are that much more efficient) and then take that information to the CFO and the CFO determines that this minor behavior change from the other team is a much less painful adjustment than the financial costs of hiring an extra team member to account for this, you can bet that the behavior change is about to be permanent.

Therefore, if we are business development professionals, we need to think differently about how we make ourselves more attractive to our prospects. This starts with understanding who feels the pain that you can relieve the most. It is then followed up with having high proximity to those decision-makers in an environment that shows off our knowledge and capabilities but not in a way that seems braggadocios but rather a humble way. I will be writing a second part to this article to elaborate on solutions, but if you are interested in this topic in the meantime, send me a message on LinkedIn.



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