Selling to customers is no longer a linear process. Your next prospect can enter your funnel at any point, throwing the traditional customer journey overboard.
With such a drastic change in how a lead interacts with your company, you need to set up systems and processes to support non-sequential selling (aka non-linear sales) to empower your team and customers at each touchpoint.
...But before we jump into that, let's take a step back and unpack what I mean by non-sequential selling and why B2B linear selling doesn’t work anymore.
Why The Linear Sales Process is Obsolete
Before the Internet era, B2B sales followed a linear, step-by-step sales cycle.
- Step 1: A sales rep would use cold outreach to find leads and introduce the person to your company and products.
- Step 2: Your sales rep will draft a proposal and pitch your services.
- Step 3: Objections would arise, and final quotes are submitted.
- Step 4: If all goes well, you close the sale and onboard a new customer.
As you can see, it's based on the assumption your customers know little about you and need education on how you can solve their problem.
Gartner research indicates that B2B buyers go through distinct steps to complete a purchase successfully. However, they execute and re-execute these steps in parallel, while sellers track deals using detached stages.Steve Rietberg, Senior Research Director at Gartner
This gap is further emphasized in the customer journey when you consider the number of entry points, exit points, different distribution channels, content pieces, etc.
This old-school B2B sales cycle creates a disconnect in a world where end-users are more educated and informed than ever before, effectively killing the linear process.
The Non-Sequential Sales Perspective
With access to the world's information only a Google search away, digital buyers can kick start the sales process without an introduction from a sales rep.
To counter this, you need non-sequential selling, which is based on how much the potential buyer/user already knows.
The B2B buyer’s journey defies the traditional sequential progression of sales stages. With easy access to a wealth of quality information, B2B buyers engage with sellers less frequently, and they often revisit buying tasks that sales reps traditionally executed chronologically.Steve Rietberg, Senior Research Director at Gartner
If you hold fast to linear selling, you can't:
- Predict a deal's probability of closing if you're only looking at your internal sales stages.
- Predict the needs of customers.
- Predict stalled deals and offer a helpful solution.
Non-sequential selling gives you a more reliable way to measure your progress and meet your prospects at the right touchpoint with the right message.
But your pipeline isn't the only thing that's changing. In B2B sales, non-linear selling is switching up the power dynamic in the buying process.
"You no longer need the buy-in from the budget holder," explains Ryan Nutley from Datadog. "With employees empowered to purchase tools that impact their day-to-day, your selling motion ends up being, how do I generate demand across the employee level but sell across the group level?"
How does this look in practice?
"The lead could have evaluated 300 tools before, and we'd have no idea. So we try to apply our sales process onto their purchasing process, without slowing them down or wasting our time."
How to Approach Non-Sequential Selling
Ready to jump on board? Here's how to adopt non-sequential selling in your business.
Meet the customer at the right place in the sales cycle
As I mentioned earlier, buyers can come in at any point in your sales cycle.
Some might bypass your sales team and go straight to a self-serve product or support, while others will qualify themselves before chatting to a rep.
Remember, most prospects come to you with knowledge of their problem and your solution. In some cases, they may know more than your reps.
So if someone is ready to buy, you don't need to set aside time for a sales pitch or demo call. Cut the linear selling fluff and make it easy for someone to do business with you.
Take the PLS approach and remove barriers
Product-led selling goes hand-in-hand with non-sequential selling.
Self-service at the helm empowers customers to convert themselves with little to no contact from the sales team.
You want to set your product up to make it easy for customers to do whatever they want. The more sticky your product, the better.Ryan Nutley, Director of Sales Engineering at Datadog.
To adopt a successful PLG approach, go through your sales process and remove as many barriers as possible.
Here are some questions to help you discover speed bumps in your sales process:
- Can you offer a free trial or freemium option?
- Is it easy for someone to set up and achieve an "aha" moment?
- Is a paywall going to stop a prospect from making progress?
- Is your free trial too short or too long?
- Are you gating features or content that would help a lead convert?
- Is it easy for someone to choose a plan, upgrade, and pay you?
- Do sales-assisted touches come later in your sales cycle?
Track customer verifiers
Given the complexity of today’s B2B buyer journeys, sales stage offers limited value as a measure of opportunity progress.Steve Rietberg, Senior Research Director at Gartner
So how can you adapt to a non-linear sales cycle? By tracking customer verifiers for each part of the buyer's process.
When you move away from a linear sales approach, your pipeline quality will increase, and you'll have a more precise method for scoring opportunities.
In a nutshell, you'll assess pipelines that consider the buyer's journey, not the seller's.
Potential buyers constantly evaluate products via social media, referrals, and digesting blog posts, case studies, and white papers.
Your job is to make sure your sales reps can meet buyers (wherever they are) in the sales cycle and guide them towards a final decision.
Non-sequential selling is a new skill set, and it will come with growing pains, but it's the way of the future for B2B sales.
To meet digital buyers halfway, you need flexibility in your approach, an awareness of what you need to do for the prospect, and an understanding of the next steps that will move the opportunity towards "closed.”