This week we’ve put Stephen O’Neill, Managing Partner and Sales Transformation expert, in the spotlight. With 20+ years of experience in b2b sales across a whole range of industries, we wanted to pick his brains about current impacts on b2b sales and hear his view on rapid sales transformation for 2021 and beyond.
Q: Hi Stephen! Tell us more about your background? Take us right back to the beginning of your career.
Stephen: My background has been many different things! I used to be a trainee accountant, then spent 16 years in financial services. It was there that I moved into strategy and transformation during the merger of two building societies. I was part of the transformation team and eventually ended up managing the central operations element for mortgages and insurance.
As always, change is a continuous process, so borne out of that experience I refocused and moved into setting up and running an in-house consultancy. That is where I really got under the bonnet of the business – it was this that led me to the world of b2b. I took the leadership of the part of the business that dealt with large organisations employee schemes. This was an end-to end role with over £1bn of assets and included product, marketing, sales, and operations – and of course the profit and loss (P&L)!. That was really when I got into building b2b relationships and leveraging business through that from share plans and saving schemes to mortgages and securitising assets for UK and international businesses.
Q: That’s a very varied career! Were you based across the UK?
Stephen: In that role yes, but when I moved to a consultancy and outsourcer (Merchants, now Dimension Data) and then on to BT, I had global roles using consultancy and professional services as a relationship builder and leverage for large scale business. At BT, after developing the Customer Management practice, I ran professional services for BT Global in the UK. I had over 100 consultants and specialists focused on leveraging relationships, either by creating new revenue streams from existing business or creating new business. The team’s objectives including earning and creating revenue by delivering value. Often the deal sizes were over 25 times the fee earning revenues, often in the £25-50m range. It was a high energy environment of people at the forefront of new and exciting developments as well as making a real difference for customers.
The teams were consistent in their approach. Success came from focusing solely on measurable client outcomes. The best consultants remained independent thinkers, agnostic to tools and technology and knowledgeable about the range of options that BT could provide. That openness of approach enabled meaningful dialogues to be where views were respected. Ultimately, this lead to recommendations that all agreed were the right thing to achieve the right outcome.
Q: Over the years, what challenges have you seen for b2b and f2f sales?
Stephen: The first thing is that we use is the word “b2b”, as if it’s a homogeneous marketplace where everybody is similar. Nothing could be farther from the truth – It’s not singular, it’s multi-dimensional – a B that sells is also a B that buys. In fact it’s wider ranging and more diverse than B2C! Many approaches to sales in ‘b2b’ seem to be very standardised and formulaic.
Secondly, it’s common for a business to build sales process around a methodology (for example Challenger, Solution, Spin, Disruptive, Strategic, and Consultative selling techniques) but these go in and out of fashion, and often are easy to spot by a seasoned client. It might even be the methodology they use themselves! One of the keys to success that I’ve seen is where methodologies are wrapped around an organisations own way of doing things. Taking the best of both to create a competitive advantage in the marketplace, and deliver great outcomes for customers. Taking the ‘why us’ and ‘what’s our purpose and values” and using it with elements of a range of approaches to craft a “sales blueprint and method’ that is theirs. This is then part of their DNA: not an overlay methodology giving an added level of resilience and sustainability.
It improves the sales narrative and can really help build valuable client relationships. In my experience fortune favours the bold.
Q: We all know that COVID-19 has impacted the way that the world is currently operating! Has there been a digital uptake or people changing how they interact with other businesses?
Stephen: Yes, of course. There are companies at both ends of a spectrum. Some organisations are reacting very innovatively and capably to this new challenge. They’re agilely moving into new business areas, new sales capabilities, and new distribution methods. Survival is a keen driver for collaboration! It’s been a great motivator to change the fact they haven’t got a good ecommerce platform.
At the other end of the spectrum, are those who are in survival mode. They are trying to ride it out in some way – attempting to operate in the old way as best they can within the constraints that COVID-19 brings. So for example, in terms of sales and account management, they will talk to people on the phone rather than get in their car and drive around to them. But nothing else has changed within the business. It’s a real sticking plaster of an approach and likely to lead to longer term pain as competitors take up the opportunity to look at their complete operating model and re-imagine their businesses in a changed world!
Summary of Key Points
- The best consultants are independent thinkers who are knowledgeable about the range of options that they could provide to clients
- Sales processes and methodologies change rapidly so sales practices should be wrapped around an organisations own way of doing things
- COVID-19 has seen companies thrive or survive in terms of how they adapt to the “new normal” of b2b sales
Want to know more about Stephen and his expertise in b2b sales transformation? Stay tuned for our next Q and A with him!