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    B-to-B Selling Tools for Targeting Corporate Committees

    Business-to-business sales over the Web are projected to outpace consumer spending many times over, and smart Web marketers are moving quickly to make B-to-B e-commerce easy. This bodes well for vendors, because large companies have established purchasing procedures for raw materials and supplies, and these procedures adapt well to an e-commerce environment.

    The Web can help with one of the most lucrative -- but challenging -- situations in selling to businesses: the committee decision. There are a number of Internet tools and techniques that sales teams can use to guide each member of the prospect's vendor evaluation committee toward making a favorable purchase decision.

    In another article I mentioned the path an individual prospect might follow before making a purchase decision. When you're dealing with a single decision maker, this information-gathering path is rather straightforward, and one-to-one Web marketing techniques such as personalization can tailor content to guide people to the decision point.

    Large sales to corporations are complicated by the large number of decision criteria, such as product features and support, delivery schedules, and financing. Responsibility for each of these tends to lie in different departments within a company, so vendor evaluation committees are frequently created with representatives from a number of these departments.

    This presents a much different opportunity for salespeople than making smaller sales of more commonplace products. Each department has its own objectives that must be met before it will approve a major purchase from a vendor. In large companies, members of the evaluation committee may work at different locations and not know each other well.

    Fortunately, there are several Web tools that can help a sales team target prospects and close large, complex sales.

    Prospecting for large sales opportunities is both an art and science, but sites such as Hoovers and Thomas Register make it easy to research unfamiliar companies.

    For a major account sale, it's important to keep everyone on the sales team updated on what each person has learned from the prospect. Software-based sales force automation (SFA) products, such as Coravue Sales Automation, use the Internet to synchronize information about a prospect across multiple computers. This makes it possible for a salesperson working with a plant manager in Dallas to track the progress of a fellow salesperson working with the controller at the prospect's headquarters.

    One of the keys to gaining committee approval for a major sale is to have each individual on the committee feel comfortable about buying from the vendor prior to final voting. However, sometimes a salesperson may not even know where to target a sales message because the committee has designated one individual to work with all vendors. In these cases it's sometimes possible to make contact with committee members by inviting them to participate in various information exchanges.

    For example, they can be invited to sit in on an online presentation about the product. Presentation tools such as WebEx require all persons to identify themselves, which means that at least one person viewing each computer can be identified.

    A similar technique can sometimes be used with a Web-based needs evaluation system. Invite all members of the committee to sign into a private area of your Web site and complete a short questionnaire targeted to their area of responsibility on the purchase being considered. Because major sales opportunities generally require a customized proposal, this should simply be a data-gathering tool that sends information to the sales team (but doesn't recommend specific products).

    The benefit to the prospect in using an online tool like this is that features can be identified that may not have occurred to the committee. And when new members of the evaluation committee use the Web system, the sales team can identify additional people who need to be contacted before the committee makes a final decision.

    The more people on the evaluation committee who participate, the more members of the sales team learn about their application needs and how members of the committee feel about the vendor's products. Unfortunately, not everyone on an evaluation committee will participate in online activities, but participation can help gather technical requirements quickly and thoroughly when the prospect desires quality service.

    There are a number of ways to use the Web to target sales messages to members of a vendor evaluation committee. By improving the interaction, it's frequently possible to improve the relationship between the sales team and the committee decision makers, and this can frequently lead to more sales to major accounts.

    Cliff Allen is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons, and has consulted with companies on strategic marketing for 20 years.

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