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B2B Selling In a Retail World

Tailoring Popular Selling Systems for the Retail Environment

Every few years a new sales methodology breaks through as the next big thing. While these breakthroughs are exciting for the sales-information industry and those sales professionals who successfully implement them, these innovations are dedicated to those professionals in the business to business (B2B) realm. Sales professionals in the retail sales world, however, look at these breakthroughs with a mix of longing and skepticism because of the many disconnects to their selling environment.

Retail sales professionals (RSPs) are skeptical of these methods because the situations and scenarios addressed in many of these methods are not experienced in the retail selling environment. For example, the makeup consultant selling the products after a consultation would be hard pressed to determine the “quantifiable and measurable” results required in the MEDDIC Sales Process . Alternatively, retail salespeople long for the opportunity to “prospect” in classical ways or to have the time needed to build the deep relationships described in many of these popular methods.

The B2B sales industry has any number of effective methodologies. There is no rule preventing retail salespeople from using these methods. In order to be effective these methods need to be filtered through three retail sales realities: blurred sales process advancement, limited prospect engagement and faster cycle times.

Blurred Lines

Every specialty sales methodology is built on the frame of the classic 5-step sales process. It begins with some form of rapport building and ends with asking for and/or processing the sale. The retail sales professional, on the other hand, is constantly testing the prospect’s readiness to move dynamically through this process. This is because the phases of the retail sales process can be navigated in order, with steps happening simultaneously or even non-sequentially.

Regardless of how the RSP navigates the phases of the sales, she faces a stark choice between advancing the sale or going without a commission check. Lacking the security of the B2B sales professional’s base salary, commission and bonus structures the RSP must focus on closing sales quickly and repeatedly. This focus can, unfortunately, devolve into the stereotypical aggressive sales behaviors so many consumers expect when they walk into retail environments.

Alternatively, that need to close sales early and often can evolve positively, helping the sales professional reach her best self. The most potent manifestation of which is when the RSP discovers her “Assertive” voice. Operating in the sweet spot on the “Passive-Aggressive” scale, this is where polite control allows her to drive the interaction at the most effective pace. When using this “Assertive” voice the RSP confidently moves through the sales process, comfortably stepping forward when possible and backward when necessary.

Sales Cycle Time

A common theme in each of the popular sales methodologies is that the sales cycle of complex B2B sales has many phases, requiring deliberate steps and constant focus. The time of to complete the entire selling cycle can easily be measured in months, with each phase taking days or weeks to successfully complete.

The overall speed of the retail sales cycle is related to the lines between the phases of the sales being blurred, as mentioned earlier, but it is an altogether separate issue. The compressed sales cycle time is one of the hallmarks of the retail sales world. It is not unusual to break a furniture selling cycle into three 1-hour visits over a 2 month period. The entire retail sales cycle can also break the sub 8-minute mark from “Hello” to “Thanks for your business” at a cell phone case kiosk during the holiday rush!

This speed demands that the sales professional has more situational awareness than his B2B counterpart. The RSP need to recognize those opportunities to blend, overlap or even skip sales phases in order to advance the sale. More important than recognizing the opportunity, he needs to have the confidence to actually move the sale along a non-linear path.

For example, when a customer is drawn into a showroom by an amazing display, it is the salesman’s responsibility to advance that sale, first with a reality check and then with either an upsell or a close. The situational awareness will determine when, which direction and how hard he will move the sale along the process.

Client Engagement

The first step along the path to a solid sale is a strong opening. In a perfect world, a new prospect with an obvious need is referred by a previously satisfied client. That accelerated relationship allows for a deeper level of professional and, in many cases, personal investigation and understanding. Without that referral introduction, the B2B sales professional relies on research and networking as the keys to successful prospect engagement.

Retail sales professionals, on the other hand, are limited in their prospecting efforts by legal, logistical and, as mentioned earlier, time constraints. They rely on marketing departments and ad buys to entice self-qualified consumers. These efforts build strong connections to the retail establishment or product and create an environment where a sales/client relationship is, at best, optional.

In an environment where time is limited the RSP needs to strike a balance between the need to move to decision points, decrease cycle times and build enough rapport to have the prospect commit to doing business. This balance varies from prospect to prospect and consistently locating it is the retail sales professional’s daily challenge.

It is imperative that sales professionals understand the concepts that separate the retail sales world from the B2B world. Without an appreciation of these crucial differences, it will be impossible to evaluate and benefit from the next advance in sales methodology. Whether using an abbreviated qualifying session to find a SPIN-like pain point or modifying the Challenger sale teaching focus the enterprising RSP will reap the rewards of adapting these B2B selling tools.

We can be sure that as this decade comes to a close that sales thought leaders will continue to develop new methodologies. Just as SNAP selling burst on the scene in 2012, we can rest assured that the next great tool for understanding client needs and explaining advantages and benefits is on an editor’s desk as you read this. Those who work in the retail sales world will be ready to evaluate each of those “breakout” innovations for speed, advancement and engagement.

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