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Is Friction an Ally or an Enemy in B2B Sales?

Is Friction an Ally or an Enemy in B2B Sales?
For prospective customers, sales friction can propel a B2B sale towards a close or stop the buying journey before it can build any momentum. For sales reps, then, it’s a friend AND an enemy. Here’s how to use both the push and pull of friction to supercharge your sales process.

What’s one of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C sales? In a word: friction.

Reducing friction is a huge goal in sales, particularly B2C. Less friction in the sales process means speedier sales and fewer barriers to buying. It means smoothing over the spots where prospects might leave the sales funnel because they’re encountering too much force.

Think about the last time you bought something through an online retailer. You had all the options and pricing in front of you. You can order what you want with one click and it arrives on your doorstep in a few hours or days.

This kind of B2C experience provides few experiences of sales friction to act as gatekeepers and keep you from buying. No unnecessary questions to answer or boxes to check or salespeople to talk to. Just a quick and painless purchase.

Contrast this with the friction found in traditional B2B sales. There are more hoops to jump through. Multiple salespeople to talk to. Forms to fill out. Complex B2B sales get held up by rounds of approvals and sign-offs from a range of different decision-makers. It’s gatekeeper-palooza.

Gatekeeper-palooza: not to be confused with Gates-palooza.

Too much friction in the buyer’s journey slows and stops the sale. But it can also cause problems when there’s not enough of it to propel the sale forward. It can be a friend or an enemy, depending on how and where it occurs.

Friction in sales is more of an art than a science. How much friction will smooth out the sales process and how much will stop sales in their tracks? Here’s a look at how it functions as a frenemy of sales success and how you can find a balance in your B2B sales process.

The art and science of friction in B2B selling

What is friction? Scientifically speaking, friction is resistance between two objects as they move over one another.

Friction is what stops things from moving, like when you apply the brakes on a car, or lets things glide, like when you’re ice skating. It can also create heat.

Friction in sales can be defined as “psychological resistance to a given element of the sales process”. This causes aggravation, fatigue, or confusion for the prospect. None of these things are conducive to closing deals, which is why friction-free is such a buzzword in sales.

Doesn’t a zero-friction sales process sound like paradise? Here’s the thing though: friction itself isn’t the bad guy here. It’s more about how and where it’s applied.

The same is true in science. When you’re trying to start a campfire or win a figure-skating gold medal, friction can be your friend.

While B2C sales move toward a frictionless future, B2B sales teams should slow their roll. In B2B sales, friction can prevent a sale from closing but it can also prompt and propel the buying journey.

How can you tell the difference? By targeting each friction point and assessing whether it’s a benefit or a hindrance.

How to calibrate friction in your sales process

Friction can be found in almost every part of the sales process. Knowing where to cut down on friction and where it’s more beneficial to keep it can be tricky.

Take a look at your sales velocity and productivity metrics to identify unique spots in your sales process where the deal slows down or stops due to friction.

A mid-sale slowdown might indicate a friction issue with your salespeople’s messaging. Constantly extending close dates could mean that the negotiation process isn’t as smooth as it could be.

In the meantime, here are some common friction-heavy sales activities that could benefit from a friction-free approach, plus some places where a little bit of friction works in your sales team’s favour.

Sometimes, more friction would be a good thing.

Where to reduce negative friction

Forms, signatures, and payment

B2C sales is great at collecting information, sign-offs, and money efficiently. In B2B, however, these are areas that can still be full of friction.

Make things easier for your prospective customers by offering fluff-free (no unnecessary questions or fields) or auto-populating forms.

Or, get rid of clunky forms altogether. Use information-gathering programs, like Drift Intel, to automatically generate the basic demographic information about a company as they come in as leads, including HQ location, employee count, and industry. That way less time is spent on those smaller, but important, details.

When your sales team needs contracts and proposals signed, the back and forth friction between the salesperson and the prospective new client can slow down the sale. Using online proposal software that includes digital, legally-binding signatures and live chat can speed up the process.

The B2B payment process can also be full of frustrating friction. Many B2B companies think their payment process is easy and it is—for them, not their customers.

Reduce friction by thinking about payment gathering and processing as another valuable interaction you can have with your customers, not drudgery or a tacked-on afterthought.

Use payment systems that are focused on simplifying the process for clients, not just your accounting team. Offer discounts for customers who pay as a lump-sum or upfront.

A straightforward payment process can also help reduce opportunities for accounts to become overdue. Sales reps would rather be selling than chasing delinquent accounts. A customer-centric approach can help your sales team avoid introducing more friction into the customer relationship by making potentially relationship-damaging collections calls.

Amongst decision-makers with different, and sometimes competing, priorities

It used to be that B2B sales were fairly uncomplicated and more one-on-one. A person from the buying company would contact a salesperson at the selling company. They would develop a relationship between the two of them and then close the deal.

Today’s B2B sales are more complex and involve more decision-makers. According to research and advisory firm Gartner, an average B2B buying group has 6.8 members from different departments, teams, tiers, and locations within the buying company.

More diverse decision-makers usually mean more objections and more friction. You can’t win over one and be done. Each decision-maker might have a different perspective on what the pain points actually are and what the best solution is.

Though it might not be possible to remove all the decision-makers from the sale, your sales reps can reduce the amount of friction they create.

  • Make sure your sales reps have a full picture of who will be involved from the beginning so there are no surprises. This helps the rep to simplify the process by knowing where and how to target their pitch. For example, if the buying group includes time-strapped managers and budget-conscious execs, the sales rep could save time and energy by not focusing on features that only the end user would care deeply about.
  • What will the sales process look like? What are the timelines? Try to identify early on the key challenges that the sale might encounter. This will help your salespeople to have fixes ready to roll or deployed ahead of any potential roadblocks.
  • Gartner’s Brent Adamson also advises sales reps to keep the focus on the fact that while the prospect’s decision-making process might be challenging, it’s easy to buy your product. Ask questions like “How can I help your buying group come to a consensus?” instead of “Why might you decide against buying this product?”

During sales hand-offs

Any point where the responsibility for looking after a customer switches between different employees at your company has the potential to be full of deal-killing friction.

Whether it’s moving the prospect from a BDR to an AE or moving a newly-signed client to the success team, the customer experience lives or dies with making these transitions flawless.

Your team can reduce friction in these hand-offs by:

Managing customer information properly.

Use clear, mandatory systems to track both customer-facing information and internal information about the customer and their sales pipeline stages. For your prospects, having to re-explain things that they have already outlined, either earlier or to another member of your team, is a major pain. For your sales team, missing information wastes their time and jeopardizes deals. Make sure your team is practicing good CRM habits and encourage robust documentation to help keep redundancy to a minimum.

Appropriately timing the introduction of customer success reps into the sales process.

Including the CSR from the beginning of the sale might cause confusion with the prospect over who is in charge of the sale and where to direct questions or concerns. However, unceremoniously dropping the new client into the CSR’s lap without any background or context won’t work well either. Looping the CSR in via a call or email as the sale closes means the CSR will still have the information they need without creating uncertainty.

Including an easy way for your new client to set up their first meeting with their customer success rep or account manager.

An easy way to do this is to insert a calendar link to using an online scheduling tool like Calendly. Add in some helpful resources that the client can access before their onboarding for extra friction reduction. The sales rep should make it clear that the client is being transitioned to after-sale care and that customer service and/or success is now their first point of contact for any questions or concerns.

Where to maintain positive friction

Building trust

“You’ll love our world-renowned, cutting-edge, reasonably-priced product, backed up by customer success managers who really care about providing you with a unique, custom-built solution.”

Now, this sales pitch might be accurate to a certain extent. But it’s likely to leave prospects wondering what to believe. Where’s the catch? How can I trust that what the salesperson is telling me is true?

Humans are a naturally skeptical bunch and customers introduce this kind of sales friction as they try to tell the worthwhile deal from the worthless. It’s the friction caused by them doing their due diligence, but your salespeople’s first instinct might be to try to eliminate it.

If your sales reps dismiss or gloss over prospects’ questions and concerns, they’ll come off as untrustworthy. Instead of calming the prospect and smoothing the sales process, prospects will become frustrated as they try to do their due diligence. They’ll go find another salesperson at a different company who will take them, and their apprehensions, more seriously.

How can your sales reps stop trying to get rid of this useful friction and get prospects to trust and stay with them?

  • Ask probing questions, not just easy, surface-level ones. For example, most sales reps will ask the prospect about what they find frustrating about their current process. Say the answer is too much time spent on manual tasks that could be automated. The sales rep could take that at face value. Or, they could probe deeper, ask the prospect to elaborate, and find out that the prospect’s team tends to be reluctant to adopt new tech. If your sales rep is selling cutting-edge software, that’s definitely something they need to be aware of.
  • Focus on the specific value your product can provide to them. With the example above, the sales rep would know to highlight your company’s stellar customer success team and comprehensive onboarding program.
  • Be truthful, though it might slow (or even stop) the sales process. For example, sales reps shouldn’t be afraid to say that they don’t know an answer but they will find out.

Setting up customer expectations

We’ve all experienced that after-sale letdown: the software that the sales rep promised would sync with our existing system doesn’t or the piece of equipment that was touted to be easy to learn how to use is anything but.

What happened? In many cases, a salesperson looking to ease a sale toward closing said yes too quickly or too often. Instead of dealing with limitations and other issues, they glossed over these facts that could have otherwise introduced healthy friction into the sale.

Reducing friction in sales doesn’t mean losing touch with reality. It’s appropriate that, when encountering questions that could slow a sale, a little friction is required to make sure that the customer is still a good fit.

In the example above, if the customer knew the realities of the learning curve, they could have allowed for extra time or budgeting for more onboarding assistance.

It’s likely the salesperson became a yes-man—“Yes, it’s just that easy!” or “Yes, we can have you up and running in 10 days!” When ‘yes’ isn’t the full truth, there’s no way that the unreasonable customer expectations it creates will align with actual customer experiences.

It’s the old saying: under-promise and over-deliver. A poor sales experience filled with lies and half-baked promises breeds unhappy customers who will leave at first opportunity.

Exploring pain points

Emotions aren’t always talked about in B2B sales, but they’re there.

B2B buyers are sometimes talked about as if they are some sort of emotionless purchasing droid. Even if you asked the buyers themselves what they based their decisions on, they’d say logic. But people don’t become less human when they’re purchasing a product or service for a business instead of for personal or home use.

Sure, a B2B purchase might be more complex, but at its core, there are emotions there. They’re just called pain points and they’re the friction that drives the emotional and logical parts of the decision-making process.

B2C brands are great at using emotion in their advertising as a quick friction-y shortcut to a sale. Drinking Coca-Cola will make you happier. You’ll be cool if you buy an Apple product. Wearing Nike means you’re a doer. These examples are famous not only because they have huge multinational companies behind them, but also because emotional friction works to drive sales.

Your B2B sales team needs to harness emotional friction throughout the sales process. They need to make sure the prospect is feeling all the negative emotions associated with their pain points to move them toward a decision.

Author Geoffrey James attributes all B2B sales to six core emotions:

  1. Greed
  2. Fear
  3. Altruism
  4. Envy
  5. Pride
  6. Shame

A sale becomes inevitable when a salesperson invokes the right mix of these emotions in the prospect. Sales reps still need the context of the pain points to know which emotions will work for a particular prospect.

A prospect from a more established company might be anxious about upstart competitors gaining market share. In that case, if your product or service could help the prospect stay ahead of the competition, building on this fear could be the key to making the sale.

Conclusion

While B2C sales view friction as their mortal enemy, B2B sales teams should see friction as more like a frenemy.

Yes, there are times when friction is working against you to kill a sale and you should look to eliminate it, but there are other times where friction could be your BFF in closing your next big deal.

The secret to B2B sales friction success is knowing the difference.

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