Just when you think the B2B sales metaphor of dating the customer is played out, you see another LinkedIn thread calling out a sales rep for making the first move too soon.

Hopefully, the recent ugly trend of publicly naming and shaming sales reps in an online forum will be short-lived. On the other hand, comparing the sales process with dating the customer? Well, it’s a bit longer in the tooth, but it still works.

Why? Because the concept is completely relatable to nearly everyone.

That is, everyone in a culture that adopts the courtship style of dating—even one as high-speed as the one many of us live in now.

Modern, savvy B2B sales pros are already well-versed in the notion of taking a customer relationship one step at a time instead of pushing for a deal too soon. If you’re one of these, then congratulations. Consider yourself swiped right.

But not everyone grasps the concept

Old-school, high-pressure companies just haven’t gotten the message yet. They want their reps to sell, sell, sell.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, new, eager, inexperienced reps enter the workforce all the time and haven’t had time to mature their processes.

And there, right in the middle, are stuck-in-their-ways professional salespeople who don’t trust an approach that requires them to change their ways. After all, for some of them, the old way pays their mortgage, so they settle for the safe, sure thing.

Here’s the thing: we’re not saying the old way doesn’t work.

We know that sales reps can keep going back to the well of customers they know. They can upgrade, upsell, cross-sell, or deal-make without changing one iota of their approach.

What we’re saying is that the old way is unreliable if you want to expand your field of play to prospects you haven’t even met yet. And that is the place where business growth lives.

Just as unreliable as it would be in a dating situation if, after you’d hung with the same crowd for years, you wanted to meet new people. You couldn’t keep doing the same things. You’d have to change it up.

And we’re not here to keep everything the same. We’re here to help B2B businesses grow.

So we’re reviving a talk we started giving at sales kickoffs in 2012, putting a fresh coat of makeup on it, and giving the dating the customer metaphor a boost to the top of the deck.

Selling is like dating the customer

We liken the sales process to dating, and, by extension, the marketing process to a dating service.

Only in this case, the people who we want to set up on these dates are prospects. And we want them to engage in a relationship with all of you—our sales reps.

Because just as there are quite a few steps in the courting process from the time you meet someone to the time you propose marriage—and yes, it often takes a lot of alcohol—the same is true from when you first meet a prospect until you can make the purchase transaction with them.

First introductions

When you see an attractive potential mate, you don’t meet “eyes across a crowded room” and suddenly start talking about your medical history or naming the children you’ll have together.

Do you?

Well you can, but these days, that would shut down the conversation before it starts.

You first find out certain details the first time you’re introduced. You tiptoe around hobbies, interests, living and work situations to gauge the level of interest.

Then on the first date you find out a little more. You give certain levels of information about yourself that correspond with the details she’s revealing to you.

But you don’t scare the date away by providing an overly free-flowing amount of familiar conversation.

Then at the second date you start to get a feeling about how much you have in common. You can dig deeper.

Know when it’s a match

By the third date, you’re feeling pretty comfortable.

You do an activity or attend an event together, discover whether you both like it or if you’re both good at it, and find out if one of you has much more skill than you thought—or knows much less but is interested in learning.

Week by week (more or less), you progress the relationship forward.

Until finally, dun dun dun… you’ve impressed the best friend, who is (as we all know) the primary influencer.

Nicely done.

But despite winning over your date and her entire circle of friends, it’s still too early for the celebratory air-punch.

Making the sale

Not until you’ve gotten the approval of the purchasers.

Her parents.

And then, and only then, is when you close the deal, and make the proposal.

If you had started talking about marriage right at the beginning, you would have scared her away.

Customers want relationships

All right, the metaphor was a stretch. But you can see how this scenario matches up perfectly with the customer decision process, and how the same is true with the customer process as with the dating process.

It’s no coincidence! People—any people—want information when they’re ready for it.

And because in most business-to-business purchases, customers don’t come find you until they’re already halfway through the purchasing process.

Then it makes sense that this is where we help, with product marketing, messaging and positioning, and sales enablement.

We want our ideal buyers already favoring you by the time you’ve been introduced.

Customers need your knowledge

And we want you already knowing a bit about them.

They won’t feel like they have to do a ton of work to get you familiar with them.

And they’ll be relieved and confident that you know details about them and their business and their needs already.

That means they’ll already have a built-in preference for you—because all the knowledge you have is right in line with their favorite subject.

Themselves.

Be honest: when does anyone who ever had a date gush that his or her companion was the best conversationalist?

When the companion mostly listened—and made the conversation mostly about the other person.

Customers need you

And on this topic, you guys are the most important part of the process.

No, I’m not just saying that. But don’t take it from me: you probably just didn’t know that there’s actual data to prove it.

CEB conducted an independent survey of 5000 B2B customers to determine: what are the Drivers of Customer Loyalty?

What will make a prospective buyer engage and stay in a relationship with us?

Is it our features, our brand, or our price?

It’s none of these.

It’s their experience with you.

Contribution to customer loyalty – CEB

That’s right. Customers’ loyalty is overwhelmingly dependent upon the people who are selling to them.

How much you’ve paid attention to the customer, how you helped the customer get smarter about solving their problems, and how you educate the customers about new issues that affect them.

This means, it’s the customers’ experience with the people in this room that makes them loyal—or not.

You need a dating service

So between the first 50%—the product, brand, features, services, and capabilities of our solutions that we tend to correlate with 100% of the benefit to the user—and the second 50%, in which you (our sales reps) tune into and educate and speak the customer’s language—those, combined, generate the continuous provider of customer loyalty.

The first half is what comes in the box. Prospects find all that out through brochures, data sheets, and demos.

The second half? That’s what you provide.

And it’s what product marketing, messaging and positioning, and sales enablement can equip you with.

Not product documentation or data sheets, not product specs, which as you can see add just the minimal value to the customer.

But high-value, preference-building (and relationship-building) tools and materials that don’t just come in the box.

Time to start dating the customer.

More dates, new business

Listen… you and I, we can’t do much about that initial 50%. If prospects think they have all the information they need before they meet you, they’ll make their selection and you may never even have been involved.

We can use the second half to generate more love from customers.

Not the current, familiar customers you already see all the time!

With product marketing and sales enablement working to provide the right materials at the right time during the purchasing journey, you’ll get plenty of love, loyalty and business from fresh, new customers.

As well as all the hottest new dates—and the most enticing marriage proposals—you can handle.