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Beware of Selling to Companies vs. People – and Why You Need to Know the Difference

Beware of Selling to Companies vs. People – and Why You Need to Know the Difference - Janice Mars, SalesLatitude

Beware of Selling to Companies vs. People – and Why You Need to Know the Difference - Janice Mars, SalesLatitudeWho are you selling to? Are you selling to companies or to the people in those companies? I know most of you are reading this question and asking, “Is she for real?” Of course, we all sell to people but, in my experience, I don’t see that as much as I would like to. Let’s take a look at each scenario.

Selling to Companies

Unfortunately, I see sales people selling to companies way too many times. How do I know they are selling to a company and not taking individual people into account? It’s easy. When I ask questions such as who owns a particular business outcome, no one knows or they guess. When I ask who will be affected by something not working – a feature, function, process, etc. – they say “everyone,” or again, they just guess. 

For whatever reason, in the discovery process, many sales people do not believe it is important to understand who really cares about the impact of the solution they are selling. And sometimes, they say that multiple people in different levels of the organization all are impacted equally.

I find it difficult to believe that if a feature, function or process is missing or not working, that a project manager, a mid-level executive and a high-level executive are affected equally. It’s virtually impossible, but if the sales person’s level of discovery yielded information that was too generic, then I guess it could be true. But, then again, how can you truly sell to people if you don’t understand how your solution will specifically impact specific individuals, at different levels of the organization, when their current features, functions and processes are broken or missing?

Selling to People

In my past life, I sold for a corporation who provided products and services to the financial marketplace. We did not always have the top-of-the-line product. It was not always pretty and it was definitely not as functionally rich as competitor products. Typically, our product was first to market but then lost steam somewhere along the way. But that was what we had to sell and still bring in very large revenue quotas.

Some of our sales reps used the lack of features and functions as an excuse as to why they could not sell, while the rest of us changed the way we sold in order to continue to be successful. And how did we do this? All we did was care about the individuals we sold to. We changed how we asked questions in discovery so we would always try to understand specifics, such as:

  • What specifically were they trying to achieve in what timeframe?
  • Why was this important to their executive management?
  • How did it link to corporate initiatives and goals?
  • Who truly cared? (The higher up in the organization we could find that out – and validate, the better.)
  • Was it a priority now or in the future?
  • What were the other priorities, and could we bucket them in specific timeframes (over 1-3 years) in which they want to accomplish these key initiatives?
  • What functionality, features and processes were missing or broken?
  • Why did different individuals care? (Again, the higher up in the organization we could identify the pain or impact, the better.)
  • What were “must have” features, functions, processes, etc.? (This was key since many of our competitors had more. We worked diligently to find our sweet spot.)
  • How did we fair against the competition? (What the prospect told us, not the sales person, provided much-needed details.)
  • What about risk of implementation and attaining business outcomes on a timely basis? How could we address these?

There were many other questions, but the bottom line was this: We were selling to people who needed the professional and/or personal win.

It’s All in the Questions

Asking the right questions, knowing we were selling to individual people, led our team to many successes. The prospects and customers truly liked this approach since it showed we wanted a win/win and truly cared about their success. Each individual felt that we were addressing their individual concerns all with an eye towards helping them attain their specific business outcome on their timeline.

So, think about it. Are you selling to companies or to the individuals in these companies? Be honest and adjust your discovery questions accordingly and remember – we build relationships with people, not companies. It’s people who approve budgets, not companies. But, you knew that already!


Janice Mars, Principal and Founder of SalesLatitude, is a sales performance improvement consultant and change agent focused on growing top performers to impact bottom line growth. With more than 30 years of experience as a senior business and sales executive, she helps companies build successful sales teams by maximizing their time and resources, selling from the buyer’s point of view, and strengthening the effectiveness of leadership. View my LinkedIn profile | Twitter


Janice Mars4 years ago

July 26 2018

Totally agree if the Deal helps a customer get to their desired business outcome(s). That creates a win win situation which should yield credibility and trust helping doors to stay open since you provide a vehicle for success. Thank you for weighing in.


E Warr4 years ago

July 04 2018

Doing what is right for the customer will cause them to look back at the deal for a long time, and still think of it as a Deal; and that’s when they remember you, a year, two years, later, even. Then when they see you, thebdoor is wide open.


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