Whether you are an Apple devotee or a PC user, there is one thing you can’t deny; Apple has come out with products that changed and revolutionized the world.
From the iPod to the iPad or the iPhone, Apple emerged as one of the world’s most powerful and valuable companies not only because of their design and engineering but also because of the way their sales and sales operation are conducted. They are innovative and impactful.
And they really knew how to sell.
So what can B2B sales learn from a company that is mainly B2C? Apparently quite a lot, when you are talking about a company that reaches almost 1 billion customers. Steve Jobs started Apple, run it, and made it into a brand. But his antics were unbearable to the people around him, and his vision impossible to the ones above him. So the board of directors fired him.
Only to call him back when things started falling apart. How do you take a company that was falling apart and make it grow to this kind of behemoth? Steve Jobs, on top of being a visionary, was also a very good salesman that understood the audience he was talking to.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Winston Crawford spent 5 years in the sales department of Apple, before segueing into owning his own company. He wrote his impressions in an article about B2B sales in “Entrepreneur” magazine.
“No matter your vertical, the refined processes and beautiful products of a B2C company is what you are striving for. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not computers or devices you are selling to — it’s people.” And the most successful B2B companies will be those that learn a bit from their B2C colleagues.
Although there are many aspects to a successful B2B sales operation, here are some principles that made Apple what it is. All of them apply to B2B sales as well.
Focus on the Important Things
If you read Walter Isaacson’s book “Steve Jobs” you know how much effort went into perfecting every design aspect. How the beveled corners came into being. How Steve Jobs did not want external accessories like pens on Apple’s products, how the colors and the glass were chosen, and so on. Great attention to details and a design vision produced something sleek and simple to operate.
Apple single-mindedly focused on the product; how to prioritize it, what it does best, how to sell it, and became the leader of the market.
Not everyone is Steve Jobs. He wanted perfection and he got it by sometimes torturing others. But the lesson to learn from that aspect of Apple product is this: It’s better to do a few things well than many things mediocrely. Especially at the beginning when resources are thin. It’s easy to get distracted with ancillary products. But if the team stays focused on a single goal, you can distinguish yourself from the competition.
Customer Experience is The Key
In Apple’s media events, Steve Jobs established an approach to unveiling the new gizmo. If you paid attention to his presentations, you must have noticed that he didn’t talk much about the technical aspects of the gadget. He concentrated on explaining what the new device can do and how it will make our lives easier, better and more fun.
He also didn’t talk much about the price or where you can buy the gadget. Creating mystery around the product was part of that strategy. Leaking few tidbits before the device is announced, claiming the highest security and so on. Some of the tricks they used felt like a plant – a junior worker happens to forget the newest, not yet announced, iPhone model in a bar and someone finds it and goes online. Please.
Apple was not only selling a new gadget; it was offering a new way of life. The presentations were orchestrated and rehearsed for maximum effect. The result? Steve Jobs pitch was perfect.
Apple’s success lies in its ability to grow revenue from existing customers. If a customer purchased an iPhone and loved it very much, he’ll purchase an iPad as well. This kind of loyalty emerges when the customer experience is perfect and exceeds user’s expectations.
It worked for Apple, and how can B2B sales learn from it?
- Build a sales teams that are enjoyable to work with
- Give customers a reason to love the B2B sales team
- Develop products that are easy to use
- Deliver value
- Craft marketing campaigns that resonates
“When you make your customer experience king, you create a happy, loyal user who is more likely to consider expanding their purchase.” Winston Crawford says.
Excellence in Execution
It was easier in those days when the company came with innovative products. For a while, there was no competition. Part of the culture that Steve Jobs established at Apple was that the product has to be tried again and again to ensure it has no bugs. In other words – quality.
In Today’s world, many companies have cell phones and tablets for prices lower than Apple’s. Why would someone buy the more expensive Apple products?
Because they work. Because in the heydays of viruses and Trojan horses, Apple products were virus free. Or maybe it’s because their encryption system is so good that it takes a brain-trust of computer engineers to come up with a way to disable the self-destruct command.
Apple strives to create products that are excellent inside and out. It doesn’t cut corners. It produces excellent products. And people are willing to pay more for the quality and peace of mind knowing their new gadget will work flawlessly.
If you are still worried about malfunction, brick and mortar Apple store (Glass and metal in their case) have you covered. The “Genius Bar” in every store makes customers more assured there is an immediate address for their problems.
All this is just as relevant to B2B companies. Everything a company puts online and advertises should have been checked and re-checked to make sure that everything is on brand and on message and it is flawless.
The transfer from marketing to sales has to be seamless. Anything short of this undermines credibility and trust. “The most successful companies do not cut corners.”
Keep it Simple
Steve Jobs disliked buttons. Period. He commended his engineers and designers to come up with an iPod without them. They did.
Make it simple, clean, and easy to understand. The product, the presentation, and the site. If you look at Apple’s B2B page you will see an example of clean, simple and easy to understand. Their television commercials are also clean, simple, one product and one person, shown through the lens of modern photography.
If it’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing It Well
And if it’s worth doing it well, it’s worth doing it on a massive scale.
Apple’s products are designed to appeal to as many users as possible. Making digital technology accessible to everyone. Their iPad, for example, works so intuitively that a 4-year-old can operate it without any difficulties.
Every product should be reviewed for scalability unless you plan on selling to an exclusive market. And the products you sell have to be built for high adoption. Quality and precision are important, but so is widespread appeal and growth. Your sales and product strategies also need to scale up. The challenge here is, of course, how to balance scale with quality and precision.
Data-Driven Sales Team
Apple’s products do the talking, by being what they are. The lesson for a B2B company here is obvious: A great product is the best sale strategy.
“B2B and B2C customers alike do far more research on their own and are not interested in being sold to. Instead, they prefer to gather information and make decisions independently based on what they’ve learned.” He writes.
Are the company’s priorities correct? He Asks. Do they allocate money to courting customers instead of diverting it to product development and a data-driven approach to sales?
“The emphasis on data has to be woven throughout the sales team’s culture.” Starting with the hiring process, ensuring that the new hire fits the culture of the team. Providing extensive training, and having the capability to see how exactly each sales team is doing are a must in today’s world.
Data continues to infiltrate into every facet of the complex B2B sales process and plays an important role in marketing and sales. From lead generation to internal data from CRM system. From self-provided data to self-developed data that uses the self-obtained information to develop cross-division relationships within the company.
Data enables marketing teams make better decisions and develop relationships with other groups; from sales to IT and business intelligence.
“The fact is that there are no “secrets” to success in business or in sales.” Winston Crawford concludes. “At Apple, I experienced first-hand the way the lessons outlined above contributed to building a business that delights people around the world. Those same lessons are equally as applicable to tiny B2B startups as they are to massive consumer-facing corporations. Good business is ultimately good business.”