I recently was sent the results of some new research done by The Rain Group on business-to-business sales. The study looked at more than 700 successful sales transactions. On average, the buyers were responsible for $3.1 billion in annual purchases. The results are fascinating, and I think they go beyond just pure sales. I believe they can suggest some nuances we should be mindful of as we craft marketing messages that will hopefully pave the way to a sales conversation.

Here’s an overview of what they found:

1. Winners sell very differently. In many ways, what sales winners do differently is both surprising and fascinating.

2. There’s a specific combination of behaviors that sales winners do and outcomes they achieve that the second-place finishers don’t.

3. Several key factors that set winners apart are rarely discussed in the world of selling.

4. Solution selling is definitely not dead, but fundamental solution sales concepts need reimagination and relabeling.

The study found that three levels of selling behaviors and outcomes set winners apart from second-place finishers. The levels are Connect, Convince and Collaborate. Let’s take a look at each.

Connect: Winners connect the dots between customer needs and their company’s products and services as solutions more often than the second-place finishers. Winners also connect with people. They’re perceived to listen and connect personally with buyers more often.

Connecting used to be at the core of winning sales. Now it’s table stakes. Sellers who stop at Level 1 do not find themselves in the winner’s circle nearly as often anymore. Though the popular thinking on the concept needs to change in fundamental ways, relationship and solution sales are far from dead.

Convince: Winners convince buyers that they can achieve maximum returns, that the risks are minimal, and that the seller is the best choice among all options.  How’s that for a daunting to-do list?

Forty years ago, marketers and sellers didn’t focus on results and impact. They were still busy talking about features and every once in a while, they might mention a benefit or two.

Fast-forward to today, and many marketing and sales messages promise results as key point of difference. Everyone promises results; yet buyers regularly report disappointment or even worse, just assume they’ll be disappointed so they don’t take the risk and buy in the first place.

Buyers and prospects simply don’t believe they will get what they expect or were promised by sellers. They’ve been burned in the past, so they’re gun shy of sellers and their claims.  Which is why the third level is so vital.

Collaborate: When standing back and looking at all of the data collected, the second most important factor that separates the winners from the second-place finishers was “collaborated with me.” The implications for selling are pretty compelling. Levels one and two, without collaboration, will fall short.

The essence of collaboration is working together to achieve a common goal. If the buyer begins to perceive the seller as an important member of the team, and sees moving the sale forward as a common goal, they’re much more likely to take the risk and make the purchase.       Research shows the top two things that successful salespeople do more often than the runners-up are (A) educated me with new ideas or perspectives and (B) collaborated with me.

How would you morph these insights into your marketing strategies and messaging?