Make Your Customer’s Buying Process Your Sales Process

All of us know, most of the sales process is gone. Starting in the mid 90’s with the initiation of the internet, customers began investigate solutions to their problems themselves. Without you.

And it escalated. Their ability to get informed or educated on the huge variety of goods and services available solving their problems increased exponentially. But we, the salespeople, didn’t really catch up their pace.

We act as it’s still 1995. We still construct sales processes with stages based upon KPI’s designed decades ago; number of calls, number of meetings, number of quotes ans so on.

We still believe that more of the same ancient methods will lead to achievement of our targets. And when we disappoint our management not achieving them, we just raise the bar once more, trying to call more calls, book more meetings until our customers scream: we don’t want you here!

Leaving us in sales with missed quotas once more.

So, why don’t we just dismiss our sales process, if it’s not working? I believe it’s because we’ve set a reporting structure based on the industrial age requirements, when there were – always – new customers to sell to. Today, it’s the opposite: Global competition, cloud services, block chain, apps, digitalization etc, have set a completely new agenda. In a post-industrial society, the customer is king, having all aces on hand and is able to chose among suppliers on a global market.

Research tell us customers are doing 70% of their buying process before they need contact with a salesperson. And when they finally get in touch, they are educated enough to specify exactly what they want and to what price. You’ll be lucky if their specification can be matched to your products or services, or if you’re on their short list at all.

The trick is – as always – to get in early in the process to impact your customer’s specification. But if they don’t want you there, how to do that?

During most of my career in sales, I’ve done in a certain manner, making myself coming in really early in my prospects’ buying process, and by that be in charge specifying my prospects’ specifications, making the price don’t really matter.

The secret is as simple as this statement:

You can’t sell anything, but you can help your prospect buy.

Your starting point should be to forget all activities you used to do in your sales process. Instead, establish a new process based on customer buying stages, such as information search, internal need benchmarking, problem resolving go/no-go, evaluate available solutions  and so on.

I bet your current sales process hasn’t any of those stages?

But even if you are unfamiliar with your customer’s buying stage name standard, you may act as it was your own sales process. Try to figure out how you could serve a typical prospect along their buying journey, making their buying process your sales process. See the picture below.

To attract prospects of different kinds, without knowing who they are (remember; they do not what to contact you or to be contacted by you), you may create customer personas per buying stage, identifying what they need to learn or what value they are going for, for every single stage.

You may define as many stages as you need to, depending on your effort and available customer data, but my experience tells me you need to have at least three stages; Small Value, Value and Great Value.

Small Value (first stage) may be in-depth articles about solving typical problems in your customer’s industry, not yours! You must not tell anything about your products and services, try to be as educational as possible. BTW, your prospect is fully aware of the fact you’re offering solutions, that’s why it’s completely redundant to mention it. And it will be counter-productive since they really don’t love marketing messages in early (or all?) stages.

An example of a value in the second stage (Value) may be a downloadable ROI calculation spreadsheet, showing for example types of cost reductions, readymade cashflow analysis or inventory simulations where your prospect may put their own data in. Such spreadsheet would be perfect for their internal need benchmarking where they negotiate what investment they would prioritize and the sheet will of course show that solving problems in your business area will provide huge gains, wouldn’t it?

In the third stage – Great Value – a risk analysis will fit. In late stages of most buying processes risk aversion is obvious. Risks are connected to the disadvantage of stopping many far gone purchase processes. A comprehensive and trustworthy risk management analysis will do a great job for you.

Finally, don’t forget to have an “e-mail me for further help” button everywhere on your site.

And remember: you cannot sell, only help prospects to buy!

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