To engage with customers, sales people need to think like their customers.
What this means is that salespeople have to go about learning and understanding how customers buy. Sales people know, at all times, where their prospects are in their sales cycle. The problem is that they aren’t as clued up on where their prospects are in their own buying cycle. Most sales managers would say that knowing where buyers are in the purchase process is Selling 101. But as true as this is, why then do so many managers fail to put the knowledge to practical use?
The buying process
Take, for instance, the step in most sales processes, where the salesperson must identify the buyer’s need. Chances are that when they do, they check off the box and move on to the next step in the sales process. But really it’s not about the salesperson finding a need – it’s more about the buyer recognising that a need exists and that the satisfying the need is important enough to motivate some action. How important is that need in the scheme of issues facing the buyer? Does the prospect have the emotional desire to take action? Is the probable solution available the best alternative? What are the consequences if the need is left unresolved? Is this (unresolved issue) more serious than getting it resolved” All these points need to be weighed up and considered but they usually aren’t – after all, the sales process dictates that when a need has been uncovered the salesperson should progress to the next stage of the cycle.
The challenge of using technology to drive sales has undoubtedly reduced the cost of sale in absolute terms. But it has also cost many organisations lost opportunities because of the haste to progress through the cycle.
Closing the gap
So, how does one close the gap between sales by organisational process and selling to the customer’s buying cycle? First, sales people need to understand the buying process. Every buyer goes through four steps – always in the same order and almost never skipping a step:
Step 1: Awareness. The buyer becomes aware they have a challenge or problem to address. They begin to define the objectives and determine if they have the resources to achieve their goals and if not, they realise they have a need. The start considering options.
Step 2: Interest. Here’s where buyers look into their options more deeply. They understand there are options available but they will also factor in the risk of changing.
Step 3: Desire. The customer has made the emotional decision to buy in during the interest phase, but now they are going to look at the numbers: Can they afford it? Does it fit into the budget? Is there an adequate return on the investment? What are the political ramifications within the company? This is where ROI comes in.
Step 4: Action. The customer is emotionally and rationally ready to buy. If the salesperson has done a good job aligning the selling process to the customer’s buying process, they are likely to get a yes the moment they enter the Action phase.
Once organisations understand these four steps they are ready to align their sales process to the buying process. This is simply a matter of taking each step in the sales process and plugging it into the corresponding step in the buying process, then shuffling the order so that it tracks logically with the buying process. Rather than transitioning from step to step in the selling process, sales people will be tracking sales progress by moving from step to step in the customer’s buying process. This means that, for example, they won’t exit the “identify needs” step until it is clear the customer recognises the need, decides to give it priority over other issues and makes an emotional decision to pursue it further.