Process helps us take the right steps and advance the sale.
But only to a point. When we prioritize process over people, we lose.
As sellers, our first priority must be our buyers. Dignifying each individual buyer starts with understanding where they are entering into their own process through customer buying cycle stages.
Though informal, customer buying cycle stages are a natural progression that affect all buying decisions.
In marketing, they call it the buyer's journey. There's a natural progression your buyers experience, from the time they first become aware of your product, to the time when they begin to consider products like yours, and on into the decision st
age where they will determine which product to purchase (yours vs. a competitors').
Buyers don't identify their own stage in their customer buying cycle, and they don't use a dashboard to track their progress through it. They may not even be aware of it.
Even so, buyers do progress. Think of it this way: you can't buy something unless you're aware of it. You won't considering buying something unless it is interesting to you and until that interest becomes a desire for the product.
Desire alone won't result in a purchase. There are actions you take -- comparing the options, selecting the provider, negotiating the terms, securing the financing, etc. And once you make the purchase, you tell people about it -- social media review posts have a strong foothold now as a routine part of the buying process.
Even though buyers don't name these phases in their purchasing cycle, they do feel them. We experience and feel different things when we have a strong desire for a product than when we are first learning about it.
This is why alignment matters so much. Buyers don't want sellers to give them canned, bland, generic pitches about product features because buyers have already done their research and know about these features.
According to the CEB (now Gartner), buyers are at least 57% of the way through their own buying process before agreeing to meet with a seller. If we're not meeting them closer to that point, we're bound to be misaligned.
The sales process you're using probably doesn't align with customer buying cycle stages.
Every sales organization has some variation of a basic sales process. It's what your CRM dashboard tracks. It's what your sales training features. It's what your job description details.
Different selling roles may focus more heavily on certain aspects of the sales process. But, generally speaking, every sales process has these five steps: open, assess, propose, address, close. SDRs open, Account Managers assess, Marketing helps craft a solution to propose, Sales Managers get involved in negotiations to address lingering obstacles, and the sale eventually closes.
The problem with the sales process is that buyers seldom comply with it.
Objections come up even as you're opening the sale. Buyers don't wait until after the solution has been proposed to ask about price or tell you they're not interested.
Buyers are impatient, too, with the needs analysis or assessment phase of your sales process. If the questions you're asking aren't thought-provoking, value-creating and interesting, buyers will not engage.
A sales process can become a barrier if it's too rigid. You can't build human-to-human relationships and trust by sticking to a mechanical process. Your sales process won't differentiate you in the buyer's mind.
If, however, you can remain nimble enough to wrap your process around the buyer's process, you can become more relevant and interesting to your buyers. You can meet them where they are.
Aligning with the customer buying cycle puts people before process and is appreciated by buyers.
In our research with 530 B2B buyers, we asked about the behaviors buyers would like to sellers exhibiting more frequently.
Out of 30 behavioral changes buyers would like to see, the top-ranked one was "The seller fully answers my questions and provides information that is relevant, timely and useful.
Sticking to the sales process and going through the steps in your playbook may prevent you from answering questions in a relevant, timely and useful way. This happens in various ways, including:
1. The seller is asking questions to qualify the buyer. The buyer, 57% of the way through the buying cycle, does not want to be qualified and does not see the purpose of these questions. Buyers more often qualify themselves before taking sales calls. They are put off by questions aimed at filtering them to the right team and information gathering that serves the needs of the sales organization alone.
2. The buyer asks about price very early in the initial meeting. Most sellers have been taught to deflect price questions until needs are fully understood and value has been established. But buyers are intolerant of these delays and just want timely, relevant and useful answers. Sellers need to dignify the question with a response, perhaps offering a range of prices and an assurance that a price quote will be given just as soon as possible.
3. The buyer has specific questions about product features or functionality. The seller insists on a full demo rather than answering basic questions. This often happens when an SDR doesn't know about product specs and capabilities. The SDR's job is to set the demo appointment so someone else can answer these questions. The buyer (likely appointed just to gather data and run an initial comparison of options) may be frustrated because a demo is going to include too much information and require too much time.
The buyer/seller relationship should be based on what's natural and comfortable for the buyer. Relax and stay "in the moment" with the buyer instead of allowing an artificial process interfere with your relationship.
Next Steps to Align with your Buyer, Advance the Sale, and Join the Stop Selling & Start Leading® Movement:
- Participate in our seller-side research. Tell us your Personal Best story and be entered into a prize drawing. We might feature your story in future publications.
- Learn more about our research with buyers and the Stop Selling & Start Leading® movement.
- Read the book that shows you how to build trust and engage buyers so you can create this kind of experience. (Named one of "The 20 Most Highly-Reviewed Sales Books of All Time" by HubSpot!)
The award-winning CONNECT2Sell Blog is for professional sellers who believe, as we do, that Every Sale Starts with a Connection. Our 2017 emphasis will be on reporting buyer-side research and how sellers can connect with buyers and sell more effectively by adopting the behaviors of leaders. The Stop Selling & Start Leading® movement is all about the future state of sales and your success as a Sales Professional.
Deb Calvert is President of People First Productivity Solutions, a UC Berkeley instructor, and a former Sales/Training Director of a Fortune 500 media company. She speaks and writes about the Stop Selling & Start Leading® movement and offers sales training, coaching and consulting as well as leadership development programs. She is certified as an executive and sales coach by the ICF and is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®. Deb has worked in every sector and in 14 countries to build leadership capacity, team effectiveness and sales productivity with a “people first” approach. Her bestselling book “DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected” has been named by HubSpot as one of "The 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time."