Why Prospects Need a Helping Hand on the Buyer’s Journey

Blog112_CreateBuyingJourney_1-2When you sell a prospect, do you think from the perspective of his decision-making process?  Or your own selling process?  Be honest. You may be thinking he needs to buy into the whole bundle, do it by the 15th of the month, and sign on for the renewal contract!

Regrettably, most salespeople don’t see through the lens of the prospect on his buyer’s journey and in his decision-making process. As we teach in MERGE, the buyer goes through a decided process when he makes a decision. To simplify:  Awareness (research). Consideration (competitive comparison). Decision.

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The key concept is to understand the buyer’s journey and where he is in his decision-making process. I learned much of what I teach in Merge workshops by studying how people buy, rather than how salespeople sell.

We’ve all read the stats. According to CEB, B2B buyers are 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they engage a salesperson. Both Gartner and Forrester research suggests that by 2020, 80 percent of the buying process will occur without any direct human-to-human interaction.

Prospects for your products and services are turning to digital channels to self-educate on possible solutions to the issues they face. And they are waiting later in the buying process to speak directly with salespeople. As a result, organizations need to rethink their customer/client/prospect engagement strategies to align to the new way their prospects buy.

Map It Out

If you haven’t mapped out your customer/client’s buying journey to understand how it has changed and how you should align to it, you may be left behind in the sales revolution. You could be leaving many sales opportunities on the table by waiting to respond to this changing buyer’s journey.

Traditional selling processes, the basis for many sales methodologies, are structured to have salespeople identify a prospect’s need and then attach their solution to that need. In my MERGE workshops, I ask participants to raise their hands if this is the sales process they are using. At this point, the majority of hands are high in the air.

Then I ask them to keep their hands up if they feel their prospects have a predictable process in making decisions on complex offerings to commit to change or to buy. At this point, I often find most hands are down. This response is somewhat disconcerting. If our prospects don’t have a predictable process for complex decision making, why are we trying to understand why they buy and why are we trying to align our selling process to how they buy?

Decision vs. Approval

I’m not sure prospects, especially on complex products and services, have a defined buying process as much as they have a defined approval process. I ask my workshop group if there is a difference between the prospect’s decision process and their approval process. In my experience, I find that prospects always have an approval process, but seldom bring well-organized decision-making to the process. The failure to recognize the difference and treat them the same leads to lost sales opportunities.

How many times have you had prospects stall their decision, for what every reason, when your offering is pretty straight forward, and the value is quite clear? As an example, by installing your solution, the prospect’s organization will save $200,000 annually and own a more efficient system. Pretty clear and quite compelling, but no decision. Why?

The reason behind the stall is not difficult to understand. Prospects can’t see what you see for two reasons:

  1. You either oversold the value to the prospect, or they just don’t see it, or

  2. You overestimated the prospect’s ability to fully understand the value and the personal impact to them.

No Decision

Many of your prospects are not well prepared to buy your solution. For many, yours may be the first time they’ve had to address the issue your product or service solves. Many times the salesperson assumes the prospect has a process and the ability to fully analyze and evaluate your product and service when the truth is they may not have been down this road before. Therefore, the prospect, not fully understanding how to evaluate your solution, gets stuck and leans in the direction of no decision.

We have a major conflict here. First, based on the data discussed above, prospects are more informed and far along (57%) through their buying process. From experience, we see more and more deals end up in no decision. Many times the prospect organization never saw the value presented, or it didn’t have a disciplined process to properly evaluate the solution to see the value.

On further reflection, in complex B2B opportunities, “Does the prospect know how to buy?” Considering complex products and services like financial reporting systems, CRM or ERP systems, or major capital equipment purchases is a daunting challenge. How often in an executive’s career does she or her team buy these solutions?

So in the face of all of this, we are supposed to be dependent on the prospect’s ability to figure it out, to create a buying process, to embark on the buying journey─overcoming all of the potential missteps, diversions, and the pressures of the day-to-day business along the way. It’s no wonder that we see so many no decisions.

In the Hands of the Prospect?

I think the buying journey is too important to leave in the hands of the prospect. If we are truly customer/client focused and want to create value, it’s our responsibility to create a journey and to lead the prospect, maximizing the probability of a positive outcome for both of us. It’s not about leading them to get the order; it’s about helping them achieve the outcomes that caused them to start the journey in the first place.

In leading prospects through their buying process, we help them discover why they are considering a change in the first place, what they should be doing, what they should be looking at, who they should involve in the decision-making process. We are already doing this when we bring perspective to a meeting and spend time helping them create a vision for their solution. We help them realize they must change; they can no longer operate as they have, as the status quo is not safe.

Once the prospect sees the status quo as unsafe, the obvious challenge to them is “what should we do about it, how should we proceed?”  We can continue to provide insights through this journey to help him identify and address the most critical things he should be doing at that moment.

The idea of helping the prospect create his vision for a solution and design his buying process isn’t that outlandish. Many times over my career and with clients, I’ve seen instances where the client would ask me, “What should we be looking at?  Who should be involved?  What have others done?  How do we get this done” Clients do this when they know your motivation is to help them achieve their goals─not simply to sell them a product or service.

Teaching the prospect can’t be limited to that “Aha” moment when he realizes he must change. Teaching the prospect must continue in leading him through the remainder of his journey, defining the process, engaging him in tailoring it himself, helping him move forward.

Heed the Risk

Today, when we sell our products, services, and solutions, the process carries with it some degree of change and impact or risk to our prospect and his organization. It is the salesperson’s job to make sure the prospect addresses those changes and potential impacts. We have heard the term for years, consultative selling. Consultative selling is all about helping your prospects through a decision-making process where they assess the risks and rewards of particular solutions. Your solution must address their needs, reduce the potential risk and failure, and result in a win for all parties involved.

As agents of change, salespeople need to do a better job, from a consulting standpoint, to equip their prospects with information and understanding that will help them make better decisions.

Unfortunately, traditional sales approaches have been to go in with the show-up and throw-up approach or massive of pages of marketing and sales literature, or to come in and discuss features and benefits in ways that do not help the prospect choose the optimal solution, rather these techniques serve to confuse a possible solution. Therefore, the impact of change has to be taken into account when we are selling, and we must help our prospect map out his decision-making process.

I encourage you to do an honest assessment of how your organization helps potential customers/clients through their decision-making process, both corporate decision-making process and individual decision-making process, to arrive at the best possible solution for their particular needs. The outcome may surprise you and motivate you to join the front line in today’s sales revolution.

See you on the upside,
Bill

For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 858.759.8637 or 213.598.4700

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