We are continually moving between the buyer and seller side of the table in order to understand the requirements of both sides as they evolve. Indeed, a constant theme of our presentations, talks and articles, is the great irony that sales success requires a greater focus on the buying, as opposed to the selling. After all, that is the job of the salesperson – to help the buyer to buy.
Helping the buyer to buy can pose
problems however. The first of which is that the salesperson must first understand the buyer. Sounds straight-forward? Well, it is not.
Indeed, to explain just how little most salespeople know about buyers and their behaviour let us use the phrase from that famous book – salespeople are from mars and buyers are from venus.
Is How Your Prospects Buy A Mystery?
As you know we are a curious bunch of salespeople. This week, we threw out the issue of whether salespeople really understand and have adapted successfully to how their customers and prospects are buying, particularly given the new market realities. We wanted to hear views from sales people and buyers in response to the following questions:
1. Do you think sales people really understand how the buying process of those companies in their pipeline?
2. What areas in particular do you think are misunderstood? Do you think the way salespeople are selling has adapted to the changed nature of buying decisions since the slowdown?
3. What are the implications of sellers misreading how their prospects are going to make their decision on what to buy, when to buy and who to buy it from?
Do Sellers Really Understand How Buying Decisions Are Being Made?
What did we learn? Well few surprises actually. Clearly there is a lot more written about sales process (at hot topic last year in particular) than buying processes. Similarly, only a hand full of the vast numbers of sales books consider the issue either.
Those two factors alone give a hint of the answers that we received. After all, the traditional view was that a great salesperson, with a great product and a powerful sales methodology can sell anything – regardless of the buying process or the buying organisation. Unfortunately, this view is still prevalent in certain parts of the sales industry.
Some Understand the Buyer Better than Others.
Now professional salespeople, particularly those training in one of the sales process methodologies, can be treated as different from the industry norm. They have been trained to identify and document the nature of buying groups, decision making factors and so on.
On the other hand, the typical salesperson, it would be fair to say, has not given buying processes much thought – they are stuck in the sales lead, sales presentation, sales proposal mode and often miss out on the bigger picture.
This is compounded by the fact that buyers, who are increasingly playing their cards closer, don’t help salespeople to really understand what they are thinking and doing.
Aspects of buying that are misunderstood, or under estimated:
Here are the aspects of buying that we frequently see as being misunderstood:
– Length of the average sales cycle- we know it is 4, 6, 14 months, but we still act as if it is not
– The change in the way buyers search for information and the type of information they want – feature and benefits sales pitches are still the modus operands of most salespeople
– The diminishing role of the sale person in the buying process – buyers don’t want to see salespeople until later in the buying process
– The credibility gap faced by most salespeople – buyers have heard it all before and no longer believe what salespeople have to say
– The size of the buying unit – most salespeople are touching of 2-3 contacts in their prospect companies, where as the real numbers involved is often 2 or 3 times that number
– The increased sophistication of buyers – through the use of analysts, forums, industry associations, etc. buyers have access to the same information as the salesperson, if not even more
– The need to sell higher, budgetary pressures mean that what once would have been signed off by a middle manager, must get approval and that is not just a rubber stamping issue.
– The limited span of attention for sales pitches
– Buyers won’t tell you that you are wasting your time, they have found out that the best way to deflect any unwelcome advances is to engage – making the salesperson to more running by asking for a proposal, a brochure, etc.
What Are the Implications of Misreading Buyers?
Well, obviously misreading the buying process will greatly impact on the chances of a sale. Erroneous assumptions about how much budget is available, what criteria will be used, who is involved in the decision, the timeline for a decision, etc. mean that you could be selling the wrong thing to the wrong people, or at least going about it the wrong way.
All this reminds me of the popular book ‘Men are for Mars and Women are from Venus’, couldn’t the same be said for buyers and sellers. And the secret for getting along, well just as in the field of gender relations it is to better understand each other. And in the case of uncertainty, or confusion to avoid making assumptions and ask.
Do You Understand How Your Prospects Will Buy? Take the Test.
How many of the following characterise each of the top 5 prospects in your pipeline at present:
– Documented the buying criteria of their prospects
– Aided in the building of a business cases for their prospect’s buying decision
– Have mapped and covered the entire buying unit
– Understand the business objectives and strategy of their customers
– Know the metrics that customers are using
– Know who their contact, or advocate, reports to,
– Understands organisational politics and culture
– Are fully aware of the alternativ
e solutions / options available, including the choice of doing nothing
– Understand the people and process implications of your proposed solutions
– Fully appreciate all their buyer’s risks, or concerns (especially the hidden ones)
– Understand what has worked before and what has not for their clients
– Adopt their sales approach, message, etc. to the stage of the customer is at (e.g. not yet aware of the need, versus selecting a supplier)
– Finish each meeting or step by asking the buyer what he, or she would like to do next and getting agreement on some next steps