Ray Collis

Sales Hopscotch: Turning Buying Process To Your Advantage

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Buying has become increasing structured and process-driven.  But adopting a a non-linear view of buying process is important if the salesperson is to do his, or her job well.   That means playing ‘sales hopscotch’ with the buyer’s steps.

Are You Slave To Their Process?

The seller needs to know the buying process and to engage with it.  However, there is a danger that the seller can become a slave to the process.  When this happens some key aspects of what the seller would normally do to win the sale gets discarded.

That is particularly true where the seller gets involved late in the buying cycle, for example where the buyer is seeking competing quotes.

A Non-linear View Of The Buyer’s Process

There is a danger of the seller adopting an overly rigid view of the buying process and feeling dis-empowered as a result.  This most typically happens where the seller is asked to quote in response to a competitive tender or detailed specification document.

It takes a talented salesperson to go beyond the buyer’s specification to address what the buyer is really trying to achieve, what the ideal solution looks like and so on.   These are issues that are typically discussed earlier in the buying process and that the buyer may feel have been ‘put to bed’.

It Is Called Sales Hopscotch!

The sales person who adopts such a strategy is taking a non-linear view of the buying process and perhaps a more realistic view of how decisions are really made.  We call it sales hopscotch – just like the game of hopping and jumping played by kids on a numbered grid.

As in the game – regardless of the chosen square – you must touch on as many steps as is needed.  It is what good salespeople have always done and now it is more important than ever.

If the opportunity is one that you have decided to go after, don’t get paralyzed by a rigid view of sales process.  Don’t let it stop you from doing what you need to do.  Don’t let it stop you playing hopscotch and connecting with the other steps of the process and in particular the earlier steps.

Most salespeople instinctively know that the chances of winning the sale dramatically increase the earlier you get involved.  In a survey we did recently the chances of success was put at over 60% where the seller is involved in the earlier stages of the buyer’s process.  That is the internal needs assessment and supply market analysis, or steps 1 and 2 in the seven step purchasing model familiar to all professionally trained buyers.

9 Ways To Play Sales Hopscotch

  1. Look out for over-looked needs and in particular any un-addressed stakeholder needs and concerns.
  2. Connect with what the buyer is really trying to achieve, with the key drivers in respect of the purchase (project, team, department or business) and key changes in the buyer’s industry.
  3. Address the issue of economics – working the numbers in terms of the key metrics of interest to the buyer, quantify or monetize the benefits, calculate the payback or ROI, don’t forget total cost of ownership and life-cycle costs.
  4. Help the buyer to stress test the key variables – 3 dangerous assumptions (business case – tendency to overestimate results/returns, to understate the time required, to underestimate the costs.
  5. Address the issue of risk for the buyer – that is risk in all it forms (project risk, technical risk, supplier risk, etc.).
  6. Look out for any compliance requirements, including standards, guidelines, regulations either present or future.
  7. Apply new creativity to arriving at the ideal solution, present new ideas, options and alternatives.
  8. Rather than trying to speed the decision up and close the deal, encourage the buyer to slow down – providing new information, new angles, new ideas and opportunities to talk to other customers.
  9. Provide easy ways to trial or explore the solution.

Never Stop Selling!

There is a surprising level of dependence on inbound inquiries in many sales organization.   This problem is compounded by the fact that today’s more self-contained buyers are waiting longer before they make contact.  The result is that sellers are being involved later in the buying process with resulting pressure on win rates and margins.

However, even if your selling is limited to submitting a tender response, with little interaction with the buyer in advance, don’t scrimp on doing the basics.  That includes;

  • Pre-qualification – check to ensure that it is a deal you should go after, then it is commit to it fully
  • Relationship selling – reach out make contact and seek to engage in and around the buyer’s process
  • Solution selling – go beyond the requirements set out in order to identify over-looked needs
  • Strategic selling – connect with what the buyer is really trying to achieve

It is too easy in the face of a competitive tendering process, for example, to wimpishly surrender the sales role:

  • To send off a standard off the shelf tender response, pulled together by a junior person, with little creativity or imagination applied in how the needs were interpreted or the solution defined.  
  • To limit the efforts at relationship building, by restricting the contact before submission and the follow-up afterwards.

Sharing Your Seller Wisdom

The lessons is:  No matter what step you get involved at, touch off as any steps as possible.  For example even if you are called into a tender or quote late in the buying decision, make sure you connect with and indeed challenge the earlier steps and in particular where needs were identified and solutions defined.

There is a wisdom that the seller has acquired based on the learning and experiences of previous customers and that can be invaluable to the buyer.   It can shed light on an unidentified risk, or an overlooked need – thereby causing the buyer to hop back to an earlier step and bring the seller with them.

It is a poor seller indeed who cannot look at a buyer’s definition of requirements and identify something that could or should be added or deleted.

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