In November of 2013 Mark Lindwell of Forrester’s sales enablement practice authored an article titled, “Your New No. 1 Competitor.” In it he talked about the changing sales environment – essentially decision by committee and a lack of perceived value that result in a loss to the status quo.
As a salesperson you can sway the decisions in your favor, but doing so requires that you understand the buying process and the emotional buying behaviors that drive change, or a lack there of.
Diagram | Customer Buying Process | Image Source: DSG Consulting
The above image depicts a pretty typical customer buying process. You have probably seen a version of this in your sales career. The white line indicates the people involved in the buying process by stage. The red circle indicates where the customer engages the seller.
Every sale starts with a perceived need for change connected to an emotional driver that causes someone to step out of their day-to-day to look for a solution to a problem. The defined problem is then handed off to a staff person to find a solution. Once the staff person has found a solution (or several) the staff person takes it back to the decision maker (and team) to determine the validity, necessity and approach to the project.
By the time the opportunity has reached the evaluation stage, the buyer approaches you and at least two other companies who have the ability to meet their needs. As a result, you and your competition are pinning one against the other; each sharing what makes you different – what makes your products better. Unfortunately, you sell a commodity – most of us do – so what results is a confused customer, one who can’t tell you apart from your competitor, leaving the customer to choose the littlest of all evils: the status quo.
Unfortunately the longer this whole process takes – from INVESTIGATION to EVALUATION – the emotional need for change has diminished. The emotional pain that existed in the AWARENESS phase is long forgotten. And while you are in a battle royale with your competition, the customer decides that the risk of making a change (or worse yet a failed project) isn’t worth the reward.
As a salesperson, it is your job to drive the fear back into the decision making process. You need to take your customer back to that moment that drove them to the initial AWARENESS and INVESTIGATION, where the losses loom larger than the gains; where the pain of “same” is greater than the pain of change and remind them why staying with the status quo is a risk far greater than change.
Let me put this into context. I spent many years working on the 49th floor of a tall building in downtown Los Angeles. On an annual basis the building was required to hold a fire drill. All the tenants were required to evacuate the building. We were warned of these drills a month or so before hand. None of us were surprised when the moment arrived. We’d take a moment to take off our work shoes, tie up the laces to the sneakers we had conveniently brought to the office and grab our cell phones. While I understand the importance of these drills, I participated without haste or fear. I cannot say the same for the rare occasions that the alarm went off without warning. The shoes, the cell phone, the nonchalance – all gone. In an instant I would be in the emergency stairwell making my way down 49 flights. In a non-emergency situation, the alarm is a piercingly loud and bright piece of technology. In an emergency situation, the alarm is a life-saving device warning me of danger and potentially guiding me to safety.
It’s like that with our customers; we need to remind our customers the reasons why they decided they needed to do something different – before they decided to invest tens (or hundreds) of hours of labor looking for a solution and vetting it with internal teams. And we need not be afraid of putting the decision in context… setting off the alarms… setting the building figuratively on fire (I feel obligated to call out that it is figurative – DON’T SET THE BUILDING ON FIRE). This isn’t about the bells and whistles of your solution… This isn’t about the technology or the decibels of the alarm; this is about saving lives…
Now, what good would I be, if I couldn’t share some practical advice? Below is a list of questions that might help you uncover where you are in the process and why the project exists. You’ll notice that my questions are typically pointed since I prefer a direct approach. You of course, will make these your own.
1. Where are you in the buying process? Are you investigating potential solutions or are you evaluating suppliers?
2. What are you looking to accomplish?
3. Why is this project important to the business?
4. Was there a particular event that occurred that is driving the need to find another solution?
While many buyers may not want to share their reasons for speaking with you in earnest, implore upon them that it is your job to make them successful, and their best chance of a successful outcome is an open dialog.
Ultimately, it will be your job to build the context back into the buying process as the buyer approaches EVALUATION; those of you who do will move more of the dreaded no decision in your favor.
Have feedback? I’d love to hear it. Have suggestions for other channel partners? Share them here. Have sales and marketing questions you want answered, let me know and I would be happy to address them in a future blog.