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Discover the pivotal impact of structuring your sales process around buyer decisions rather than arbitrary stages. In this comprehensive guide, learn how this approach can not only enhance customer engagement but also significantly boost your sales outcomes, leading to sustainable growth and long-term success.
Make your sales process about buyer decisions, not arbitrary stages
The current sales environment has tried to define the prospect journey according to the age old stages you find built into your Salesforce or any other CRM. However, you should be thinking of the actual path your prospects follow through their decision making.
We start with a Key Question: What decisions does a customer have to make to buy from you? Do they need a “demo” or is a conversation enough? Will they need to build consensus with others in the organization (now commonly coined the “buying committee”), Will they need some kind of compliance or security check or certification? If so, then your sales pipeline process should enumerate all of these activities.
Challenge the Norm: Avoid the common trap of dividing your sales process into rigid stages like Needs Analysis, Negotiation, and Proposal. Such a structured approach may hinder the natural flow of the buyer’s journey, leading to potential disengagement. Focus on delivering value as your prospect needs it in the way they need it – case studies, testimonials and proof of concept trials build credibility but only if the prospect actually cares about them. The best way to learn what your prospect wants is to have an open mind and just ask.
Slow Down: Prospects buy for their own reasons and on their own time so when you rush or push prospects through your predefined stages can have significant negative consequences. Buyers pushed too quickly may become less likely to stay engaged, while those forced through unnecessary steps may lose interest.
Your buyer’s decision points are the true foundation of sales
No matter how much we try to advance the sale, your prospects buy for their own reasons and in their own time frame. So, how do we create a buying journey that meets their needs? Focus on how, what and when they will make decisions.
Start by identifying your prospect’s critical decisions: Not every person or organization is ready for change and no matter how badly your solution solves an acute problem, you’re implying a change. Ask your prospect about how they and their organization has made decisions that are of the same magnitude as your offering.
Use effective mirroring and labeling statements to confirm your understanding of this process. Then take the time to reflect on the specific decisions that buyers must make before committing to a purchase. These decision points should form the core foundation of your sales process. And while these decision points might be different for every person and organization, you’ll eventually find that there are five or six of them in every prospect journey.
Offer a risk-free solution: In our work with new technology companies, we find that most prospects are hesitant to allow a recently formed or small company with little history to have access to their critical infrastructure assets. And this is totally understandable.
Most of these new or small companies are pioneering the creation of new market verticals so they cannot rely on the value of social proof to overcome this obstacle.
So what do we recommend for these new technology or small businesses? A Test Drive.
Think about it, you spend hours researching your next car purchase; you’re reading reviews, technical specs and listening or watching “influencers” to help you make a decision. But how many walk into a dealer and buy a car without driving it first? Almost none… So it’s triply difficult for a new or small company to land a new client without the corresponding social proof.
A Test Drive or Proof of Concept (POC) program allows the prospect to run your solution on their current or limited infrastructure to explore how you could work together. Your POC or Test Drive gives your prospect a risk-free offering to determine whether your solution really solves the problem they’re trying to solve.
Make your Messages Relevant: Tailor your communication to match the buyer’s readiness at each decision point. It seems obvious, but you should not be promoting features and functionalities to your prospect unless they’re exactly relevant to their needs. Sadly, too many marketing and sales leaders do just this when they send an unsolicited “one-pager” or “technical specs” document to the prospect.
How to create a sales process based on customer decision points
Collaborative Planning: Gather your key sales leaders, account executives and customer service executives for a collaborative session. Equip yourselves with a blank whiteboard and at the top, write: “What decisions must a prospect make to buy from us?” and “What problems are we solving?” or “What Jobs are we doing” If your product range is diverse, consider repeating this process for each category.
Holistic Approach: Ensure that all the relevant decisions that are made throughout the prospect journey are considered, even if they can be addressed in a single meeting. The goal is to comprehensively map out the decision points your buyers navigate, providing a holistic view of their decision-making journey. And more interestingly, who on the buying committee needs to be involved in each one of these decisions (and when).
Decision-Centric Stages: Remember, people buy for their own reasons and in their own time so develop your sales process around these decision points. This approach ensures that your sales stages are rooted in the buyer’s journey, making the entire process more intuitive and aligned with customer needs. And one thing is for sure, this process is NOT linear, so plan accordingly.
5 key things to remember when creating a buyer-centered sales process
Start with Awareness: Recognize that most purchases begin with a ‘problem-aware’ customer exploring options. Chet Holmes would quantify these individuals as the top 3% of your market at any given time. Understanding this starting point allows your sales team to tailor their approach to the prospect’s current needs and concerns because they’re already pre-conditioned to solving their problem.
Pre-Sales Decisions: Acknowledge that certain decisions are made before prospects enter your formal sales process. Effective marketing plays a crucial role in providing materials that guide prospects towards informed decisions before entering the sales funnel.
Efficient Meetings: While your buyers might have multiple decisions to make, it doesn’t necessarily mean 10 separate meetings. Understand their needs by asking questions related to their desired future state and impact values and then adjust their decision points. Maximizing efficiency, a good salesperson won’t force unnecessary delays for decisions that can be made together.
Decision Thresholds: Only move prospects forward when they’ve crossed specific decision thresholds and they’ve confirmed as such. Pushing prospects to the next stage prematurely can result in disengagement, reducing the likelihood of a successful conversion and subsequent transaction.
Flexibility for All Buyers: While standardizing your sales process based on your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), acknowledge that there will be individual prospects who don’t fit the profile. Each person is an individual and so you should be prepared to adapt your approach for these non-traditional customers, ensuring your sales strategy remains inclusive.
Finding the right balance: rigidity and personalization
Striking a Balance: The ideal sales process strikes a balance between the benefits of a standardized and personalized approach. A standardized process offers repeatability, quick learning, and easy measurement, while personalization accommodates the unique needs of individual buyers. Despite our B2B discussions focused on benefits to the prospect’s organization, we should also be aware of the challenges that the adoption of your solution will have on our individual prospect as well. Meaning, don’t forget that your solution will affect your prospect in some manner.
Adaptability: Recognize that the pendulum between rigidity and personalization may swing as your business evolves. Be flexible in adjusting your approach based on real-world feedback and changing market dynamics.
Continuous Improvement: Understand that sales processes are iterative and should be continuously adjusted based on evolving customer preferences and market trends. Revenue and Sales leaders need to be continually evaluating the nature of their market (prospects, competitors, environment) and their solution in it.
Need a better sales process? Listen to your customers
Feel like you don’t really have a Proven Repeatable Sales Process? Here are some ideas as to how to get there:
Reality Check: Be honest about your current situation. Acknowledge that your existing sales process needs work. If you don’t have a sales process in place, admit it and start working on codifying and mapping out your current situation.
Customer-Centric Approach: Regularly observe sales calls, listen to customer feedback, and understand decision points. Engage with both successful and unsuccessful prospects to gain insights into their fears, worries, and concerns. I’m always more interested in deals that didn’t close vs those that have closed because when we understand why a prospect didn’t make a favorable decision we have better insight as to their decision points.
Future Success: Crafting a process aligned with buyer needs positions your team for future success. By actively incorporating customer feedback into your process, you’ll be better equipped to address customer concerns, ultimately leading to higher conversion rates and a more successful sales pipeline. So don’t be afraid to ask an existing customer about what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.
Call to Action
Small Business Owners, Founders and Revenue leaders, take the first step toward revolutionizing your sales process and creating a Proven Repeatable Sales Process. Gather your team, talk to your existing customers and prospects, identify key decision points throughout the prospect journey, and start crafting a buyer-centric strategy today. Remember, success lies in understanding and adapting to your customers’ needs, and by doing so, you’ll create an adaptable Proven Repeatable Sales Process that stands the test of time.