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Oct 17 18

Moving Beyond The “Chaotic Buying Process”

by David Brock

It seems in recent months, the sales and marketing world is suddenly waking up to the fact the buying process/journey is not a linear process.  That customers don’t go through an orderly process of:  1.  Define problem, 2.  Identify priorities, requirements, 3.  Assess solutions, 4. Select solution, 5. Implement.

It seems we are suddenly recognizing that customers struggle in buying, they wander, they start/stop, the majority of buying decisions end in “no decision made.”  Even though people have been writing and talking about this for some time, it seems to be sinking in and many organizations are recognizing we need to engage our customers differently, acknowledging this chaotic process.

One is tempted to throw one’s hands up, thinking, “What do we do?”

To some degree, while I believe the buying process is chaotic, and I believe customers struggle with buying, things aren’t as grim as one would believe.  There is “light at the end of the tunnel.”

1.  Customers—companies/organizations—get a lot done!  Somehow companies manage to keep their doors open, growing, innovating.  They have the ability to get things done within their own organizations.  They design/develop/launch new products, they manufacture them, they market/sell/service and support them.  They keep their books, pay their bills.  They even manage to buy.

2.  Rather than focusing on the difficulty customers have in buying, perhaps we serve our customers and ourselves better by learning how our customers get things done.  What do successful projects look like within our customers?  How do they manage projects, how do they achieve their goals and become successful?

If you have an account based strategy, one of the most important things to learn is how they get things done.  Once you understand this, the buying process should mirror the same things they do to successfully manage other projects.  In reality, buying is just a small component of what they are trying to achieve with a project anyway.  We can help them buy by leveraging their past experience in successful projects.

3.  For new customers, we may not understand how they get things done.  But we have the collective experiences of other customers in similar industries, we can leverage what we know as a starting point to helping them organize their buying process.

4.  I believe there are differing layers of “chaos,” depending on what customers are buying.  Certainly, for major new investments–perhaps capital equipment, new software systems, significant outsourcing efforts, there may be a high amount of chaos.  If they’ve never done it before or it’s been many years since they made a similar purchase, they don’t know how.  They don’t know what to look at, how to organize themselves, how to put in place a project plan to manage the difficulty in dealing with the unknown,

But at the same time, the majority of purchase might fall into a different category.  If we sell embedded components/products, customers do this much more frequently.  While your product may be new and different for the customer; customers develop/design/launch/manufacture/service and support new products every year.  They know how to do this, they just may not know how to do it with this particular project.  Again, we leverage their past experience in in buying other components/parts to help them achieve success with this project.

5.  By now, you may be breaking the code, buying is nothing more than a specialized application of project management.  Customers with relatively high success in managing internal projects are likely to be more successful (read less chaotic) in buying.  The converse, customer with very low success with internal projects will be no more successful in buying.  But these customers are likely to be “customers from hell,” and we may choose to exclude them from our ICP.

It is important to recognize, there may be important differences in past project success and future project success.  Organizations and markets going through massive disruption/change will struggle.  Companies that are changing, for example through mergers/acquisitions/divestitures/restructuring may have to re-learn/re-invent these processes.  The rate of change, increasing complexity, all contribute to increasing difficulty.

Buying—all project success—is more difficult, but it is not hopeless!  More often than not, people can figure this out, their companies will grow and survive, and some will thrive.  We overcomplicate things by separating out the buying process from other things customers do to get things done.  We must leverage their success and past experience, if we want to help them simplify their buying process.

6.  There is an interesting corollary to this, we are only as good at teaching/helping our customers achieve project/buying success, as we are with our own internal project success.  If we have high internal project failure rates, we will struggle to help our customers successfully manage and execute their own projects/buying journeys.

And what we learn internally in driving high project success, gives us great experience and learning in helping our customers.

As a result, if we want to help our customers, perhaps we need first help ourselves.

Buying is tough, but if I don’t believe it is/need be as difficult as the chaotic buying process may make us believe.  Leveraging customer successful experience in managing projects will help they and us more effectively and easily navigate their buying journeys.


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Oct 16 18

The Elephant In The Room, Sales Talent Management

by David Brock

Ask any sales manager or executive their number one challenge in the future, it’s likely they will say, “Making our numbers….”  That’s the perennial answer that inspires a response like, “Wow, how inspired, why didn’t I think of that?”

Only a handful of executives really understand the question.  Making the numbers is a result of the things you put in place and execute within the organization.  These things include your overall strategy, the systems, processes, tools, programs, and training.  And for those parts of buying that don’t move to e-procurement, the complex buying journeys, talent becomes the cornerstone of making our numbers.

But as one looks at many organizations, it would be hard to discern they recognize talent is the cornerstone to their success, or that they have a talent management strategy.

Simply stated, the way we make our numbers is through our people.  As managers, our responsibility is to maximize the performance of each person in the organization.  We put structures, processes, systems, tools, programs, training, metrics, incentives in place to help enable sales people to perform.  Ideally, we coach people, improving their ability to execute, and developing their capabilities.

But most sales organizations don’t have a rich talent management strategy:

Rather than building rich competency models to know what attitudes, behaviors, skills experiences, capabilities they need; they recruit what they can get, or let “personal chemistry” drive candidate selection.

Onboarding consists of giving people their log on credentials, pointing them to a lot of eLearning about products, training them on the scripts, telling them where the bathroom is, and asking for a forecast next Tuesday.

Rather than addressing performance issues, managers ignore them, focusing on their top performers.  They are happy that 94% of organizations make plan, while only 54% of their people do.  They don’t recognize the dramatic overspending or underperformance.

Alternatively, they have a mentality of people as disposable resources, hiring/firing/churning through people, without recognition of the opportunity cost and reputation costs.

They are ignorant of the increasing scarcity of quality sales talent, so developing the capabilities of their current people, growing them, retaining them is not on their priorities.

And coaching…..simply pitiful.  CSO Insights data shows that 47% of managers spend less than 20 minutes coaching per week—period, not 20 minutes per person, 20 minutes spread across all their people.  The majority spend less than 2 hours a week, total.

Voluntary and involuntary attrition is about 15.7%, lost productivity in finding and onboarding new talent is about 13 months (That’s at least a year of lost revenue potential).  Growth and backfill means we may need to replace 23% of our team every year!  (CSO Insights Sales Talent Study)

On top of all of this, sales people don’t have the skills most valued by their customers–curiosity, business acumen, critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, project management….

Probably one of the top two most important things for sales managers to focus on is Talent  (The other one isn’t making the number, I’ll let you guess what it is).  Top management needs to answer the tough questions:

  1.  What are our talent needs today and into the future?
  2. The skills competencies critical for success tomorrow are different from those we currently need.  What are we doing to address this?
  3.  How will we meet those needs through recruiting, onboarding, growing, and developing our current talent?
  4.  How do we become the “sales employer” of choice for the people that fit our competency models?  How do we attract, retain, and grow the best talent possible?
  5.  How do we provide opportunities and challenges to retain and grow our best people?
  6.  How do we walk the talk if we say “people are our most valuable asset?”  And if we aren’t saying that, why aren’t we?

Talent is the elephant in the room for the majority of sales organizations.  What are you doing about it?


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Oct 16 18

Customers, Looking For Help In Other Places

by David Brock

As sales people, our goal is to become the “go-to” resource for our customers in helping them solve their business problems.  We want to position ourselves as trusted advisors to our customers.

But customers aren’t responding, increasingly, they rely on other resources for help in solving their business problems.  CSO Insight’s 2018 Buyer Preferences Survey show only 23% of buyers consider Vendor Sales People as one of the top three resources to help solve their business problems.  Out of 10 resources alternatives (for example, subject matter experts, vendor websites, past experience, industry resources, peers, etc.), vendor sales people were ranked 9.

As sales people become less preferred, customers are allocating less time (17% across all vendors according to Gartner), and deferring the involvement later in their buying cycle (customers are anywhere between 57 and 92% through the buying process, before engaging customers).

Ironically, customers are willing to engage sales people far earlier.  They struggle in their buying process, they need help navigating the process.  Their willingness to engage sales people increases if what they are buying is new for the organization, or it is perceived as risky, or it is complex–impacting multiple departments (which is the definition of complex B2B buying/selling).

What explains the gap?

Clearly, sales people are falling short.  Sales people aren’t being helpful–at least in the areas that customers most need help.

  • Understanding of customers’ markets and businesses is critical.
  • Understanding the problems their organizations face and how to solve those problems is critical.
  • Helping customers navigate the buying journey, successfully selecting and implementing a solution that drives the desired results.
  • Helping them understand and manage the risk and complexity within their own organizations.
  • Helping them build the business case for change within their own organizations.

The challenge is, are we building capabilities that are most critical in being helpful to customers?

There is little in this list that is about our products.  The majority of issues are about the customer and the challenges they face in understanding the need to change, determining what changes they need to make, identifying business needs/requirements, identifying risks, managing diverse priorities/agendas within the organization, identifying alternative solutions, selecting and implementing solutions that achieve the expected results.

Being helpful to our customers requires new skill sets–that few organizations recruit for or seek to develop:  curiosity, critical thinking/problem solving, project management, collaboration, resources management.

If we want to be important to our customers.  If we want to become a preferred, value creation channel, we have to change what we do, how we engage.  Customers, clearly, have a preference for this—but we aren’t addressing those needs.


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Oct 14 18

Transforming What We Do Is Not Optional!

by David Brock

Last week, I was sitting in the Gartner Sales and Marketing Conference.  If you’ve never attended, it’s one you need to put on your future agenda.  Even if you aren’t a Challenger fan, it is probably one of the best learning experiences I can recommend.

One of the panelists, Myke Hawkins of Kelly Services, made a statement that struck me, “We don’t have the luxury of not transforming what we do….”

Suddenly I realized how unusual Myke’s perspective is.  Too often, the executives I encounter (sales, marketing, and senior execs) are:

  1. Fat, dumb, happy, with what’s currently going on.  Typically, they think, “If it ain’t broke……”
  2. Perhaps they want to grow, but their mantra is, “More!”  They simply believe the route to success is to do more of what they are already doing–regardless of whether is is working as well as it should be working.
  3. Perhaps they are so busy managing current problems/challenges, they fail to recognize how things are changing around them.

Yet every day, we are confronted with change.  Our customers are changing faster than our ability to respond.  Our competition is constantly changing.  Unanticipated competition/disruption occurs in our industry or our customers.  Global economic and regulatory changes impact everyone  (The number of organizations struggling with dealing with tariffs is overwhelming.  One executive of a multi-billion company, told me, “If we can’t figure this out, we may go out of business….”

Consider for a moment, after years of a very robust global economy, the majority of economists are predicting a fairly significant down-turn in the coming 3-5 years.  Yet most executives I speak with are doing nothing to address this, they are reveling in the current success, doing little to prepare for the downturn they agree will happen.  The time to change is when things are going well, yet too often, we wait until we are fighting for survival.

At personal levels, we see similar things, people lacking curiosity, people who aren’t continuously learning and developing.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the things that are happening around us.  Ignoring the rapid changes, increase in complexity, uncertainty, risk is a sure recipe for failure.  Changes in the fundamentals of many industries are being forced on us, we cannot ignore them.

“We do not have the luxury of not transforming!”

Whether organizationally or individually, we cannot ignore what is happening all around us–at least if we intend to be part of what’s going on in business, our communities, and the world.

We have to constantly be re-examining our customers and markets.  What’s forcing them to change?  Where/how do the struggle with these changes?  Where/how do we help them recognize and address these?

We need to constantly be re-examining what we do within our own companies/organizations.  How do we need to change to continue to be aligned with our customers and their changes?  What new opportunities do we have?  How do we intend to create value?  How do we create value with our customers through their buying process?  What skills, talent, processes, programs, tools, systems, structures, metrics, strategies do we need to support enable us to grow and change?

Individually, we need to look at the skills, capabilities, experiences we need to be competitive in the future–both to remain employed and to be valued within our companies and customers.

We need to constantly be re-inventing and transforming ourselves, our organizations, and helping our customers with their transformations.

Doing nothing is not an option!  Transformation is not a luxury.


Afterword:  While there is a lot of talk about Digital Transformation, recognize Digital Transformation is just one aspect of what we need to look at in our Transformation Journey.


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