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Predictable Buying

by David Brock on November 4th, 2019

We spend lots of time and money trying to create predictable revenue, increasing the predictability of our sales approaches.

We constantly engineer, refine, tune and re-engineer what we do and how we engage our customers to produce POs.

We optimize our efforts, looking to be as efficient as possible, achieving what we do in the fastest time and lowest cost of selling possible. And every once in a while we also look at effectiveness…..

But, if we look at most data, it’s not working, or at least as well as we hope. Fewer people are achieving plan, though they are following the “formulas.” Customers are deferring engaging sales later and later in the process (which for some reason we like, because it reduces our time and costs, making us more efficient.)

The percentage of customers with budget and an intent to buy that end up making no decision, other than to keep doing what they always have exceeds those who are buying. They still have the need, but they just couldn’t navigate themselves to a conclusion.

And virtually every survey shows how little too many customers value sales interactions. I’m interested to see a question on a survey, “Choose your least favorite activity, going to the dentist or talking to a sales person.” I think most of us know the answer. (And I’m a sales person at heart.)

As we see these trends, it’s amazing that we don’t redefine how we look at the problem–that is helping customers achieve their goals, solve their problems, resulting in buying.

What rather than looking at making selling more predictable, we changed our thinking to make buying more predictable—both for the customer and, as a result, for us.

When you start analyzing it, it’s really not that complicated–but somehow we and our customers make it so. But we would consider the following:

  1. Why change? Buying is part of a change activity. If the customer doesn’t have a compelling reason to change, there is no need to buy.
  2. When do we have to have the solution in place producing results? Change isn’t a meandering journey, it’s very purposeful. It generally says, “We need to have something in place by this date…. If we don’t the consequences/risks become unacceptable.” Too often, customers don’t have this solidified in their minds. As a result they get diverted by the latest crises, or they drift, much like a boat caught in a current, it’s going somewhere, just not where it intended to go. (In case it was too well disguised in my prose, a fundamental question the customer must know the answer to, in dollars/risk terms is: What are the consequences of doing nothing or missing our target date?)
  3. How do we align the differing agendas and priorities of those people involved in the buying process? Until the customers get “in the same boat, rowing in the same direction, in cadence,” there is likely to be a lot of activity and no progress. From a sales point of view, this is exciting! They are having meetings, lots of meetings! They must be doing something, we should be there helping them!
  4. How do we buy? Underlying this are a whole lot of questions, but often the customer misses them. Some of the fundamental ones are derivatives of the first 2, but include: What are we trying to achieve, by when, what should we be looking for? What questions should we be asking others who’ve done similar things? What questions should we be asking ourselves? What questions should we be asking partners, our own customers, and potential suppliers? What do we need to learn in order to move forward successfully, who do we learn it from? What are the risks, what do we need to have in place to manage them to an acceptable level? What does the implementation/change management look like, where will we encounter resistance, how do we manage it? How do we get buy in, not only from our management but, from the people who will be impacted by what we are doing? How do we keep this project focused and moving forward, as things are changing around us?
  5. How do I deal with my own personal fears, uncertainty, concerns? What am I looking for, personally, how do I achieve it? What happens to me if we fail?
  6. Then there are all the things having to do with working with potential suppliers (US!) We know about that–at least from our point of view, but we should look at it from the customer point of view.
  7. In the end there is one question (actually the consolidation of lots more): How confident am I/We in the decision I/we are making.

You can see, there are a lot of things the customer(s) is struggling with. There are a lot of things that derail the process, slow it down, cause it to zig-zag, and back track on itself.

Usually, as sales people we are oblivious to this. Because we focus on the predictability of what we do and our selling motions. We aren’t paying attention to, we aren’t asking, we aren’t establishing the connection with the customer to understand what they are going through and concerned about.

Or maybe, it’s simply we don’t care! We care more about what we are trying to achieve, not realizing we achieve nothing if the customer doesn’t achieve their goals!

But the only way we can make revenue and selling predictable is to make buying more predictable.

Ironically, we have a huge ability to help the customer with all the issues outlined above. After all, we’ve gone through dozens, hundreds, and thousands of situations before. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work.

We know how similar customers have dealt with similar issues.

We know the answers or how to help the customer discover the answers. And by doing this, ultimately giving the customer confidence in their decision, we create the most differentiated and sustainable value possible!

It’s amazing how much clarity we get by changing the way we look at things. Perhaps the best question we should be asking ourselves is:

How do we make buying more predictable!

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