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Teaching Our Customers To Buy

by David Brock on October 27th, 2014

By now, at least if you’ve been reading the literature on selling, we know the importance of Insight, Commercial Teaching/Learning, or whatever you call it.  The focus of these are to help the customer realize there are opportunities they may be missing.  There are opportunities to grow, to improve their businesses, to reduce costs, to improve their customer experience, to respond more quickly to competition   —- to recognize the need to change.

If we’re successful at this, we get the customer all hot and lathered to change.  To do something different, to take action.

Now the hard work begins.  With our Insight and Commercial Teaching, we are only addressing the tip of the iceberg.  As we know, the bulk of the iceberg’s mass is under the water, we don’t see it.

The customer buying process is much like the iceberg.

Think about it, 45.9% of forecast opportunities actually close.  The majority of forecast opportunities end in no decision made.  Imagine what this might mean for pipeline opportunities.

So we’ve invested all this effort in getting customers hot and lathered to change, possibly to buy—but they can’t cross the finish line.

Even if we weren’t involved in creating this need to buy, but they are 57% through their buying process and get us engaged, we face the same problem.

How do we help our customers buy?  This is not, how do we get our customers to select a solution, but more about how do we help them organize themselves to buy, how do we help them align the diverse agendas, priorities, opinions, self interests?  How do we move beyond getting them interested in taking action to actually taking action (and hopefully with us)?

In some very complex deals, customers recognize this challenge and are engaging outside consultants to “help” them with this process—-and we all know what we think of consultants – present company excluded 😉

We can’t leave this to chance.  If we are lucky or skilled (I think it’s some of both), we can help the customer with their buying process.  We facilitate their process, we help them develop a project plan, we help them align interests, we help them establish milestones and goals, and we help in the execution of that buying plan/process.

But how real is that?  Is the customer really going to invite us into “the tent?”  Are they going to let us be the facilitator?  More pragmatically, do we have the time to facilitate and project manage all the deals in our pipeline—even if our customers invited us to do this?

So how do we help our customers buy?  How do we help them overcome the challenges of managing at least 5.4 stakeholders in moving to make a decision and take action?

It seems we have to do a number of things.

First, we need a customer or customers  who can and are willing to drive the process, drive consensus, and make a decision.  Whether it’s a project coordinator/manager, a sponsor/coach, a mobilizer, we need someone who has a vested interest in driving the process on a day to day basis, who has the interest, courage, and motivation to take the personal risk in aligning diverse interests to drive consensus and a decision.

Then we need to teach them how to manage the process–or teach them how to buy.

Sometimes we mistake what this means.  It’s not the “solutions comparison checklists” (you know those–it’s the one’s where every box in our column is checked off, and the customer can’t check off all the boxes for the competitors).  We can’t focus on product evaluation and product selection–which is where we usually focus.

Rather we need to help them learn how to align interests and agendas, deal with conflict and disagreement, establish goals and milestones, manage a project.  These involve facilitation, collaboration, project management skills.

But it doesn’t stop there.  We have to teach the customers how to sell what they want within the organization.  They have sell to gain broader support and approval, across the organization and up the food chain.  And selling is probably an unnatural and uncomfortable act for them (unless we are selling to the sales organization).  They won’t know how to do it, they will fear doing it–but if they want to get what they want, they have to sell within their own organizations.

Teaching our customers to buy, teaching them how to sell within their own organizations.  Helping them align agendas, priorities, objectives.  Helping them gain support within their own organizations.  Both our success and that of our customers is dependent on how effectively we work with our customers in buying.

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6 Comments
  1. Volker Nebel permalink

    David, as most of the time I agree with your insight.It’s the next step in the evolution of selling. While this is an excellent analysis on a macro level. I think that I-and potentially others- would benefit from a best practice case study on a micro level. What worked-what not-what is recommended ?

    • Volker, thanks for the note. Stay tuned, I will be writing frequently on this topic, drilling down into what it means and how we should be teaching our customers.

  2. Greg Tillman permalink

    Hi Dave, another timely post for us! We are trying to solve this problem right now on a whiteboard near you. Look forward to getting your input when we see you in a few weeks.

    Here’s our thinking so far:

    We recently received a fantastic ‘Project Charter’ from one of our customers that not only contained the right level of project planning for the PoC but also included the rest of the decision making process, purchase, roll out, and a ton of other good stuff explicitly as part of the project. Our champion saw the purpose of his project was to get the right solution implemented not just to choose the right solution.

    When we break down the charter it’s surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) similar to your opportunity planning worksheets with a few extra internal pieces.

    Ultimately we think we can build a fairly simple template and either help our customers to fill out a basic project charter, or help them to optimize their own using our guide.

    In addition to front loading more identification of risk (for customers and ourselves) we’re hoping this ‘Project Charter’ approach will ‘teach our customers to buy’ by attempting to reduce the decision making process to a simple question of whether or not we met the outlined project goals. If not we can always call in Cialdini’s ‘Hobgoblins of the Mind’!

    Really looking forward to discussing in more detail (or getting ripped to shreds) w/c 12/15.

    Greg

    • Greg, terrific insight. The project charter approach is a great way to get the customer to think, not only about how they buy, but how they get the project implemented. It’s very powerful and drives not only through the buying process, but through getting approvals, successful implementation, and the ultimate results they hoped to achieve.

      While this will be a little “coded” to others, the Opportunity Templates we’ve talked about can be adopted to Project Charter templates with a very small number of tweaks (all the sections remain, but some of the wording changes). I’m anxious to see the templates you and the team have developed.

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