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Crossing The Chasm, Selling And Buying Process

by David Brock on January 29th, 2015

First, apologies to Geoffrey Moore and his seminal book Crossing The Chasm.

Several of my recent posts have stimulated discussions about the chasm between our Selling Process and our s’ Buying Processes.  I’ve gotten a lot of questions about, ‘Shouldn’t we be focusing on their buying process,” “How do we bridge the selling and buying processes, ” “How do we manage to two processes simultaneously,”  and a number of others.

These are great and difficult issues.

I think the best way to start bridging the gap is to focus on where do we start in designing the process?

Usually, when we think about our selling process, the design starting point is our company, our strategies, our products, services, etc.  We review our best experiences of how we have won in the past—who did we call on, what did we do, how did we maintain velocity through the process, and so forth.  We try to design the process by answering the question “How should we sell?”

We can actually design a pretty good process doing this, but there will always be a gap between our process and the customer buying process.  We have to constantly be attentive to bridging this gap–and it’s tough, inefficient.

So what if we change the design starting point?

What is we started designing our sales process by posing the question, “How do our customers buy?”  (This should actually be the starting point for all sales and marketing strategies.)

Starting there forces us to start talking with and engaging our customers with interesting questions like:

  1. How do you determine that you need to change, that what you are doing right now is no longer acceptable and you need to change?
  2. How do you determine who is a stakeholder in that effort and engage them in the problem solving process?
  3. What is your problem solving process?
  4. How to you organize everyone to align priorities and buy?
  5. How do you educate and inform yourself about new ways of doing things, about alternative solutions?
  6. How do you get management buy-in to invest and implement?

I could go on with the list, but you get the idea. However, if you need help, don’t hesitate to call 😉

We need to talk to a number of customers, learning from them, using their input to understand how they buy.

The answers to these questions inform the activities we need to undertake to design our sales process.  They enable us to define how we best facilitate their buying process, creating value through every stage.

So what we are doing is actually embedding the customer buying process into our selling process.

That probably gets us 85% there.

There are some things that we have to do independently of the customer and their buying process.  For example, we may need to get and align resources from our company or partners as par of the process.  We may have some internal business or design reviews.  There may be things customers do in their process that are irrelevant to us.

This allows us to tune the process, combining how our customer buy with other activities critical to our shared success.

Finally, we need to test this against our past experience of wins and losses.  Have we captured everything, can we simplify it?

This gets us 97.2576% of the way there (through careful scientific research).

Finally, we test it, we get people to execute the process over the next 3-6 months, we learn, adjust and tune the process based on our experience in executing the process.

This gets us 99.675% of the way there—we never get 100% of the way there.  Our customers change, we change, nothing ever stands still.  But too often we forget we need to tune and update–or sometimes completely redesign our sales process.  We need to periodically, usually annually unless there are huge disruptions in our markets, customers, or our business.

Using this approach, starting with “How do our customers buy,” eliminates the need to constantly think “What’s our sales process, what’s our customers’ buying process, how do we make sure we are aligned”  What we’ve done is embedded the buying process into the sales process, we’ve unified them into one process–so we never get out of alignment.

The strategies we adopt for each deal will vary–the sales process is our starting point, and our strategies focus us to the specifics of the customer buying process–this customer, this deal, at this time.  But since our process starts with “How do our customer buy,” we are already well aligned in synchronized with the customer.

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  1. Dave, thanks for addressing this crucial issue- changing the design point to “how do our customers want to buy?”

    Let me share a few additional thoughts on this topic: In my experience, we should extend the question to “How do our customers approach challenge, solve problems and how do they want to buy?” It means to extend the scope on the entire customer’s journey. Especially in complex buying environments, when challenges and their solutions cut across several functions and when the issues to be mastered are new for the organization, this early entry point along the customer’s journey can make an important difference. It is where sales professionals can add the most value by providing expertise, creating context, and by providing tailored and valuable perspectives, by showing different approaches to achieve the customer’s desired results and wins. It’s creating a shared vision of future success, the prerequisite for the next phase, the actual buying phase.

    Then, the customer’s journey is again different when the situation is well-known, and the issue is primarily “do we renew the contract?” or “do we change the provider?” Then, it’s not so much about enabling the customers to make a change decision, it’s more about managing the decision dynamics in the actual buying phase, creating more value for them than before.

  2. As always, good article Dave

    I really like point number one: “How do you determine that you need to change, that what you are doing right now.”

    I think this is the main reason after 24 years since Geoffrey’s book we still haven’t crossed the chasm.

    I feel that we don’t slow down and ask ourselves “How do customers decide to buy?”

    Harvard Business School professor, Gerald Zaltman, says that 95% of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously, and yet we sell almost exclusively to Mr. Rational and wonder why so many deals get stuck in paralysis for analysis. Instead we should be selling more to Mr. Intuitive, because studies show that as executives climb the hierarchy they make more of their decisions intuitively. Just last week a CEO cancelled my training, because he said he didn’t want to change how his sales team was selling. He first had to read my book be fore he would say yes. My book only takes two hours to read, but the CEO said it took him all day because with each point, he’d simulate would this happen in his experience. He would, therefore, test each point against his wisdom built up over the years. But if we just present what out products are, it’s hard for Mr. Intuitive to run if it will work against his wisdom or even influence/alter his/her wisdom. When I bought my house, I didn’t buy from the data sheets. I was flooded by too much information. It wasn’t until I saw 30-houses that I was able to walk into the 31st house, and I just knew in 30 seconds this was the house for me. Intuition is fast.
    We still need to sell to Mr. Rational, but we first need to sell to Mr. Intuitive by making what you sell real. Because without context, the salesperson is leaving it up to the customer to figure out why they should buy your product or ever worse why they should care. I write about this in my HBR article When to Sell with Facts and Figures, and When to Appeal to Emotions

    I’ts our inability to make what we sell real for customers which is in my mind the main reason why we haven’t been successful in helping the customer to cross the chasm. What’s your view David? I always like your comments, because I feel you’ve built up a deep sales wisdom over the tears.

    • Mike, thanks for the comment and the reference to your article, I’d seen it.

      With everyone involved in the decision making process, we have to sell to both the personal and business side of their brains. Too often, we are trained to focus only on the business part of it, ignoring how they feel about the problem decision and how it impact them personally.

      I think we also have to take into account their behavioral styles, making sure we are aligned with their behavioral style and are really connecting with them in ways that they really “hear” what we are saying (likewise that we hear what they are saying). So as a very simple example, I would communicate to Bill Gates one way, and Steve Ballmer a different way–even though both were very senior execs and would tend to be more intuitive in each of their approaches. (This is the minor part of where I would disagree with your article.)

      We have to make what they are buying (not what we are selling) real to our customers. Some will always be more intuitive (regardless of level) some will be more analytic, so we have to make sure what we do is appropriate for each.

      Very flattered by your last couple of sentences, while it may have been a typo—much of the “wisdom” came with tears 😉

  3. Dave,

    As a former purchaser with many years of buying, negotiation, supply chain management, I am happy to read new, fresh ideas, linking the buying process into the mindset of the sales people. I have said it for a long time: When should purchasers and sales people start to talk to each other? 😉

    • Martin, it’s amazing to me that sales and professional buyers can’t get together more effectively. Our goals are very aligned. You may be interested in the Procurement Interview series I’ve done. (More coming in the next couple of weeks). In the sidebar, scroll down to the search area. Go to Category and select Procurement.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • David Locke permalink

        Power shifts between sales and purchasing depending on the economy. The situation in regards to alignment is dynamic, rather than static. When I was a purchaser, my CEO would just as well put the sellers our of business. He wasn’t happy that the last thing I want to do is to find another suppliers.

  4. Great article David!
    It is a topic I have ‘banged on about’ for many a year. The other upside about looking from the buyer point of view is that you suddenly see where the rest of your company can contribute, especially Marketing. While it is called the “Sales Process” it becomes all about sales guys and while I love ’em (I used to be one before moving across to the darkside, or ‘Marketing’ as it is called) they definitely do not have the full answer. This is especially true these days when a large percentage of the buying process has taken place before a prospect even contacts a salesperson. When you truly examine a prospects buying process you find find how you can help move them along it through combining the talents of others in your organisation along the way, albeit the sales person gets to take the contract (and glory?).

    • Thanks for joining the discussion Mark, some would say you haven’t move to the dark side, but rather you’ve gone to hell 😉

      To often we design everything we do from the inside out–marketing programs, sales approaches, etc. We rarely get it right, so we spend endless time, money, resources, redoing over and over.

      It’s so much easier to always start with the customer and work backwards. We almost always get it right that way.

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