As sales people, we take our responsibility to sell very seriously–sometimes too seriously and we have a tendency to push or pressure the customer inappropriately. However seriously we take our responsibility to sell, it’s really meaningless until the customer accepts their responsibility to buy. But too often we forget this, getting frustrated ourselves, as well as aggravating the customer.
There are lots of things that impact the customer and their buying. If they don’t have a need or desire to buy, we have to create that need and get them to own it for themselves. This is the focus of a lot of the discussion around insight based and provocative selling. We have to help the customer recognize there are different ways of doing something, that they can address new opportunities, they can achieve efficiencies, they can reduce costs. Until the customer becomes dissatisfied and wants to change, our efforts to talk about solutions are just wasted effort.
But once the customer enters into their buying cycle, there are lots of things that derail them–impacting our ability to sell. First, too often, they simply don’t know how to buy. They don’t know how to organized themselves, who to get involved, how to define their buying process, how to define their requirements, or how to address all the change management issues within their own organizations. Until they do this, they will always go through their buying process much more slowly than we want to execute our sales process. These activities always stand in the way of both the customer and us in making progress.
As sales people, we can do a lot to help them buy. We can serve as advisors in developing their buying process, and helping them organize themselves to buy. A useful approach in helping customers do this is to treat the buying process as a project and help them establish a project plan to buy. Great project plans are constrained by a target completion date (this is where we get our projected close date), specific goals our outcomes they want to achieve with the project, milestones, and clear responsibilities. Too often customers don’t treat their buying as a project and nothing gets accomplished. In our sales terminology, deals get stuck. The customer seems to wander, nothing gets done. With a “project” approach, we can help the customer keep on track to meet their goals.
Customer attention gets diverted from buying. Unless the issue is critical–they have a major problem and a high sense of urgency, it’s easy for the customer to lose attention. Other crises come up, priorities get shifted , attention gets diverted. Sometimes forever–and the deal just withers away. If we want the deal done, we need to make sure there is a sense of urgency the customer owns. This means we have to continue to focus both our efforts and the customers on the business impact–what they are trying to achieve. It’s important for both the customer and us to know the magnitude of the impact–so that as attention gets diverted, we can keep reminding the customer of the opportunity they are losing. They could be losing millions in revenue or productivity, they could be overspending and can reduce costs by thousands and millions, they could be losing customers. Until we and the customer know the business impact of what they are trying to achieve, it’s easy for them to get diverted. losing focus on buying and shifting attention away from us and the project we are driving.
Finally, the customer may be doing all they should be doing in their buying process–but they aren’t selling what they are doing within their own organizations. More and more, we are seeing sales people having great success at the departmental level–getting, winning the deal at the departmental level, only to have it rejected by senior management. It used to be, if the customer had a good business case, they could always get the money to invest in improving their business. Today, it’s different. We see a greater tendency for organizations, regardless the strength of the business case, to invest only in those initiatives that are aligned with their strategic priorities. Additionally, the departmental level executives we deal with need to know how to sell their management.
We can “win the battle, but lose the war.” We need to make sure every project we are working on are aligned directly with the top 1-2 strategic initiatives of the organization. We also need to coach and train our customers both about the importance of “selling what they want to do,” and how to actually do it.
All sales people have a strong sense of responsibility around selling–we are driven to achieve our numbers. But that is meaningless unless the customer acts on their responsibility to buy!