As sales people, we always are trying to get into our Buyers’ minds. We want to understand what they are thinking, what drives them, how we can position ourselves and our solutions most favorably. We constantly search for some insight about how to connect more effectively.
I’m always fascinated by the machinations we go through to understand what’s going on in our Buyers’ minds. We talk to each other to try to figure out, “What do buyers think?” “How do we engage them?” We do research, we guess-based on our experience. All great things to do.
We look for tricks and techniques–as you know, I’m not a great fan of most of these, they tend to be manipulative. I also tend to forget them. When I used to try them, I always struggled to remember which one to use. Instead, I decided to be direct, I thought I’d just ask.
It’s really tough to read our Buyers’ minds. We do our homework and our research, but there’s always a gap that leaves us uncomfortable. I’ve always found it easier just to be direct–I ask them. I engage them in conversations about how they buy and how they want us to sell to them. Most of the time, rather than meeting with resistance, they are enthusiastic. They like the conversation because they want to lay out the road map on how to work most effectively with them.
It’s a different kind of conversation. It’s never about our products. It’s not really about their problems or needs. It’s a very focused conversation on how they want to buy and how they want us to sell to them. We need to have both sides of the conversation because they represent the Yin and Yang of the total buying experience. As much as we talk about aligning with the customer buying experience, we still sell. There are two roles in the experience. Focusing just on how they buy is not enough, we have to ask them about how they want to be sold to. Customers expect us to sell to them, so it’s a powerful conversation. Often they haven’t thought about it, so it gives the customer great clarity as well.
Sometimes we’re afraid to ask even the most basic questions, “Why would someone like you want to meet with a sales person?” “How do I catch your attention and arrange a meeting that’s worth your time?” “How do I conduct a meeting that maximizes the use of your time?” “Do you value sales in helping you better define what you are trying to do and shape your requirements?”
With professional buyers–procurement, sometimes the questions can be even more pointed, “Isn’t your job just to hammer me on price?” (OK–I’d pose that a little more delicately) “How do I convince you to let me talk to the end users, why do you seem to shelter us from access to them?”
The conversations are different. They aren’t about what they are buying or what we are selling. They focus on the “how.” They enable each of us to think about the process and how we maximize our mutual engagement through the process.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with my good friend, Chris Locke. Chris is a Senior Buyer for a very large company in the Automotive industry. Each year he sees 100’s of sales people, he’s responsible for buying $10’s to 100’s of millions each year. Chris also writes one of the most important blogs for sales people: The Buyer’s Desk. It’s his advice and tips on how to engage buyers and what they think.
Chris and I talked about a lot of things that all of us sales people want to know. Here’s a taste of the conversation:
DAB: “Chris, isn’t your job just to buy the lowest price product?”
Chris: “Absolutely! But actually, we are trying to maximize the long term value we get from each relationship. We are looking at vendor reputation, reliability, stability, risk, and other factors. Clearly, it creates a great problem for us if we buy from someone who offers a low prices but can’t deliver.”
DAB: “Come on Chris, those are nice words, but you really do tend to buy on price!”
Chris: “Here’s what sales people miss, and why they think we focus on price. If all things are equal–or roughly equal–we’d be crazy not to buy the best price. That represents the best value. However, if the sales person presents something that is valuable to us, that differentiates what they are selling from the competitors, and it’s a higher price, we’ll seriously consider it and buy at that higher price. The problem is, at some point sales people forget to focus on the value we receive. They forget to differentiate themselves in ways that are important to us. They start competing on price so that becomes the basis for our decision.”
I went on to ask Chris the “gatekeeper question.”
DAB: “Chris, too often procurement is viewed as gatekeepers. We have good reasons to speak to the end users, but you won’t introduce us, you block us. How do we convince you to get us involved with the end user?”
Chris: “Well, we do act as gatekeepers in some sense. I have to protect the end users. I also have to protect my own reputation with the end users, after all they are my customers. It is actually very powerful to get sales people involved with the end users. It can help me a lot. You know your products better than I ever will and better than I care to learn about. So I it can be a great advantage to get sales people involved with the end users. Now here’s the problem, 98% of sales calls are an absolute waste of my time. Sales people come in with their standard presentation, talking about what they want to talk about not what I want to talk about. They are poorly prepared. So if they are wasting my time, why am I going to introduce them to the end users to let them waste their time as well? If you are prepared, if you know your stuff, if you are prepared to talk about what we want to talk about and not what you want to talk about, we really do want to connect you to the end user. But if you waste my time, then my interpretation is that you will wast the end user time and I will block you.”
The conversation went on with Chris providing a road map on what goes on in the Buyer’s Mind. The entire conversation is available on this podcast: (It’s a little more than 50 minutes but Chris gives awesome tips)
The entire broadcast and question stream is at Docusign’s Sales Guru Community.
Stop guessing how to work with your Buyers. Just ask them–it makes their and your jobs easier!