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Selling Process Or Buying Process?

by David Brock on February 15th, 2012

My post yesterday, The Secret To Sales Success, stirred up a twitter discussion about whether there is a Selling Process or if everything is about the Buying Process.  Since I have a hard time saying my name in 140 characters, I thought I’d move the discussion to the blog, and hope the folks tweeting could follow the discussion here with comments.

Let me step back a little.  Years ago, we sales professionals had the arrogance to focus only on the Sales Process.  Everything was about the steps and activities we went through to move the customer through our pipelines and get them to order.  Sure, the process involved lots of activities with the customer, demonstrating our value, answering their questions, producing solutions to their problems, but is was largely driven by a self centeredness about ourselves and what we had to do.

In the past 5-7 years, our customers have given the sales profession a giant wake up call.  They said, “Guess what, we don’t care about your stinkin’ sales process, all we care about is our buying process!  You better get on board!”  We started recognizing that customers had a whole set of activities and issues they were going through to make buying decisions. 

We also recognized that too often, our selling activities were not in alignment with the customer buying activities.  We discovered the more out of alignment we were the less effective we were as sales people.  Take for example an extreme case (which still happens too often), where the customer is still determining their needs and priorities, and the sales person keeps asking for the order.  That sales person needs to be thrown out.  So effective sales people start aligning their selling activities and processes with the customer buying activities and processes.

More recently, astute sellers have discovered that many customers don’t know how to buy.  Unless they are procurement professionals, most B2B “buyers” have very little experience in buying–that’s not their job, they run a function or an operation or do something that doesn’t involve buying every day.  Think, for example, how many times in her career is a CFO going to purchase a new financial reporting system?  Probably a handful of times.  Or an EVP of Sale buying a new CRM system, again probably a handful of times.

So astute sellers realize they can bring the customer a lot of value by helping them buy–or facilitating their buying process.

So the sales profession has made great strides in recognizing  that it’s not just the Sales Process.  We’ve recognized there is a customer Buying Process and we need to be both aligned and deeply engaged in that process if we are to be effective.

But is everything about the customer Buying Process and has that displaced the need for a Sales/Selling Process?  I still think they are separate things.  While aligned and overlapping significantly, there are differences.  For example, in good sales processes, there are things that may be totally disconnected with the customer buying process.  For example, an assessment of “Is this good business for us–does it fit, do we want to chase it?”  Customers may want us engaged in their buying activity, but it might not be good for us.  This is an independent activity or assessment that needs to be part of any selling process.  There are also activities that we undertake in the selling process to align and engage our own resources to effectively engage the customer that are not part of the customer buying process.

More importantly, the sales process should be based on our best practices of engaging customers in their buying processes.  We want to be as effective and efficient as possible, our customers want us to be as effective and efficient as possible.  So our selling process has to be based on our best practices and experiences in engaging customers as they buy.  And our best practices in doing this will be different than our competitors!  (And that difference also creates great value and choice for our customers as they buy).

We cannot own the customer’s buying process–it is theirs!  It is based on the things they need to do to organize themselve to buy, to make a buying decision, and to manage all the things they need to get done within their organization to make a decision and implement it.  Great sales people will do everything they can to help and support the customer with those activities.  They will do everything they can to influence the customer to buy their solution while facilitating the customer buying process.  But in the end, it is the customer’s buying process and their responsibility.

We have our Sales Process.  They customer has their Buying Process.  Both must co-exist, they must overlap, they must be executed synchronously (and the sales person has the responsibility to manage that).  As sales people we must facilitate the customer in their buying.  But they are different.  We need our Sales Process (sure we can wordsmith it and label it a customer buying process–but it really is our selling process.).  Our customers need their Buying Process.  We must work collaboratively to accomplish our shared goal–which is solving the customer’s problem.

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  1. David,

    Thoughtful as always…

    I believe the “marketing” effort has moved further down the funnel. Do you see marketing playing a bigger role in connecting into the buyers jourrney?

    • Todd: Great observation. Increasingly the marketing and selling processes are becoming so intertwined that they will be inseparable (and potentially indistinguishable.). We see sales getting involved earlier than traditionally, and marketing staying engaged later than traditionally.

      The days of marketing doing their thing, then tossing leads over the wall to sales (to be rejected) are long gone. Marketing and sales must be collaborative partners in engaging the customers and facilitating their buying processes.

      Thanks for bringing this up Todd!

  2. Dave – great post and Todd, glad you brought up marketing. I’m seeing great sales professionals take on many marketing functions – in fact often doing them better than the marketing department.

    Another point I found interesting was discussion of procurement as professional buyers. I’ve found that yes, procurement is often ‘responsible’ for buying, but that doesn’t necessarily make them experts. At least in my world, I’m seeing a need to have deeper discussions with procurement folks, sometimes educating them on just what they are trying to buy and how to differentiate between sellers. I feel that, unfortunately for many of their internal stakeholders, the procurement process is often a job of making everything purchased into a commodity, which we as sales professionals know is rarely true. I’d love to hear from others on their successes and failures with procurement.

    Thanks Dave!

    • Keith: Thanks for the comment. Procurement is a critical issue — yet we don’t talk about it much in the blogging world or as sales professionals (other than to disparage it). I’m actually going to be writing about it more. Like it or not, procurement will be increasingly important, even in areas where they have not played much before.

      As you read some of the procurement literature, there are some interesting trends that sales can leverage and work effectively with procurement in helping their internal stakeholders. Thanks for bringing it up Keith. I hope to provide a few posts in the next couple of weeks on working with procurement.

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