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Stop Helping The Customer Buy!

by David Brock on October 25th, 2015

Surprisingly, I’ve received more comments, questions, and pushback on my Solving The Customer’s Problem post than I expected.  In hopes of providing clarity or adding fuel to the fire, I thought I’d continue.

Let me be clear, helping our customers buy is critical.  It’s a giant step forward from what most sales people do.

Typically, we show up and throw up—pitching our products, even our solutions.  This leaves the customer having to figure out, “how do I apply this to my business, what does it do for me.”  The reality is customers don’t have time and won’t make the time for this.  It’s not their job to figure out how our products and solutions can help them.  They’re too busy doing their jobs, they don’t have time to do ours.

Today’s scenario, if we are lucky, the customer gets into an opportunity solving or problem solving mode.  There’s something they want to change about what they are doing.  There is a goal they need to achieve.  As part of it, there may be some products and services they need to buy, along with all the other stuff that has to happen to change their business.

We already know they let their fingers do the walking through the web.  We know  famous figure (depending on which survey you tend to believe),  they are 57-70% of their buying journey is complete before contacting sales.

By the way, you can tell sales focused guys did this research–again they focus on the buying journey, leaving the customer alone to figure out the rest of the journey themselves.

We know customers struggle in figuring out how to solve their problems–as part of that they struggle in figuring out how to buy.  Helping our customers buy is much better than what most sales people do right now.  If you haven’t made the step from “showing up and throwing up,” helping your customer buy is the next logical step.

But buying is just one element of what they are trying to do.  Customers don’t buy to proudly display their purchases on the shelves of their corporate HQ’s.  I’ve not met a single CEO who has walked me into a “Buying Trophy Room,” saying  “Look over here Dave, we bought this ERP software in 1999.  We haven’t opened the package yet, we just wanted to display it on the shelf.  We’re thinking of putting it on EBAY to see what we get.  There are more cool things we want to buy.”  Or, “Dave, we’ve constructed a new display, we bought a million each of all the parts needed to go into a smartphone.  But it takes more space than we expected- so we bought a building to house this display.”

In fact, buying doesn’t happen until they are a long way into their Opportunity Or Problem Solving Process.  CEB reports that the “failure point” for many buying processes is 37% into their buying process (They never even get to the 57%).  But we are only measuring people/organizations that have gotten that far!  Think of all those who don’t make it to that point.  Think of the opportunity costs to the customer for their inability to solve the problem.  Think of the opportunity cost to your own company because they never got to the point of buying.

For a moment, think of your own experience.  Think of that task force chartered to develop a new go to customer strategy, or the one looking at maximizing the time sales spends on selling activities, or the one looking at changing the customer experience.  How many initiatives lost steam or failed because you struggled with understanding or solving the problem.  Yes, you may have looked at solutions, but you couldn’t solve the problem.

Or look at it another way.  There is seldom just one buying process the customer has to navigate to solve their problem.  Look at a major enterprise sale.  Let’s imagine a CRM, Marketing Automation, Financial Systems, Floor Control, HR or any other “system.”  We’re interested in selling the software or cloud based solutions to address one of those issues.  And we help the customer with their buying process for selecting the right cloud solution.

We diligently guide them through the buying process, ultimately, they say, “You’re the one!”  High fives all around!

But then there’s the other buying processes.  They have to figure out the business process redesign, they have to figure the implementation/customization, they have to think about data integration/migration, then there’s training services, maintenance/support (not of the cloud part but the peripheral parts, or what about the add-on apps that make add the other capabilities they want?  Do they do it themselves, do they consider other suppliers?

What we miss buy helping the customer to buy, is all the other things that can derail that buying decision.  And if it is so difficult for them to make that buying decision, then it is reasonable to assume, they encounter similar difficulties in all the other aspects of what they are doing.

By now, you are probably thinking this is so complex, you’re ready to throw your hands up in frustration.

To some degree, I’m dramatizing the challenge to catch your attention and to help you shift your perspective.  After all, customers buy $ Trillions worldwide every year-some with difficulty, some without.  We work for companies and have had success in selling millions/billions every year.

What I’m really talking about is context and focus.

We can never lose sight that the customer is not buying just for buying sake.  They buy as part of something bigger they are trying to achieve.  We always have to position what we sell, how we help them buy, how we help them solve their problems in the context of what they are trying to achieve.

We help them solve their problems buy positioning what they are buying/what we are selling in the context of how it helps solve their problems.  It may be a big component–we certainly capture a lot of mindshare.  It may be a small component–but they don’t solve their problem without it (remember for the loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost).

We help make them aware of all the pieces parts/components involved in what they are trying to achieve.  We make sure they consider how they fit together, the consequences of missing an important part.  We must show how our part of their overall solution fits and how we can maximize their ability to be successful.

The customer’s view is Opportunity/Problem Solving.  Everything we do has to complement and support the customer in what they are trying to achieve.

From → Transformation

  1. “Helping the customer to buy” (and the dreaded buyer journey) is a fluffy idea that has taken over the sales world, but means nothing to real salespeople – the salespeople who have to create opportunities from cold leads and where they have to get the buyer ON the journey in the first place. Adult, grown-up salespeople have always known their job is to help prospects to decide what to do, even if that means NOT using the salesperson’s product or service.

    • Michael: Sorry for the slow reply. I’m not sure the idea of helping the customer to buy is that fluffy. However, your point of getting the customer on the journey is critical–and overlooked by too many sales people. We have to disrupt the status quo in the customer. Thanks for the great observation.

      • David, 95% of today’s sales commentators handle this whole buyer journey thing is a fluffy way, is what I really meant. The standard of insight in the sales training and consulting world has plummeted in the past 5 years. It’s full of fluffy consultants, each repeating thoughts they don’t understand. That’s why I noticed your piece, because it cut across the BS. Salespeople are badly served by the “guru” industry, which is why sales folk ignore the stuff. I find my twitter feeds and blogs full of the same crap all day, every day from celebrity sales writers. It gives our business a bad name.

        • Michael, I agree there’s a huge amount of “puffery” among so called sales guru’s. It’s not limited to the fashionable focus on the buyer’s journey. Write about that, customer experience, Insight, social selling, prospecting–you’re sure to gain an audience. There are also those that believe they’ve discovered the secret to sales success, but just doing these 5 or 7 or 10 things (it’s always a prime number or 10).

          The secret to sales success is doing the work. Discipline, focus, executing the basics with precision–leveraging tools to help, are what have and what continue to drive success.

          We are in complete agreement! 😉

  2. “The customer’s view is Opportunity/Problem Solving.”

    And, when we say ‘opportunity’ we are talking about the CUSTOMER’S opportunity, not their ‘problem.

    The emphasis on “find the problem, offer the solution” is only 50% of sales. The other half is: “FIND the opportunity and work with it!”

    Many, [many] Sales ‘opportunities’ are missed because the Buyer’s Journey, based on their ‘opportunity’ never begins. Status Quo wins, lets ‘wait’ until we have a “problem” to solve!

    CEB offering to success models Challenger and Lone Wolf caused me to review my Behavioural Analysis of both types. lo and behold Lone Wolves find MORE Customer Opportunities, than any other type [ Problem Solvers found fewest opportunities, but MOST problems, even when they couldn’t solve them!].

    Lone Wolves use the simplest and oldest Sales skill,
    they LISTEN!

    They ‘heard’ the customer say:
    “You know what WE ‘really’ want…”

    LW’s ask questions like:
    “If there were NO constraints, what would you do differently?”

    LW’s work with Customer “Presented Opportunities”.
    One, very successful, Lone Wolf called them “Buyer’s Gifts” which he detected with his “Sales Antennae”.

    We used to be called “Buying Signals”,
    and we ‘listened’ for them!

    Salespeople would find brushing up on their Active Listening Skills, is just as useful as Insights and Problem searching.

    “Everything we do has to complement and support the customer in what they are trying to achieve.”

    I could not agree more, Dave, great post!

    • The lone wolf got some bad press for the past few years. It was a challenging time. I notice we’re being invited out to play again!

    • Sorry to be so delinquent in responding Brian. What a wonderful comment–we need to pay attention to what we can learn from those that cause customers to think differently.

  3. David Locke permalink

    So your marketing is so bad, you have to do marketing’s job? Sad. With a permission campaign, everything should be done before the prospect asks for a sales person. But, with all this alignment crime, it’s no wonder sales thinks it has to do it all. But, then sales caused this alignment crime in its effort to grab more budget and kill marketing. To the spoils goes the loser. Congrats.

    • David: I’m struggling to understand how you reached the conclusion that this post is about marketing/sales alignment. It’s about how we can help the customer identify challenges and opportunities, how to help them figure out how to address them, and how to facilitate their buying process. Both marketing and sales have a role in this and should work together.

      The problem with a permission based campaign, is it misses a majority of the market opportunity and where we can create the most value with our customers. Permission based campaigns only work when the customer has identified a problem or opportunity they want to look at/think about/etc. But what about the customers so busy “fighting alligators they forget to drain the swamp.” Permission marketing will never capture those people.

      There’s another challenge with permission marketing, or at least your positioning of it. It assumes the customer knows what they are looking for, they completely understand the questions they should be asking and how they should be assessing the alternatives. There is too much data from too many organizations that indicate the contrary. They struggle with the buying process, they struggle with their own internal process, etc. While marketing content can help with a lot of that, we always have the “last mile” problem in which the customer needs to understand specifically what it means for them, what the risks/value/implementation/nuances for their organization are.

      This post was nothing about sales and marketing alignment. Somehow you view it as such. If sales has created this “alignment crime” what recommendations do you have to address it? Rather than snarky cynicism, perhaps you might engage in a more meaningful discussion about how organizations can address this problem and, collaboratively drive result for their own organizations and customers.

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