We misunderstand the customer digital buying journey and what it means to our customers and to sellers.
Too many focus on the ability of customers to create a Rep-Free buying experience. One would think it’s mostly customers liking this, but shockingly, too many sales people love this. Some arguing, “now I get to focus on the small percentage that really wants to talk to me…”
But the digital buying journey, even the preference for the Rep-Free buying experience creates an entirely new opportunity for sales people to create real value for our customers.
There’s little that sales people can to in presenting product capabilities, features, functions, even conducting demos that a customer can’t do on their own, digitally. It’s more convenient, it’s more efficient, it’s probably more accurate and consistent.
It shouldn’t be surprising, but the transactional purchases, with highly knowledgeable customers, can and should be executed with no sales involvement at all. We think this is a new trend, but we’ve seen variants of this for decades. When I first started selling IT hardware and software, every IT person I met with always had a bookshelf full of catalogs. For those transactional items, it was easier to look at the catalog, select a product, and order it. Perhaps, it required a phone call to place the order, but increasingly electronic systems became available. And over time, those catalogs moved on line. So this move to automate transactional purchases is neither new, nor surprising.
But even for more complicated buying journeys, customers are increasingly relying on digital sources for information about products/solutions. They leverage websites and the content we provide. They leverage social sites and peers to learn more and ask questions. They currently spend more time looking at digital resources than they do with sales people.
However, the digital buying experience doesn’t help the customer in the most problematic areas of buying. The largest, most difficult aspect of buying has little to do with the product selected. It’s about everything else–the real reasons buyers are looking for a change, the problems the customer is trying to solve, the opportunities the customer is trying to face.
We have all sorts of research demonstrating the struggle customers face, why and how they fail to buy. For those that succeed in buying, we have more research around buyer remorse.
The list of reasons is endless, it includes: recognizing a need to change, defining/understanding the problem they are trying to address, identifying the buying team, aligning agendas/interests/priorities, gaining support in the organization and with management, learning about the problem, figuring out what they need to learn, trying to figure out what they need to know, but don’t know (about the problem), understanding what others are doing, understanding the risks, maintaining project momentum as priorities shift, understanding what they should be doing, learning how to buy, learning what the implementation/change issues might be. The list goes on. We know the majority of these journeys end in no decision–and often, before they even start considering solutions.
These are the issues that stand in the way of customers’ abilities to buy, or when they do buy, contribute to their regret/uncertainty.
They are unique to each organization, at a moment in time. They are unique to each individual on the buying team and change constantly through the buying journey.
And digital buying doesn’t help buyers struggling with these issues. Digital materials can provide general information, even narrow it to industry, functional area; but it can’t help the customer with the issues they face.
But this is the huge opportunity for great sales people. Great sales people spend less time focusing on the “product,” and more on the issues customers struggle with in buying. Digital buying frees up more time for sales people to help customers where they really need help. It enables us to help reduce their failure in completing the buying journey–and in addressing the issues that were driving the buying journey in the first place. It frees sales people up to help customers make sense of what they are doing, of the information they are consuming, of the issues and roadblocks they face in making a decision. It frees up sales people to help customers make decisions in which they have high confidence, minimizing/eliminating buyer regret.
This represents a huge opportunity for sales people, but it represents a massive shift in our focus. We need to shift from leading with our products/solutions, focusing on helping our customers in the areas that cause them the greatest difficulty in buying. We need to free up all the time we spend pitching our products, to helping customers with their business problems.
The good news is, this is what customers most need, this is where sales people create the greatest value. The better news, is this will help more customers complete and succeed in their buying journeys. The best news is this drives much greater success for sales people and their companies.
The digital buying journey enables us to shift our focus, to do the things with our customers that create the greatest value, to spend our time in driving higher levels of shared success.