It’s early September. It seems my calendar is filled with with deal and pipeline reviews. Everyone’s scrambling to finish Q3 and lining up to have a strong year end finish. It’s Thursday, 9/7, in just the last 24 hours, I’ve done reviews with teams in China, Australia, Sweden, Spain, Israel, Canada, and all over the US. I’ll be revisiting those countries and more in the coming weeks.
I start seeing patterns as I walk through the reviews.
Unfortunately, too many are driven by wishful thinking and random walks through the customer engagement process. Too often, “we’ve given them a proposal, we want to try to get an order by the end of the month…..” Many of the sellers and some managers get annoyed by me asking crazy and stupid questions like, “What’s the customer’s need to buy?”
There are a small number that leverage a selling process strongly. They show their sales process checklists, reporting the things they’ve done to move the deal forward: “We’ve had a discovery call to determine their needs….. We did a demo, responding to the needs they identified….. We’ve given them a proposal that should fit their budget….. We have answered all their questions and concerns….. We have given them incentives if we get an order this month……..
They go through their sales process checklists, checking off all the activities identified in the checklist………check, check, check, check….. They say, “Here are the next activities in the checklist, we have meetings scheduled to complete them, culminating in an order before month end. We should be in good shape……”
Then, I usually ask one of those annoying, seemingly stupid questions…… “All that’s cool, congrats. But I’m confused, where is the customer in their buying process?”
I look around the table, I see eyes roll, sidelong glances at each other. I know they are thinking, “What’s this old guy talking about? Didn’t we just describe all the activities we are conducting with the customer?”
Knowing that, after a pause (I am a little bit of a jerk, I pause to build a dramatic moment….) Then I say, “There are a lot more things the customers has to do than just meet with you, helping you execute your selling process. Where are they in doing those activities? Are they progressing through their buying process as well as you are progressing through your selling process?”
At this point, they are confused. “We’re doing our selling process–we are meeting with the customer, isn’t that enough?”
Inevitably, I respond, “Not at all, there are a huge number of things the customer needs to do other than meeting with you…….”
Some smart guy chimes in, “We know they are meeting with our competitors, the customer has proposals from everyone…..”
“But there are a whole number of things happening with the customer in their buying process. They have to assemble the right team, they have to come to consensus on their priorities, they have to gain support from within the organization and from executive management. They have to be assessing the risks of the change, develop and put in place strategies to manage the risk. Their project is a change management or problem solving project–there is a lot more to successfully completing their project than simply buying something. They shift their priorities, they often get diverted to address crises. They are struggling to make sense of everything they are seeing, trying to understand what’s most important. They are struggling to gain confidence in what they are doing–not just purchasing something, but are they doing the right thing for their company and themselves………”
I usually have to pause here to take a breath, often someone interrupts before I go on, “But we are doing all the things in our selling process, I don’t understand what you are talking about?”
“Buying is not just the flip side of a coin,” I reply, “There are are a whole number of things outside of solution selection that are critical to their success and making the right change to how they work. What’s worse, is they don’t know what those things are or how to navigate the process because they probably have never done this before. So they struggle.
Some years ago, we were funded to do some research from a major technology company. We were looking at the alignment of where customers are in their buying process and where the seller is in their process. We found that for every stage of misalignment, for example we are presenting our solution and the customer hasn’t finalized their definition of the problem they want to solve. for every stage of misalignment, the probability of winning declines by 15-20%. (This is why pitching a product/solution in the first call is such a losing strategy).
What we get wrong in our execution is that we focus only on executing our sales process. We forget the customer has a buying process and that they struggle, most often failing in their execution of the buying process. We focus on what we do, not helping the customer define and execute the things they must be doing to define and navigate the change/problem process.
The selling process is easy to execute, after all, we’ve done it 100s of times. But understanding and helping the customer successfully navigate their buying process is where we and they fail. It’s where all the work that both have done goes off the rails.
Ironically, we probably understand the critical things a buyer must do, independent of sitting through our presentations and demos, to successfully navigate their buying process. We can teach and help the customer navigate that process successfully, confident they are doing the right thing.
But we don’t seize that opportunity. That’s why the majority of buying efforts fail. And for those that don’t, a very high percent of customers have regret–they continue to worry whether they have done the right thing.
Imagine what would happen if we and they worked together to help them get it right and succeed.