The other evening, I was relaxing, watching something on Netflix. It was a mystery thriller, with quite a complex plot that had taken some very interesting twists and turns.
I was a two thirds of the way through the movie (70% to be precise), when my wife joined me. She had been busy doing some things, but when she sat down, she immediately started asking: What’s happened? I don’t understand why this character is doing this? What are they referring to here? I made it through about another 5 minutes of the movie, but all her questions were distracting me and annoying (I couldn’t tell her that). I knew I couldn’t tell her to be quiet and watch, so patient husband that I am, I said, “Let’s go back to the beginning and watch it from the start. Then you’ll understand what’s going on.”
That’s what happens in too many sales situations. For lots of reasons, we are getting engaged later in the buying process. Data shows customers may be 57-70% through their buying process before sales is engaged. Yet we’ve missed the most important part of the buying process. Like the movie, we’ve missed all the stuff that sets up the ending. More importantly, we’ve missed the opportunity to shape or influence the ending.
We want to pummel the customer with questions, “How did you get to this point? Why did you make these choices? Would you consider rethinking some of your priorities? What are you really trying to achieve? What’s driving your need to change?” Perfectly reasonable questions, but unlike the watching a movie with my wife, the customer can say, “We’ve already done our research, we just need some answers from you, we don’t want to backtrack, just give us the information we need. Please don’t waste our time, answer our questions.”
It’s a difficult situation. But for us to be truly effective, we do have to understand a lot of that stuff the customer has already gone through. Even though they are impatient to move forward and don’t want us to slow down.
Without understanding these issues, how can we be sure that we are providing the right/best solution to the customer, not just answering their questions? They may have missed some important things, they may not have known things they should have been looking for, they may not have even been asking the right questions in their research earlier in the buying process.
Unless these are things they buy every day, they are highly unlikely to be experts in the issues around “What should we do? What is best practice? How do we avoid making mistakes and missteps?”
Sometimes, you can get the customer to back up a little, sometimes they’ll share what they’ve done to date, but they are always impatient to move forward.
So it’s important, as much as possible for sales to get involved as early as possible in their buying process. To do this, we have to be able to provide value to them–it’s usually not about what we sell. We have to help them understand what they are trying to achieve, organize themselves and align their own internal agendas, understand the things the should be looking for, the questions they should be asking.
Ideally, through insights and teaching we have provided, we provided the leadership to help drive the change and they are engaging us as partners through their whole buying process.
The movie is never as good coming in at the middle or towards the end. We miss a lot. Likewise, the value we create in working with our customers is never as good–for them or us, if we come in at the middle or towards the end. We lose a lot by no starting at the beginning.