By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®
Over the weekend I gave thought to changes in buying behavior. It prompted me to wonder if companies have modified their sales process milestones developed in the 90’s and imbedded them into their CRM software? I’d guess few companies have gone through that exercise. I was surprised to realize it’s probably okay but vendors should consider incorporating steps from customer buying processes into their sales processes.
When you step back, a company’s sales process is a roadmap representing the most efficient way to lead to buying decisions. If there is adequate value, this approach provides good outcomes for customers and vendors. If not, it’s better for both parties to find out sooner rather than later. The steps defined years ago are likely still valid. It’s the entry points that may have changed.
Let me over-simplify by outlining a top-down selling process:
- Initiate contact at an executive level, uncover desired business goals, determine the capabilities that can allow goals to be achieved, quantify value, and gain access to other people that would be involved in the buying decision.
- Interview stakeholders to quantify value and then present an enterprise view of estimated cost vs. benefit to the executives interviewed.
- If potential value is sufficient, work with lower levels to get granular about offerings, implementation, support, etc. This amounts to a detailed product evaluation to determine fit and cost.
- Present a proposal with a detailed cost vs. benefit analysis and ask the buying committee to make a decision.
Selling doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Both parties continue only if sufficient value warrants the commitment of resources to proceed with the evaluation. Deep product dives without strong businesses cases make no sense.
Since Y2K, many changes in buying behavior have been fueled by a desire to avoid being taken advantage of by sellers and vendors. This was made possible by the volume of product information posted on websites (vendor opinions) and social networking that provided buyers transparent information from trusted people about offerings, service, support, etc. I believe researchers have made life more difficult for their companies and vendors invited to participate in product “bake-offs.”
Sales cycles begun by researchers diverge from the optimal sequence of a sales process and often skip steps. When prospect companies begin product evaluations, mid to lower level staff start doing searches in a given space to identify vendors to evaluate and begin to determine which features/capabilities should be part of their requirements list.
Ironically this behavior mirrors the selling behavior of mediocre salespeople. They start at low levels and engage in premature product discussions. Since launching CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002, we’ve said the most common reasons for “no decision” outcomes are:
- Failure to identify desired business outcomes
- Failure to create visions of the capabilities needed to achieve outcomes
- Failure to identify value
- Failure to gain access to power
- No agreed-upon plan for how offerings will be evaluated
Competent sellers recognize that when contacted by researchers it’s likely they will have to:
- Learn the high-level requirements and determine if their offering provides them.
- Learn the enterprise business goals and the value of achieving them.
- For each goal, learn what capabilities relevant to achieving the goal have been identified.
- Do a thorough diagnosis to uncover new capabilities.
- Qualify a champion to provide access to Key Players.
These sellers realize the entry point (product evaluation) is further downstream than it should be. It will be necessary to go backward before moving forward if the buyer is willing. The selling steps are the same, but the order has changed. It will be more difficult to gain access to Key Players. Without a champion, walking away from opportunities may well be the best course of action.
While well intentioned, researchers and mediocre sellers waste their organizations’ time, effort and resources. They vary from the prescribed approach defined in a sales process. Product evaluations should only be done after adequate potential value has been identified. This approach benefits both parties.