I am sure this not unique to Ontario, every November, grade nine students get the day out of school, and are encouraged to join a parent or relative at their place of work. It is an opportunity for the students to get out of their cocoon of academia, and experience a dose of reality. Among the many benefits of the program, and there many, given the career realities kids will face, is the ability to spend ‘a day in the life’ of a working person; highs, lows, warts and all, not just what’s on the recruitment posters.
I was reminded of this while I was reading a piece in the Harvard Business Review, titled: “The New Sales Imperative” by Nicholas Toman, Brent Adamson and Cristina Gomez, the CEB team behind the Challenger Sales and Challenger Customer. It reinforced the need for sales people, and their respective organizations to have a much better understanding of how others “work”, in this case buyers.
Just like grade niners, many sales people have a distorted or unrefined view of what happens at buyers’ place of work, what they face on a daily basis, what they do, how they do it, and often why they do it to begin with. Without that understanding it is often difficult for kids to appreciate what their parents go through, and in the case of sales, makes it hard for sales people to help their clients, and by extension their own companies.
Right from the start – as soon as we enter the buyers’ world, we are confronted by a reality that very much counters one of the most widely help myths in B2B selling today:
Most B2B sellers think their customers are in the driver’s seat—empowered, armed to the teeth with information, and so clear about their needs that they don’t bother to engage with suppliers until late in the process, when their purchase decision is all but complete.
Customers don’t see it that way. They may be better informed than ever, but CEB research shows that they’re deeply uncertain and stressed… Customers are increasingly overwhelmed and often more paralyzed than empowered.
Most B2B sales people, and their extended teams, have for years have presumed the opposite, (encouraged by the pundits), building much of their sales approach on that erroneous assumption. This has inadvertently added complexity to the buying cycle and process. Not that buyers needed help in that, given the numerous internal interests involved in any given purchase, CEB research showing there are up to 6.8 stakeholders involved from the buyer organization these days. Labouring under this misconception has led to B2B sellers/organizations to miss a great opportunity to bring real value to buyers.
The real value sellers can add for buyers by reduce complexity of their buying process and experience. To do that they need to first understand that the many of the struggles buyers face, are often more internal than market related, and certainly not product/vendor related, which is where most sellers focus. While there are a number of ways to do this, sellers should focus on two on their Day at Work With Buyers:
- Simplifying by eliminating unnecessary choice
- Illuminating the buyer’s journey
More is not better – it’s just more
One assumption many sellers have is that choices are good, certainly in the selection process and in the actual buy. As the authors describe, choice is one of the factors adding to the stress and difficulty. During the buy cycle, alternative choices will lead to some in the buying group, feeling that the alternative may have greater appeal. This has the effect of not only slowing down the buying process, thereby extending the buy cycle (that means a longer sales cycle grade niners), with 2/3 of customers saying the cycle took much longer than expected or planned. Multiple interests, multiplied by multiple choices, often leads to “lowest common denominator purchasing”.
This lingers in to the post purchase phase, CEB cites research showing that “second-guessing occurs in more than 40% of completed B2B purchases”. Yet despite this, sellers continue to believe that it is there roll to provide (drown) their buyers with more information about their choice or options.
Illuminating the Journey
Many sellers do not recognize how far down the journey the question of product or vendor are really a factor. Long before that, buyers, all 6.8 of them, need to agree that there is something or what, is worth addressing; if so, then are there particular ways to address. Only after that do thoughts turn to selecting a solution and vendor. Yet too many sellers/organizations think it is all about them and their product, leading them to ignore key parts of the buyers’ journey; sellers think of the entire journey is what the CEB calls “customer purchase-from-us journey”; a view that does nothing to address the first two, and from the buyer’s perspective, most important steps.
On a high level the answer is to simplify the buying process for buyers, in ways they could learn as a result of their “day at work with a buyer”. Specifically, “a proactive, prescriptive approach”, based around how buyers who buy, buy successfully, actually do buy. Yes, again counterintuitive to many of the mainstream approaches of being “responsive”, where rather than simplifying the process for the buyer, sellers contribute to the complexity of the decision by being “responsive”.
The piece highlights some key ways to achieve this, rather than rehashing, here are some highlights. Starting with some revealing data points:
- 86% of sales professionals agree that “helping the customer consider all possible options and alternatives is important.”
- 79% agree with the statement “I remain very flexible to customer needs and opinions throughout a sale, even when I don’t necessarily agree with their direction.”
The reality is decidedly a different picture:
Sellers can achieve this by applying what they learned from their interactions with previous “successful” buyers, and sharing that experience with potential buyers. The good news is that sellers interact with buyers on an ongoing basis. This allows them to have a front-line view of the buying process. Many sales people and organizations will conduct “deal reviews”, but most will bring the usual bias to the review, and end up looking at why they did or did not make the sale, but overlook the opportunity to learn how the buyer(s) made the buying decision, including steps that precede the product/vendor stage. If they did focus more of the review on specifics buyers faced in their entire journey, they can then share that with future buyers, thereby simplifying the process. But a continued focus on why the sales was won, lost, or came to a draw, will not do anything to help buyers avoid or anticipate specific things they will face in the buying process, long before there is even discussion of a product/vendor.
Helping buyers understand and eliminate hurdles and potential roadblocks they have seen others face in the past is an opportunity for proactive sellers. This will include helping buyers map their journey in a way different than the “buy from me journey” mentioned above. Stepping away from your product, and focusing on the helping buyers deal with realities they will face in selecting any supplier, not necessarily just you. Keeping in mind that the buying organization is likely to have 6.8, not always – and at times conflicting ideas of what they are looking to solve, what the solutions may be, both having to be resolved before any talk of specific vendors. Not making it about us is hard for many, limiting choice and avoiding being purely responsive is even harder.
Understanding and articulating the things that have caused complexities for prospects is key, helping clients avoid these across the three stages described is best achieved by focus and specifics sellers have experienced, leads to much greater success in less time than being responsive and facilitating endless choices, in the hope the buyer will find a solution they like. Buyers don’t often find it on their own, leading to the high number of “no decision” results, or a smaller safe decision that does not address the issues at hand, but take twice as long to arrive at.
The pay off:
Understanding why and how buyers bought, critical steps taken, and challenges faced and how those buyers dealt with them; then sharing that with prospects, are key to a seller’s ability to help customers map the complete journey, not just the parts where they are selecting products/vendors. More people (think they) know what to buy, their struggle is “how to buy”. A savvy seller, supported by their entire organization, can help their buyers craft a better buying journey. Helping buyers understand and prepare for specific obstacles they will face, and how to get past them. The alternative is to ignore the buyers’ reality, add to the complexity, and drive more “no-decision” outcomes to cycles.
As the article concludes, those selling organizations that can produce tools, guidelines and other things that simplify the buyer’s journey, will not only sell more, but have more loyal clients, leading to more cross and up sells. All things they could learn by spending a day (or few) with their buyers at work.