If you know how your customers do business, you’ll be more successful selling to them.
That’s my assertion. I have no infographics to back it up, and your experience may vary. But it makes sense and matches what I’ve seen happen at the companies I’ve worked with. For a few more words on this, I refer you here.
How do people in your market segment want to buy what you’re selling?
Here’s a start:
- Take a day to clear your head of preconceptions about how you think your customers buy.
- Ask your best salespeople and your industry’s best salespeople how they guide customers toward a successful sale.
- Ask your customers and other people’s customers what needs to happen before your product can be purchased and successfully used at their company.
- Compare the first set of answers to the second.
- Test what you’ve learned.
How does this relate to the buying process models you’ve read about?
It’s all in the details.
Take for example John Dewey’s 5 steps in the buyer’s purchase decision, first published in 1910 (we’ve been solving this problem for a while now).
- Problem/Need recognition
- Information search
- Evaluation of alternatives
- Purchase decision
- Post-purchase behavior
Here’s how to use this model to ruin your day:
- Ask your biggest champion at a potential client how they buy.
- Hear her say “Once you give me a firm quote on the price we’ve agreed on for the features we need, I just need to get a PO generated and we’re good to go.”
- You seem to be in stage 4 of 5! Set the deal to 80% in salesforce and send her the quote.
- Six months later the deal has gone nowhere. Set it down to 5%.
- Lose credibility with your boss and try to ignore the layoff rumours.
The more recent models of the buying process won’t help you avoid this scenario either. Some describe the buying process as a linear path. Some describe it as a journey. Some describe it as a cycle. These are all decent models, but their job isn’t to point out the details that can ruin a sale. All models simplify a complex situation. In B2B sales, the details skimmed over by these models can make or break a deal. You need to figure out what the details of the buying process are for each customer that you sell to.
(By the way, I’m not even 100% comfortable calling it a “buying process”. Calling it a process makes it sound like one step leads to the next. In a lot of companies, it’s a lot messier than that. Maybe we need to call it a buying checklist. A list of requirements have to be met, but the order may vary.)
Here’s an example. A colleague was telling me about a sale they lost. They had a champion, the “users” wanted the solution, the CFO issued a PO, all they had to do was install it. But the IT team wouldn’t install it because their leader felt slighted. They hadn’t shown him the respect he felt he deserved early in the project. So he delayed and delayed. He always found more urgent things to occupy his team with. End result: the customer lost interest. The PO lapsed. The deal was lost.
Most buying process models don’t have a step called “Respect the IT team’s authority.” But it’s this kind of thing that will sink your deals, or even worse, put them in limbo.
If you skimmed the rest, here’s the main thing:
“Ask your customers and other people’s customers what needs to happen before your product can be purchased and successfully used at their company.”
It’s the “successfully used at their company” part, enlightened by a cautious respect for company politics and human nature that could have saved my colleague’s deal.
If you’re in a B2B tech company, let us know how you’ve figured out how your customers want to buy, and what it’s taken to get your teams to use this knowledge in their product development, marketing, and sales work. If you’d prefer to speak privately, I’d be happy to hear from you.
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