My sales tip on keeping your sales process aligned with the customer or prospect’s buying process raised several questions from the group. The most common question was…
“What is the Buying Process?”
Therefore, today is all about the Buying Process.
There are essentially six steps to the buying process, in fact you could call it a Buying Cycle since it begins and ends at a similar destination. The only difference between the start and finish is your role as the seller. Usually your competition begins the process as the seller and assuming you work the process-staying in alignment with your sales process-you will be the seller in the end.
Here are the six steps…
The Six Phases of the Buyer Process
In this phase, the prospect is totally satisfied with their current source and have no intention or desire to leave them. There is no need for any presentations, price quotes, or proposals at this time. Your entire focus is upon finding the crack in the armor of the competition and moving the prospect to dissatisfaction. Your should never attempt to sell during this phase as it only falls on deaf ears. Now is the time to ask questions about performance. What would they like to change and what are the reasons behind the changes? Questions and more questions to learn about the relationship with their current source and what performance they expect and want from their sources. Find a gap allowing you an opportunity to create doubt or uncertainty in the mind of the prospect – effectively moving them to the next phase.
Here is why the door to opportunity and change open wide for you. It may close quickly so a sense of urgency must be in play to counter the actions of the existing source. More questions about the consequences of problems appearing to be small can increase the prospects sense of urgency to change direction. The prospect is open to your suggestions and strategy when they are dissatisfied with their current situation. Find out what they truly desire, get them to clearly describe it to you, work with them to create an ideal vision of the future – working with you of course- and collect as much information as you can get from the prospect about their systems, processes, procedures and preferences. It is still to early for a full presentation, yet, you are accumulating information to assist you with a specific solution for your presentation.
Here is the phase where you give your presentation. Assuming you have used the questioning model to accumulate the decision makers reasons to change – including their ROI calculations – you are now ready to make the presentation to win the account. However, do not be alarmed if your prospect suddenly gets some additional attention from other competitors or even intense pressure from the existing source. This should be expected in this phase. The prospect is attempting to verify your solution is in fact the best value solution. They want to be certain your solution is in the ballpark with value – so be prepared to show your value added or USP.
Some sales people are surprised to learn the prospect is looking around at other options during this phase. There are reasons this happens: You missed a key buying influence who has introduced another solution to the mix. Internal people feel they can do it better (this is usually a service rather than a product issue). A bean counter insists upon three bids to check value. Or, in some cases, no change becomes the outcome – even when the evidence is clearly showing a better solution or method. This last one usually is a reflection of the lack of any personal emotional wins for decision makers – thus no decision or change wins since they feel more comfortable with the known element.
Here is the phase where your negotiation skills get tested. You must be prepared for last minute requests for extra value at little to no cost to the prospect. Again, your confidence and level of negotiation skills will be put through the ringer. Legal departments will delay the signing of papers until they are satisfied (earned their fees) and have okayed the agreements. This phase is the most stressful to the sales people since it is the phase moving the account relationship from uncertain to certain status.
Again, this is the phase most sales people believe is the finish line. This is totally wrong. It is the starting point for the buyer and is the beginning of the critical phase for the long term benefit of the business relationship. The best b2b sales people know the difficult work is about to begin starting now.
This is the phase where all the pre-work is proven to be correct or incorrect. Remember all those presentations and discussions about ROI and payback and results during the dissatisfaction and decision phases? Now is the time to prove your worth. Assuming you have been collecting data from your new customer, you should be in a position to prove your promised results. Your use of this data is critical for you to successfully move into the six phase of the buying process – the one that keeps you in the land of satisfied, happy and profitable customers. Having a meeting with the new customer either quarterly or semi-annual to show how the new relationship is working is important for relationship building, confidence, trust, and credibility. Using an ROI with numbers they provide will solidify your position for the long term.
One important side note: By proving the ROI, you now have measurable data to use in your new selling opportunities. Case studies showing a proven ROI is more important to a new prospect than projections with no examples or proof.
- New Satisfaction
Here is the golden grail or in some cases the “golden goose” for the b2b sales person. The key is to keep on cultivating the account using superior customer service, offering innovative ideas for improvement, collaborating on projects, lining up business ventures or relationships for the customer, and most importantly – continuing to deliver what you promised when you promised. This last step builds added trust and gives you some wiggle room when mistakes do occur. Mistakes will occur and you must count on this happening, the key is your ability to respond quickly and favorable to assist the customer to win again.
There you have the Universal Buying Process. There are several models of this one, yet, I have found it to most helpful in making certain my sales process remains in alignment with the prospect or customers buying process. Winning is the name of the game for sales people. Use this to your advantage and win more sales.