Most of you are probably wondering how I could have made
such a glaring error in the title of this month's Tip. "Surely he must have meant, 'Are You Selling What Your Customers Are Buying?'"
I assure you, it was no error.
You're all familiar with the idea of a sales cycle (you'd
better be, if you've been reading this newsletter for any period of
time!). It goes something like
this: Research, Approach (Prospect),
Qualify, Present, Handle Objections, Negotiate, and Close. And none of us would argue that this process
doesn't make sense to follow. But think
for a moment - does you customer give a hoot about your process? Does he even
know you have one? Probably not.
But the fact is, just as we sellers have a sales cycle that provides a structured, orderly, repeatable way to move
opportunities to closure, most organizations have a buying cycle that provides a structured, orderly, repeatable way to
select a vendor among several alternatives. And while buyers may not care what our selling
process is, you most definitely had better care about - and understand - what your
customers' processes are. If you don't,
you run the risk of being out of synch with them, which could have adverse
consequences for you. For example, you
send a proposal before the prospect is ready to evaluate one, making you look
too eager, or try to close while they're still evaluating alternatives,
making you look desperate, or worse, still selling them on your solution when
they've already decided in their minds to buy from you, possibly talking
yourself out of a deal you'd already won.
Here's what a typical prospect buying cycle might look like:
- A need is identified by
someone in the organization for a product or service that helps him or her
achieve a desired outcome - solving a problem or reaching a goal.
- Research is conducted to
determine what solutions are out there, and who provides them.
- A short list of solution
providers is derived, and each is contacted
- A team is assembled -
often cross-functional - to participate in vendor evaluations.
- Initial meetings take
place with the team lead, after which the list of vendors may get whittled
- Formal presentations are
given by each vendor
- The team huddles together to select a winner
- The winner is notified
that they're preferred, contracts are reviewed, and negotiations begin
- If the prospect is a
stand-up organization, they notify the losing vendors
Knowing how an organization buys helps you plan your
strategy for that account and gives you insights into how you add value. This has the important advantage of positioning
yourself as a customer-focused business consultant, rather than a self-focused
sales person, increasing the likelihood that you get selected. Buying in the corporate
world is as much about minimizing the risk of making a bad decision (CYA) as it
is about finding the "best" solution.
Each of the individuals - be they influencers, decision-makers,
purchasing people, technical people, or users - will bring his or her own
agenda, concerns, business and personal aspirations, motivation, personality,
and buying style. To the extent you can
uncover these for each person, you'll know how to sell to them, which will give
you a huge leg up on your competitors.
For example, if you determine that I am an ambitious guy with a big ego,
and that one of my goals with this project is to make a big splash for myself
so I can secure my position as the lead choice for an upcoming promotion,
you'll sell me much differently from how you'd sell me if I were a department
manager who's worried about having his staff ability to learn and use a new and
unfamiliar product or service, and the fallout that will hit him if word gets
out that they can't.
Take a deal you're currently working on. Write down the names of all the people you
know are involved in determining whether your company will get the
business. Then ask yourself, "Is this
person sold yet? If not, do I know what will
sell him or her? If the answer to these
two questions is "no", you have some work to do. For deals that are at their beginning, adapt
the buying process outlined above to your particular situation, and think about
what value-add things you can do at each stage.
Then do them. You're sure to see your share of wins in competitive deals
go up, as you're now working both sides of your deals - the sales side, and the