So, you think selling is tough, do you? Well, I’ve got news for you. Buying is even tougher.
The question is, what are you doing to help? Probably not a lot. And why should you? Your job is just to sell, right?
This sort of mentality is part of the reason sales performance globally is in steady decline. We’re so focused on perfecting our sales process, we ignore the buyer.
We’re going to look at the three main problems that are affecting global sales performance — people, information, and process — and how we can solve them by focusing on buyer enablement.
3 Reasons for the Decline of Sales Performance
Each year, more salespeople fail to meet quota.
Each year, more forecasted opportunities end in a no-decision outcome.
This means significant wasted time and money on both sides of the deal. Over three-fourths of companies say buying is difficult, complex, and takes longer than they expected.
Why is buying so challenging?
Too many people
We all know that, in every aspect of life, trying to get an agreement becomes more difficult when more people are involved.
The more people, the more pain. If we were to convert that to a formula, it would be…
People = Pain
Now, guess what’s happened in B2B industries recently. According to Gartner, the average number of people involved in the buying and decision process has gone from 5.4 a few years ago to 11 today, and even more people are involved for technical project decisions.
Hard to believe, right?
“No way, Jose,” is the response I get from most sales teams when I tell them this stat. Most teams underestimate the buying teams size by around 50% because they haven’t identified everyone involved, not because these people don’t exist.
“Decision making by committee” is a thing now.
Selling is no longer about getting a yes, it’s about getting a collective yes.
In today’s world, executives aren’t comfortable making decisions without the wider buy-in of stakeholders and team members because they want to minimize resistance and reluctance to embrace change.
It’s a smart play.
We live in a world where people want to be considered and heard, especially in the business environment. Involving a larger team in the decision-making process helps people feel heard and increases buy-in.
The bad news is that this makes your job harder.
Your prospects know they have a business problem, they know they need to make a purchase to solve it, the money is there to do it, but they just can’t seem to get to a decision.
It’s not always because they can’t make a selection from a vendor. It’s because the people in the buyer committee are not aligned.
Decisions are made once consensus is achieved, and that’s a lot of yeses that you as a salesperson have to win.
Too much information
There was a time when customers were starved of good, quality information, but now they’re drowning in it. What they’re really starved of is useful insights that help them wade through the sea of content.
Most companies work hard to generate high quality content to promote their business. Now think about all of your competitors who also bombard the same prospects with theirs.
Every company with something to sell makes grandiose statements like they’re the biggest, the best, the fastest, the most reliable, and so on. They’ll make every claim under the sun to try to stand out from the crowd.
The actual effect is just the opposite. It creates confusion.
Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes for a moment. They have to make an informed and educated submission, recommendation, or decision — and they have to weed through a mountain of information to do it. It creates analysis paralysis.
A buyer committee will spend as much time deconflicting all of the information (15%) as they spend actually meeting with sellers (17%) (thank you, Gartner, once again).
The information that most sellers create is too self-serving, too broad, and too nonspecific to be helpful to the buyer.
Buyers need information that is relevant to their roles and responsibilities, and designed to help them in the buying process.
Dumping content on them and expecting them to pick out the golden nuggets is sales suicide.
As salespeople, we’re prone to think too simplistically about the buyer’s process and experience. We imagine that prospects follow a linear deciding and buying process much like we’re supposed to have a linear sales process, but the reality is much more chaotic.
Before we go further, I need to get something off my chest. It’s not a buyer journey, as it’s often called. It’s a deciding and buying process.
Please do not jump on the bandwagon building around this term. If it was a journey, the driver would be arrested for a DUI, because the route is all over the place: Left, right, forward, reverse, stop, start, right again. Bugger, we’ve gone the wrong way, and now we’re out of fuel!
This is not a coming-of-age journey where a child becomes an adult. It’s not a journey of enlightenment to discover the meaning of life. It’s a process to decide if they buy (and who from) or do nothing.
OK, I’m off my soapbox now!
Just for a second, try to be your own toughest critic. Can you honestly say you know exactly what to do in every sales situation and how to lead the deal to a successful outcome?
Of course, you can’t. That’s unrealistic.
So why assume it’s any different for those on the other side of the equation? After all, buyers are human too.
If what you sell isn’t a commodity, there’s a good chance it’s something that only gets purchased occasionally. In complex or enterprise sales, they may only purchase a product like yours once every 5–10 years. Do you honestly think there is a formalized buying process for this?
Buying processes evolve (less so with the public sector). The buyer committee will learn, adapt, and make decisions as they go along.
Now think about the points raised earlier. There are more people involved than ever before and a ridiculous amount of information to wade through.
It’s a recipe for disaster that makes successful selling more like a lottery than a science.
So, what is the buying process? Let’s break it down into its simplest form.
The buying process is a series of stages that includes a number of jobs and tasks that are assigned to different people in the buyer committee.
This process is fraught with complications, which is why it leads to so much looping — going back and reviewing what’s already been done.
It’s a confused, jumbled mess that makes it hard to predict what they’ll do or what you need to do to make the sale.
The root cause
OK, salespeople, it’s question time again. Put a helmet on, because there’s some flack coming your way!
If you knew more about your prospects, would you be more effective selling to them?
Damn right you would be! I’ve never had someone say no to that question.
If you want to be in a position to help (and maybe even enable your buyers to make the decision to buy), you must start with the foundation of what and who you know.
It never ceases to amaze me how many salespeople and sales leaders are information-poor about their buyers. Sure, we’re in a numbers game, but you need to know what data is going into those numbers.
You need to know who is involved in the decision-making process. You need to know what’s important for the prospect’s business and to each member of the buyer committee.
B2B sales is like a jigsaw puzzle. Without all of the pieces in place, you can’t complete them. So, make sure you’re razor sharp on the what and the who.
The root cause of many struggling sales teams is a lack of targeted knowledge about their prospects — especially how their prospects go through the decision-making process.
Don’t assume you’re doing great just because the numbers look good right now. Some deals are done despite the salesperson. Sometimes the product/service or company is so compelling, it’s a done-deal from the get-go.
No matter how well you’re doing, always be working on what you can do to improve your process and how you can learn more about your buyers.
The 5 Things You Can Do to Help
Now that you know how chaotic this process is for the buyer, what are you doing to help them?
Two-thirds of prospects state that they are more likely to buy from companies with a good buyer experience (Gartner again). If you want to stand out in a time when product differentiation is really challenging, help your buyer.
The recipe for success isn’t as difficult as you may think, but it does take a bit of work. No one said high-performance selling was easy.
Buyer enablement is the key to success in today’s sales world, and buyer enablement involves 5 steps.
#1: Map out your prospect’s buyer committee
Mapping out your prospect’s buying committee is nothing new, but surprisingly, it’s rarely done. With bigger buyer committees today than ever before, there’s never been a better time to start.
When you identify who is involved in the deal and what you know about them, you can navigate the hurdles and bottlenecks of the sales process while also building client relationships.
For most salespeople, this is the “penny drop” moment, where they can visualise how little they actually know about the buyer and what the gaps are in their knowledge.
There are some sales tools that will help you map out this information, but If you don’t have a tool that helps you do this, I recommend using a presentation solution like PowerPoint. It’s a bit of extra effort, but for your important or committed opportunities, it’s time well spent.
Don’t just map out the reporting line. Overlay additional information that you’ve discovered. For instance:
- The strength of your relationship with each contact
- Their position on change
- Their decision influence (power)
- Who the business problem owner is
- Who your internal champion is
Any politics that you’ve managed to uncover will also be useful.
- Who are your allies influencing?
- Who are they being influenced by?
- Who are they in conflict with?
Most of this may be subjective or opinion, but it can still help in planning your next steps.
If you don’t identify, engage with, and understand everyone involved, you can’t really understand how to help them.
#2: Map out your customer’s buying process
This sounds similar to the first step, but it’s even more rarely done. Salespeople are often fixated on the decision date, because it’s what they need for their forecast — but most of the time, that date is wrong.
Look at five deals that you’ve won. Ask your customers what had to happen, and in what sequence, before they were able to place an order with you.
This should include the roles or functional responsibilities of the people that were involved.
Now, you know what your typical customer’s buying process is. As a result, your forecasting will be more accurate. You also have the inside track on what needs to happen for your customer to buy and how you can help things along.
#3: Support your Champion
Every good sales deal needs an internal champion, somebody who supports you and wants you to win the deal. Internal champions are essential to good sales engagement.
Your number-one competitor is most likely the status quo, the do-nothing outcome. Your number-one weapon to fight the status quo is enabling your champion.
Don’t sit back and leave your champion to do all of the hard work. Empower them to help you.
- Identify the sorts of objections that could be raised, and advise your champion on how to deal with them.
- Tell them the questions they need to ask internally to get the ball moving.
- Tell them who needs to be involved and why.
- Provide them with insights, content, and tools to help them in the buying process.
- Offer different perspectives to add business value they can use.
Make sure your champion has a foundation to stand on when they stand up for you in their internal meetings, and you’ll be rewarded.
#4: Collaborate with the buyer committee
Collaboration and facilitation are incredibly powerful activities for sales when used at the right time and in the right way.
Remember, the buying process is usually difficult. So, a good buying experience is a great way to differentiate yourself and reach the decision maker.
Share your experience working with other customers on similar projects to help prospects visualize the benefits of working with you.
One way of doing this is by using a Mutual Action Plan, also known as a Joint Action Plan or a number of different names.
If you don’t have a tool to put one together, you can use Excel or Word. This will be a living document that is shared between the selling and buying teams.
If your prospect has a fixed project completion date, use this opportunity to map out all of the milestones that need to be completed, by when and by who, to achieve the deadline.
These milestones should extend beyond the decision date to project completion. This shows your commitment to helping the customer reach their desired outcome.
If you don’t know the name of the contact who would be responsible for each milestone, just put in the typical job title for guidance.
It sounds a little basic and simple, but your prospects will appreciate the help and advice you’re giving, especially since you’re helping them plan to project completion.
#5: Review your performance
Sales teams are repeat offenders. They make very little effort to understand what they do well and what they need to improve upon from the buyer’s perspective.
The ability for a salesperson to become a buying enabler or facilitator requires behavioral change and evolution.
Buying involves change management. It’s ironic that the sellers who trigger buying are often the most reluctant to change themselves.
Win, lose, or no-decision, they’re all fantastic opportunities to learn and develop.
A few simple questions seeking feedback on how helpful and insightful you’ve been, along with anything you could have done better, can be real game changers.
Buyers will appreciate your willingness to become more buyer-centric, and your questions will be well received. What better way is there to get the professional development plan you need?
Buyer Enablement Is the Key
In today’s sales world, sales enablement has become an important part of the sales process. But that’s not always enough to break through the noise and win the deal. For that, you need buyer enablement.
The key to winning tomorrow’s sales game is to prioritize helping, solving, and enabling the prospect rather than just selling to them. If you do this, you’ll win more often — and as a bonus, develop long-lasting customer relationships.