Every sales team is looking at what they can do to meet and hopefully exceed their numbers. The purpose of this blog is to share a lesser known idea with you on how you can improve your sales results. But before we get to it let’s put some context around why the idea of focusing on the buying process is such a good one.

Buying is tougher than selling, as sellers we don’t generally understand this concept as we tend to see things from a seller centric perspective.

This concept is particularly relevant in complex, enterprise or high consideration sales.

These are sales engagements with:

  • Longer sales cycles
  • Higher numbers of contacts involved
  • Potential business risks associated with the decision

Let’s look at some Gartner research that should help sellers see things differently and get them to think about how this could be used in a productive way.

  • 77% of buyers find the buying process difficult
  • 84% of buyers said that the buying process took longer than expected
  • 62% of buyers said they’d prioritise doing business with companies that provided a better buying experience

The last point is important because product differentiation is now almost impossible, so what can you do to differentiate from your competitors? Provide a better buying experience is the clear requirement from buyers.

This is easier than you may think, but it will require a little work upfront, work that will be time well spent.

So, the headline is – Buyers need help to buy. This will sound strange so let’s consider the details that will enable us to make sense of it.

Buying is rarely a linear process, in fact it’s generally chaotic. It’s highly likely that for what you sell they don’t have any form of process, especially if it’s something they may only buy every 3, 5 or 7+ years.

Different contacts get involved in the buying process at different stages, not necessarily because this was pre-planned but because that’s the way it evolves and this is a significant contributor to why the buying process take too long and all too often ends in a no decision outcome.

Just as its accepted that buyers now generally control the selling process (even if salespeople are reluctant to admit it) there is an opportunity for sellers to control the buying process, well at least guide it.

Selling is largely about influencing the decision to change; this means that it’s imperative that sellers understand how decisions are made.

So, here’s the big tip for you – Start by building out your buyer process map.

Now before you dismiss the idea this is not about the fluffy generic buying stages that we read about on how prospects go through their buying journey (I hate the word journey in this context but that seems to be the generally used term)!

This is about setting a baseline understanding of what your customers buying process looks like by capturing who did what and when.

Home truth

Most salespeople spend little or no time understanding what happens in the buying process, although they’re very keen to at least establish a date by when the contract will be awarded so they can have some detail for their CRM forecasting. But then again, how accurate and useful does that prove to be? As stated, the buying process is chaotic and this chaos inevitably impacts the expected close dates.

As salespeople there are three objectives we can aim to achieve as a result of focusing on the buying:

  1. Forecast accurately
  2. Help the process
  3. Close the deal

When you build the buying process you need to almost forensically look at happened when your customers have brought from you. The best way to do this is to look at recent deals that you have won where the events are still fresh in the minds of you and buyers.

Build your customers buying process

What do you need to know? Everything that you can that will enable you to help, guide and dare I say it control the buying process for your future prospect opportunities.

I did say it would require a little work but the dividends that it will pay are more than worth it. This work is better than any account strategy planning that you’ll do which is generally very seller centric and focused on the sellers needs not the buyers.

The buying process is a little like an iceberg, as salespeople we only see the tip of it. Gartners research showed that for a software sale to a large company the buying process is around 20.5 months in the US and up to around 28 months in some European countries.

Buyers only spend around 1/6th of the buying process meeting with vendors, if you divide that up between all vendors then sellers have very little opportunity to make a difference with their discovery and product pitches.

The most important information about the buying process will come from your customers, but don’t forget to involve other members of your company who support the sales teams as they will have valuable intel to contribute.

Here’s what you need to know:

Start by looking across the deals that you’ve won and:

  • Identify the 3-4 key stakeholders for your proposition by functional job title that were involved. You should see a pattern across multiple deals.
  • Understand who built the business case by functional role?
  • Understand what was the priority insight or compelling reasons that they decide to invest in the project?
  • What were the triggering moments that got their attention to address the problem?
  • Understand who got involved when and for what purpose?
  • Understand what was important to each functional role at an operational or personal level and how they would gain or suffer pain from the project?
  • What were their concerns and expectations?

Once you have the stakeholder framework in place it’s time to add on the granular details about who else was involved (the average buyer committee is 11 people, or 12-14 if it’s a technical sell and without a wider understanding you won’t build the complete picture):

  • Who else was involved by functional role?
  • Which functional roles had the most influence over the stakeholders?
  • What were the internal jobs/tasks/milestones included in the buying process?
  • Who owned each job/tasks/milestone by functional role?

You’ve now successfully mapped out the who. It’s now time to understand the what.

  • What sources did they use to do their research?
  • What information and tools did they access and find that was most relevant to their specific challenges?
  • What type of information/insights/content did they struggle to find?
  • What important questions were raised on a functional level?
  • What issues, concerns or objections were raised during the process?
  • What were the most important criteria that influenced their decision and how did they evaluate how each vendor could meet them?
  • What were the sign off processes?
  • And finally, what did they discover that they didn’t expect during the process?

If you sell into multiple major industries try and map buying processes across each industry to understand the vertical differences.

This is not chapter and verse of everything you need to know but it’s a great starting point. There’s a good chance that bits of the above will already be known to you but not captured in an end to end buying process that guides sales teams to help their prospects buyer committee.

How would doing this help your sales team?

The objective is to become someone that the prospect builds trust with, someone who knows what needs to be done to achieve a successful project outcome, someone who stops selling and starts helping. This characteristic is a differentiator in a world full of self-centred, biased and contrived selling. This person is someone that buyers need.

The right actions lead to the right results, after all the objective is to win the deal. Of course, this involves selling, but buyers are conditioned to expect the traditional me, me, me sales approach, so why not surprise them and stand out.

Buyer Committee Identification

Salespeople struggle to identify who’s in the buyer committee.

Asking their main contact who else is involved rarely produces the information they require.

Use the understanding of who’s typically involved by functional role to identify and engage with the wider team.

In these situations, they can make statements like:

‘in our experience of doing projects like this the ‘x-manager’ or ‘y-manager’ has an interest in the project. Would it make sense to engage with them now rather than risk delay to the project later on’?

This type of dialogue triggers wider discussions and shows that you have an understanding of project scope.

Buyer Insights

  • Use the understanding of the functional buyer personas to have insightful conversations and share ideas and experiences of working with similar individuals by role on similar projects.
  • By understanding everything that needs to get done you can become the source of valuable insights and content that can help them with each job or task at hand.
  • These could be blogs, whitepapers, industry research, recorded webinars, ROI tools etc.
  • A word or warning if all insights are those that are generated by your company then this will be seen as selling not helping.

Buyer Empowerment

If you have an internal champion, empower them to support you, don’t sit back and wait for them to deliver success for you. Help them understand who else to involve, what questions to ask internally and what objections to potentially expect and how to overcome them. Help them drive change and build consensus by equipping them with the right knowledge.

Buyer Activities

  • There are a lot of things that need to be done for any project to be completed successfully. If a project has a critical completion date then you have an opportunity to add real value. Identifying potentially unknown general activities that will need to be completed to keep the project on track. These are activities that you will have learnt from other customers.
  • The buying process often involves the unexpected, making the buyer committee aware in advance means that you bring more value than your competitors.
  • One way of doing this is through the use of a Mutual Action Plan. A tool that allows you to detail what needs to be done, by when and by whom (job title if you don’t know the person by name) to meet the completion date.
  • MAPs are not new, but too often they used in a seller centric way and only focus on activities up to the decision date. Make sure that they extend all the way to ‘Go Live’ or ‘Achieve ROI’.

Here’s a great way of positioning a MAP with an active prospect:

‘There’s a lot of things that need to get done by a lot of different people in your team to achieve a successful outcome. This is the sort of project we do day in day out for customers like you. How would you feel if we shared some ideas on what you need to plan for and the activities you need to complete to keep the project on track’?

This approach gets a very positive response, but once again avoid the temptation to make it all about you.

Last words

The buying process is chaotic and difficult because members of the buyer committee don’t know how to navigate the complexity, drive change and build consensus. This is where salespeople can guide and help in the deciding and buying. If they understand how other customers achieved it, they can guide the prospect through each job/task/milestone, add value at each stage and mitigate much of the risk of a no decision.

I wrote this blog because I believe that the secret to success in modern day sales lies in understanding the buying process and helping your prospects to buy. Modern B2B buyers expect an entirely different kind of relationship and to be treated as partners, this means that helping needs to replace selling. It’s the new differentiator.

Check out how Boxxstep enables Mutual Action Plans for your prospects.

If you want to learn more about how to enable your prospects then here’s some great information from Gartner on Buyer Enablement.