Selling for Customer Success – Five Questions During the Early Sales Cycle

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Customer success should be the ultimate goal of any sale. Yes, quota achievement, market expansion and a hundred other business improvement goals are important. But, overall, customer success is the critical metric to define selling success.

In order to achieve that goal, it is quite obviously important to know and understand the motivations that drive the customer’s interest in you, your company and your product or solution.

Even though we marketing folks would like to believe otherwise, there are frequently more factors that motivate the prospect than a simple response to our own brilliant content, product collateral and value proposition.

Sales reps will find that understanding the individual buyer, as well as the intangible forces driving the sale forward, are helpful to the process of achieving a successful sale. However, they are also critical to ensuring the success of the customer and the individual buyer.

The Buyer’s Agenda

All buyers have an agenda. I’m not talking about a specific pain or need; I’m talking about a more subtle or high-level set of motivations—some personal and some professional—that will drive the buyer’s decision-making process as the sales cycle moves forward. It is important that the salesperson understands that agenda early on.

Knowing and understanding your buyer is frequently as important as understanding their business needs, their specific pain points and how your product might address those issues. The more complex your product, the more technologically focused your solution might be and the more important it becomes to understand your prospect at this level.

Five Questions to Answer Regarding Your Prospect

1. How Does Your Prospect Define or Describe Success?

The answer to this question needs to be explored on multiple levels. The immediate and mid-term success vision can reveal a number of important factors. Some buyers are mostly interested in getting through the acquisition process quickly and safely by making a defensible choice in terms of the product selected. Others embrace the selection process as an opportunity to demonstrate their own abilities as a lever toward advancement. As a salesperson, you can help with either motivation, but how you help will depend on which motivation is present. Technology is critical in this role.

For the risk-averse survivalist buyer, assurances delivered regarding regulatory compliance, ROI, demonstrated product success in similar applications, vendor reputation and contractual protections all will contribute to the impression that the buyer is making a safe choice. All of these are helpful to the “success–driven” buyer as well, but so are the ability to visualize the product as configured, to cite documented specifications and comparative performance statistics with competing solutions and to really understand how the product works within the buyer’s environment.

2. What is the Technological Pulse of the Buyer and the Buyer’s Organization?

Even if you are not selling a technological product, you are likely using technology to sell the product you are offering.

As a salesperson, you are probably using a variety of technological tools every day. These might be employed to find and locate contacts, qualify leads, track the contact’s behavior online and in person, demonstrate your product or solution, communicate with contacts, produce quotations and proposals and all of the other activities in which you engage.

Some organizations and some contacts are simply not operating at the same technological level you might be comfortable with. Knowing how your buyer uses technology is important, and knowing how they will react to your use of technology is just as important.

Laggards in the technology usage maturity model aren’t necessarily anti-tech; they may just be limited in their ability to understand your message if it is couched in a technological wrapper. You can still help them achieve success; you just have to be prepared to address their unique needs.

3. What is the Buying Organization’s Tolerance for Transformation?

Almost any product will require some operational or process change on the part of the buyer. In some cases, the level of change required may be significant. Much of this change will involve technology.

Addressing complex products, issues and processes probably won’t fix everything. As organizations flatten out, they develop more cross-functional lines of communication and process dependencies and less-siloed autonomy within the individual business unit. These organizations may be less averse to transformative change, but they also offer more complexity in making that change positive. The ability of the buyer to grasp that reality and understand what it means in terms of a product or service is essential.

Helping the buyer achieve success requires that they fully understand how that success will be achieved. The salesperson needs to understand that, as well.

4. Is the Buying Organization Heavily Siloed or Cross-functionally Inhibited?

Good salespeople can sell into both heavily siloed and cross-functionally inhibited organizations, but how they sell to one versus the other will be quite different.

In organizations that are heavily siloed, buyers or decision-makers are more plentiful. The empowerment of decision-making and the budgetary spending restrictions are likely to be more generous within the individual silo.

If you are selling products that impact the organization across multiple business units, be sure your contact understands the possible organization-wide effects.

Organizations that are cross-functionally robust also affect sales, and you are much more likely to encounter a committee decision-making process rather than a single buyer. Understanding this early on is critical. You, as an authority on the solution offered, its impact and its effects, need to be able to work with multiple buyers and stakeholders individually and not rely on your input being filtered through a single advocate.

5. What about Customer Pain Points and Needs?

Now it’s time to start talking about what’s bugging your buyer:

  • What are the specific pain points they feel personally and on an organizational level?
  • Are these pain points aligned?
  • What are the actual needs?
  • What is the problem to be solved?

It is important to be able to quantify those needs and requirements and gather metrics that will serve as meters for charting improvements that result from purchasing the product or solution. Technology is, again, the great enabler in this area. Data is likely there to easily document any need or required improvement and to illustrate a compelling before and after result.

The knowledge supplied in these five questions will provide a foundation for developing a real picture of what challenges the buying company is trying to address. It also brings the buyer more effectively into the process by helping to ensure that their personal needs are not forgotten during the selling process and resulting product sale.

Selling is an interactive process, and it almost always involves one-on-one communication. Sales reps will find that understanding the individual buyer, as well as the intangible forces driving the sale forward, are helpful to the process of achieving a successful sale. However, they are also critical to ensuring the success of the customer and the individual buyer.

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