Understanding the Buying Experience Improves the Sales Process

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Sales organizations strive to increase the velocity, volume and frequency of sales, and in many cases, this effort concentrates on modifying the behavior and processes associated with selling. However, Sales will find much more benefit by paying attention to the customer’s buying experience.

For selling organizations, the customer buying experience should be understood in the context of how well customer contact points (meaning sales reps, web pages, selling processes and technologies) help customers understand their pain points and find solutions that address or mitigate those issues.

How does guided selling enable the buying experience?

Guided selling enables an excellent customer experience because the focus of guided-selling processes is firmly fixed on the customer’s needs and expectations.

Every B2B sales rep in the world knows about the funnel―the marketing and sales qualification stages where Sales asks for the order and brings the deal home through an artfully executed closing. There is nothing wrong with measuring and reporting this activity since it does provide useful data that helps management and the sales rep estimate performance and project sales.

But it should be understood that these stages and funnel-descent position estimates are totally meaningless to your customer—your customer does not know or care about your funnel.

Customers buy things, and they have a process to buy things. They don’t care if you think they are marketing-qualified, sales-qualified or ready to close. Customers care about solving their issues, mitigating their pain points and finding the fastest, cheapest, most effective solution to accomplish those two goals.

Help Customers Move through the Buying Process

If you really are interested in figuring out where your customer is in terms of closing a deal, you need to know where they are within their own buying process. If you are really serious about hastening that process, your efforts should be directed toward helping your customer move through the buying experience.

A recent piece published on the Gartner website discusses how the B2B buying process has changed. Brent Adamson, of Gartner, explains what this means to sellers and buyers: “As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it is actually our customers’ struggle to buy.”

Obviously, if you are in sales, the message is quite clear. If you want to have a positive impact on the velocity of the selling cycle, you should spend time facilitating the customer’s buying experience.

Understand What the Buying Process Involves

Searching on “buying process” will return numerous hits that outline the multiple stages a customer goes through to make a purchase. For the most part, these all track along a common path. The names and numbers of the assorted stages will vary slightly, but the overall process is pretty much the same.

Six Milestones Along the Buying Journey

The following is a brief explanation of six milestones along the buying journey.

Customer Pain Point Recognition

The initial pain point recognition phase is simply the point at which someone within the customer organization recognizes that a problem exists. This can occur at any level and may involve one or many employees. From a sales standpoint, pain recognition must be acknowledged by those individuals within the company who make decisions and control spending priorities.

Sales can impact this process by communicating the specifics of the problem to the decision-makers within the organization. A clerk or first-line supervisor may choose to tolerate an issue or find they are ignored when bringing the issue to the attention of their management. Sales can aid in and facilitate the buying process by communicating the pain point, the risks and the impact of the issue to those in a position to do something about it within the buying organization.

Pain Point Mitigation Research

Once the buying organization has acknowledged the existence of a pain point, the issue will be evaluated. This evaluation will involve quantifying the impact of the problem and looking for reasons why it exists.

Sales can help facilitate this research. Indeed, selling organizations that embrace a guided-selling approach will offer educational materials and information about the problems involved. The more useful and accurate this information is, the more likely the buying organization will perceive the seller as a trusted resource.

Solution Exploration

As the buyer’s research progresses, attention will begin to turn to possible solutions. Sales should not assume that “solution” means product. Solutions may come in the form of process changes, employee re-education or training or even personnel changes.

Again, educational resources offered by the selling organization should not be limited to solutions that align with product offerings. However, in those areas where a product or service might be appropriate, some generalized material about the solution is entirely appropriate.

Product Comparison and Selection

When customers fully understand the situation that is causing their pain and the general array of solution options available, they will begin to look at side-by-side comparisons. This is especially true when the solution options have been reduced to several products that offer mitigation potential for the issue.

This is where Sales can begin to sell and present the product with specifics related to the benefits associated with relevant features that align with customer needs  – everything should be presented in terms of the customer’s needs.

Customers will make a purchasing decision based on the product that best serves their needs, not the product with the most features, most buyers or other quantifiers.

The buying decision will definitely be influenced, for better or for worse, by Sales.

Solution Implementation

Once the buying decision is made, Sales has the opportunity and obligation to follow through and reinforce the customer’s decision by contributing to the successful implementation of the solution.

This is the phase of the buying experience where customers decides whether they have made a good or bad selection. This phase defines the seller’s reputation in the future.

The more effort the selling company puts into ensuring that the buyer has successfully deployed the product, the more likely the buyer is to seek out the seller for future business opportunities.

Buyer Review and Evaluation

Good sellers will maintain contact with the buyer long after the sale is complete. The buyer will undoubtedly hit some bumps along the way that involve the product they have purchased. Sellers can minimize the negative effects of these bumps by being there to help resolve the issue, smooth the process and move forward.

Sellers also have a great opportunity to learn how they might improve in future buying experiences during this evaluation phase.

CRM, CPQ software and marketing-automation tools are all potentially helpful in keeping the seller’s selling process aligned with the customer’s buying process. They also should provide the ability to document sales transactions from start to conclusion.

Know Where Customers are Within the Buying Process

Sales organizations will always need to know “where the deal is” in terms of their own selling processes. But to answer that question, the sales rep needs to know where the customer is within their buying process.

When the sales manager polls sales reps for the closing status of deals in process on Friday afternoon, knowing where the customer is in the buying process will back up and validate the sales rep’s estimate regarding a projected closing date.

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