May 28, 2019

Understanding the Buyer’s Journey -- The Essence of a Successful Sale

Andy Scott

Andy Scott
Experienced Business Development and Strategy Executive/

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Today’s sales professionals face an uphill battle. Buyers are more educated than ever about service and product offerings in their respective marketplaces. Buyers are also incredibly busy. If a seller comes knocking with a generic sales pitch, not only are they unlikely to get the sale, their chances of further engaging with that prospect are extremely limited. In order to overcome these challenges and close more sales, successful salespeople must work harder, work smarter and deliver more value than their competitors. 

A critical first step in the sales engagement process is to delineate all of the possible buyers and important influencers you might face in your particular marketplace. You should think broadly at first as potential buyers and stakeholders might surprise you. Understanding the full spectrum of potential buyers will enable you to then be more successful in finding the appropriate individuals you want to engage with at a particular prospect company. A few techniques which could facilitate this exercise are:

  1. Design creative brainstorming activities to ensure you don’t miss an important stakeholder. I recall a few instances where we assumed a General Counsel was the key decision maker, yet instead it was the CFO who had the final say. 
  2. Do not generalize your buyers across an industry, as each company may have a slightly different purchasing process. 
  3. Wherever possible, find an internal advocate who will help you understand and map out a company’s hierarchy for their purchasing decisions. You should then filter and prioritize this broad buyer list to find the top five influencers and decision makers that you believe will be critical to helping you close a sale. 

Once you have built your list of who you believe are the top influencers and decision makers at a company, it is then critical that you fully understand what makes each of these individuals tick. Each will have different motivations and goals which must be understood before you can devise your plan to deliver value. Some of the research and data gathering steps you should consider include: 

  1. Interview industry experts, current customers as well as friendly prospects to learn what are the key drivers as well as challenges for each of these buyers. Is it reduced operational costs, saving them time, increasing revenue or other drivers? You could also develop an industry survey with carefully crafted questions that will not only provide answers to you, but also provide value to participants through the survey results. 
  2. Attend industry conferences and read industry magazines and blogs to ensure that you are up to speed on all developments in your prospects’ industry and to understand challenges they may be facing. 
  3. LinkedIn is a great resource to stay on top of developments at particular companies but you should also follow your individual buyers and stakeholders as you can learn a great deal about them from posts that they write or share. 

Once you fully understand the motivations of your potential buyers and stakeholders, you are now ready to specifically craft the story of how your offering will deliver exactly what is needed for each individual. 

Humans are wired to respond to a good storyline, and therefore storytelling is a critical skill-set of a sales professional. Throughout my career, I found that prospects respond best to actual examples of problems being solved versus generic descriptions of features of your product or service. Specific examples enable them to visualize how exactly your offering will solve their specific problem and make them more successful.

Your knowledge of each prospect’s specific motivations is critical to be able to bring the buyer on a journey to allow them to achieve their goals. You must educate and make them believe you are there to help and not simply to get a sale. It is critical that you build a relationship of trust with one or more stakeholders who have enough influence or decision making power to purchase your product or service.

Once you have built this relationship of trust with one or more key stakeholders, your job is to now give your advocates the tools to persuade others in their organization who will weigh in on your offerings. You must agree on a roadmap that will lead to your common goals of engagement. This roadmap should include specific timelines and deliverables.  Depending on the individual company and economic times, un-budgeted purchases will face a major uphill battle. It is therefore critical that you clearly demonstrate why your offering will deliver an ROI and other benefits that are far stronger than the status quo or other alternatives. An important part of your job is to make your advocates look good. Therefore make sure you arm them to counter any potential objections from colleagues, and position your offering as critical for their organization. Once you have succeeded in closing the sale, your relationship with your champions should be nurtured. This relationship is important to not only keep this customer for the long term, but customer references will make future sales far easier. 

Each customer engagement will be different, but in order to illustrate this process, I will share one specific example. We believed that enterprise software companies could benefit greatly from our service offering, yet we didn’t have any reference accounts yet. We realized we needed to do a deep dive analysis of the industry, including mapping out key companies, understanding industry dynamics and determining whether stakeholders would be different than in other industries where we had found success. After this analysis was complete we identified one company to initially target because:

  1. This company had a growing problem we thought we could help address.
  2. We already had a relationship with one of the stakeholders who could help us navigate to the other decision makers if we gave him appropriate tools to do so.
  3. The company had a recognizable brand that would make them an excellent reference account for their industry should we bring them on board as a client. 

Our successes in other industries gave us great stories to tell about how we could deliver meaningful ROI to our clients. We adapted these stories to the dynamics of the enterprise software industry and this specific target company which we now had deep knowledge of through our research. We armed our key stakeholder with these stories which created strong buy-in from this individual, and gave him the tools to bring other stakeholders to the table. Even though our offering was very new to this company and its industry, our stories were compelling enough to build strong consensus among these stakeholders to support our proposal and we soon closed our sale. Going forward, we supported this customer in every way possible, and they became an important reference account which enabled us to quickly bring on many other companies in this industry. 

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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