Trust-Based Selling: Finding and Keeping Customers for Life (2015)
Chapter 4. The Sales Process
Align with the Buyer
Sales is like a dance; you and the customer take the same steps. The successful salesperson is not afraid to take the lead, or step on a few toes.
To start to define the sales process, let’s start with the end in mind. Ultimately, you want the customers to use and gain value from what you sell them. However, you must win the sale the sale first. So what do you need to win a deal?
· Pain. Every sales process revolves around the concept of pain. Without pain, or need, there is no order. Throughout my career, I have learned that a compelling event is more important than mere pain. A compelling event is pain with a time element. This is the best type of pain because it makes predicting and closing business easier. “Compelling event” means the customer has a deadline. Without a deadline, opportunities will drag indefinitely, which can be a huge drain on the sales rep’s time.
· Solution. The customer needs to envision that your offering will solve the pain, or fill the need. The customer needs to see value. There has to be a return on investment (ROI). What they spend must either increase revenue or reduce cost greater than the investment.
· Authority. You need a “yes” from someone within the organization who has authority to purchase (otherwise known as power).
· Understanding. You need to identify and understand the purchasing decision process.
· Relationship. You must have a trusted, valued business relationship with the customer.
So how do you bring the customer from need/pain to purchase? Better yet, what does the customer need to identify their need and decide to make a purchase? The buyer follows a psychological process called the buying process (defined in the last chapter). The sales process simply needs to align with that process.
The Sales Cycle
As with the buyer cycle, the sales cycle can have many more stages. Again, I will stick with a basic sales process in order to build deeper concepts. Figure 4-1 shows the process and how it correlates with the buying cycle. When working new territories or breaking into new accounts, your focus will be mainly on the first two stages of this process—Plan and Qualify.
Figure 4-1. The sales process involves defining the buying stages from the sales perspective
Let’s look at each step in turn.
Sellers must plan how they will develop their customers and territories. You must align with your customers even before you meet or reach out to them. You need to learn everything there is to know about your industry, and begin the process to learn about your customer. This knowledge can be found online, from company annual reports, from partners in your industry, and through ongoing interactions with the customer. Based on vertical markets, you can also make assumptions on customer needs. Planning also involves strategizing where to spend your time wisely.
Understand the customer’s needs. With most models, the emphasis is on qualifying the opportunity. Does it meet all the criteria for an order to be placed? Is there pain, a decision process, a yes from power, and a good solution? You guide the conversation slowly toward your solution based on initial customer needs. You expand the needs to fit the solution. Paint a vision for the customer for how your solution can help them solve their problem or issue. Understand the evaluation process.
This model will shift the emphasis from qualifying the opportunity to qualifying the customer. In the traditional model, the main question you need to answer in this stage is, “Is the opportunity worth spending time on?” In this model, the question becomes, “Is the customer worth my time regardless of an immediate, qualified opportunity?” At this point, I am laying the foundation of the sales cycle. I will spend chapters on this shift in focus.
In either model, this stage is the most important, as this is where a solid foundation of trust is built.
This stage is all about understanding the decision criteria your customer is using to make a decision. It’s also about providing a demo of your product, as well as your service capabilities. Give customers the product to evaluate in their setting.
Closing is, in the context of this sales process, the act of taking an order. Closing sales is an art that is present at every stage of the sale. The act of closing, if you have qualified right, and have proved your solution meets their business requirements, should be the simple acts of negotiating, working out the terms of contracts, and completing purchase orders.
Implementation is simply the customer using your service or product. Depending on your offering, this can be a simple process or take years. The buyer or the seller may be responsible for the implementation. However, it is important for the seller to stay engaged at this stage to ensure it runs smoothly for the customer.
Measure the results after implementation. As mentioned earlier, this stage is often neglected. For a salesperson, this can be the most powerful stage. This stage takes work and diligence and may require input or work from the customer. It is important that the buyer is shown by the seller that the value that was presented in the earlier stages is true. Notice that these last two stages are actually named the same in the buyer and seller processes. Up through the Close/Purchase stage, the buyer and seller may work closely together, but the agenda of each is different. There are still issues of pricing, terms and conditions, competition, and so on. After the purchase, the customer and the seller are partnered in solving the problem.
Your focus in the early stages of developing a territory should be on the customer and not on the opportunity. Figure 4-1’s steps are simple to help you stay focused on your goal, which is a sale.
Let’s continue the real estate example from before, focusing here on the seller’s experience during the sale of a home. The sales agent needs to align with the buyer right from the beginning.
Let’s say a real estate agent meets a potential new homebuyer at a party. Eventually the homebuyer asks, “What do you do?”
She says, “I am a real estate agent.”
“We have been thinking of moving, but we are not ready right now.”
The agent asks, “Why are you thinking of moving?”
“Well, I am not very happy with my commute and our house is getting too small,” says the buyer.
The agent makes a mental note. I need to keep in touch with this client; he is close to moving. He is not ready to move, but he is one compelling event away from moving. So she does the smart thing and stays in touch with this new buyer. In six months she gets a call. The buyers are expecting a new baby. The compelling event she had been waiting for occurs.
She gets the listing on the old home, and now she turns her attention to looking for a new home.
Here, the buyer relays the basics of what they are looking for—the number of bedrooms, cost range, town, and so on. For any salesperson, this is the most important stage of the sale. It’s in this stage that you show your knowledge, and how much you care about the customer. When qualifying a customer or opportunity, the more you know, the better and easier the sale and evaluation stage. For the real estate agent, effective questions include, “Why are you moving? When are you looking to move? Is your current house already on the market? Have you secured financing? How old are your kids; does school district matter; are you looking for a neighborhood with amenities? Where do you work; how long of a commute is ideal?” The goal here is not to teach you to be a real estate agent, but to give you a sense how the right questions show that you know your business, and that you care about the customer.
On the opposite side of the coin, imagine the agent skips the step of further qualifying the needs, and says, “I have the perfect house for you.” The agent can’t ignore the most important concern, real need, and jumps straight to the solution. I know I would feel uneasy, and that jumping straight to looking at houses would seem like a waste of time. Unfortunately, this is exactly the mistake 80% of salespeople make—they jump to product discussions well before needs have been analyzed in detail.
During the evaluation stage, the agent needs to show the houses. During this phase, the buyer can become overwhelmed with the options. What happens to cost concerns of the buying in this stage? This concern goes way down. It’s at this time that agents will stretch the buyer’s budget. Since concern with cost at this point is so low, this tactic goes largely unnoticed. She knows the buyer might pay for a lake view, even though it was not one of the original needs. The agent is taking advantage of the buyer concern cycle. I use this example to illustrate the point that cost is of little concern. In business-to-business sales, your repeat business is more important than the first sale. So, your concern should be for the best interests of your prospect’s business, not the size of your commission check.
Now comes the time for the buyer to make that big decision and purchase. The biggest concern is risk. The buyer is about to commit a great percentage of his paycheck for the next 30 years. A good agent in this case remembers the sales cycle, and keeps reminding the buyer of the needs and solution. “You are going to look great cooking out on that gorgeous back deck. Wow, what a great location, only five minutes from work. Now you don’t have to worry about finding a hotel in between homes.”
As you did at the end of the last chapter, think through a purchase you have made recently that involved a salesperson. How did the salesperson do? Did she align with you in the buyer process? How did you feel if the person was completely aligned, or how did you feel if she was not aligned?
The degree to which you evaluate needs and the solution usually correlates to the size of the purchase. You drop your mobile phone and break it. You walk into the mobile company’s storefront. The salesperson asks what you what brought you in. Does this person instantly start showing you phones, or do they get to know what you use your phone for? Do they take the time to understand your needs? Do they help you narrow down your choices? Do they allow you to try the phone?
After you place the order, does the salesperson help you learn the new features of the phone? Most salespeople don’t do this, but did you get a call a few weeks a later asking if your purchase is meeting your needs? Think through other scenarios you encounter on a daily basis. Take eating at a restaurant, where a good waiter is a good salesperson. Or, think through the last car you purchased. Did the seller align with you at each stage: Status Quo, Event, Needs Analysis, Evaluation, Purchase, Implement, and Measure? If not, how did you feel?
The sales process mimics the natural steps each buyer takes when buying anything. Trust, of course, is woven into the process. Trust and the sales cycle, in fact, form a symbiotic relationship. Put another way, trust is developed through a sales cycle, and the sales cycle can be defined by trust. In the next chapter, I show how trust and the sales cycle affect one another, and why it is so important to understand the level of trust you have built relative to your competition.