Customers are different now. Selling is different now — we’ve all heard it. The thing is, people disagree on just what it is about selling that’s changed. Research shows that humans make decisions the same ways, using the same mental processes they have for tens of thousands of years. We use similar steps and comparisons to when deciding which animal to paint on a cave wall. Now, however, the way we gather information to make our decisions is dramatically different; so different that it looks like the decision process itself has changed.
The (artificially precise, in my mind) statistic that “56% of the decision is complete before a customer first talks to a salesperson” illustrates the fact that we’ve become information self-feeders. Before talking to a salesperson, we understand a lot about the decision we’re trying to make…as far as we know. There are strengths and weaknesses in that approach.
Knowing the constants in selling… as well as new territory, guides the science of selling, and requires a fresh approach to the information-gathering customer. In complex selling, your customer has lots of information, but you don’t walk in knowing how much or how well-balanced that information base is.
This graphic illustrates the very important implication of this behavior. Customers are using new, different information-gathering processes, and have very different expectations about how they will engage with sales professionals. With all of the valuable-feeling information available, you need to help them along their buying journey. Importantly, when you walk out of the door after a meeting, the Buying Influence will engage in an ancient cost/benefit analysis: by what you showed during this last conversation, have you earned the right to another? Or can they get the same benefit more easily elsewhere?
Do you provide more of what a customer can get “on the interwebz” or from one of your competitors? If so, why should they spend time talking to you? The human mind finds efficient ways to complete a decision process, and the value you bring –relative to the time and energy invested in talking to you—is under constant scrutiny.
The new imperative: Adding value during the sales process…
Actually, it’s imperative to add value THROUGHOUT the sales process.. Every meeting, every phone call, every time. When you are getting ready to dial that phone, it’s no longer good enough to have planned great questions. You need to think of your conversation partner, where they are in their journey, and thoughtfully plan what value you could add to their process.
By knowing where they are in their buying process, you can enrich your prospect conversations. Pose the perspective-broadening questions they should be asking themselves. How do you know what those are? Ask questions to align with their current state, with those perspective-building questions at the ready. Don’t “tell them something they don’t know about their own business” unless you’ve framed it in customer relevance and salesperson credibility. Failure to do so is why half of all “Challenger sellers” are low performers.
In complex sales, you’re trying to help your prospect advance through an involved process while simultaneously earning the right to work alongside them. Adding value to each meeting does that…remembering that your permission to join them is earned at every step by how easy or effective you make their journey.
Customer Value Makes it all Work
My practice’s focus on customer value is often thought of as focus on total value around price negotiation time. That is a mistake. Value is the unseen force that drives the entire engagement and buying process. Customer value is the “true north” driving sales coaching, opportunity pursuit, relationship management, and today’s topic: call planning and execution. Single-minded pursuit of value during every call is a foundational aspect of any sales skill or methodology.
Successful sales professionals draw a clear line-of-sight between need and solution. Is the line of sight you establish, your viewpoint, differentiating you or commoditizing you? Are you selling the same way as everyone? Do you find your influence waning with prospects? If so, ask yourself what value you’ve brought to their decision process, and make a plan to increase that value ASAP.
Putting it together.
Planning on how you’ll add value to the customer’s buying process – every call — will make you better… every call that you do it. Practice it. Make it your habit. Today’s 1% will become tomorrow’s base.
To your success!