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The 4 Steps for Leading Customers through the Buying Process

The buying journey is a long process, and it’s getting longer. More stakeholders, information, and options create confusion for the buyer. Sales professionals need a method for steering customers through the labyrinth. The problem, however, is that sales professionals are getting less productive.

Over the past five years, sales productivity has fallen from 41 percent to 36 percent, according to research from Accenture. The same body of data concluded that 59 percent of sales professionals reported that “they have too many sales tools.” Falling productivity is not a resource problem — it’s a strategic one.

Sales professionals need a smarter way to bring the customer through the buying process. They need a way to build momentum that helps move customers across the finish line. To do so, sales professionals must:

  1. Assess: Gauge their own strengths and vulnerabilities
  2. Strategize: Outline their case for change that addresses the customer’s world
  3. Prepare: Bolster their credibility by getting a more detailed view of needs
  4. Engage: Ask questions and seek feedback that will inform next steps

Each of these stages requires the others. Without taking the time to assess, the sales professional cannot properly strategize. Without adequate preparation, sales professionals cannot engage customers in a meaningful way. Removing any one of the above four steps means that the method will collapse. In fact, these steps often occur simultaneously in a nonlinear way. For example, assessing and strategizing often unfold concurrently.

Here, we explore how each step works.

Assess

Effective sales professionals know where to invest their time for the best results. They do so by determining how the buying factors will influence the sale.

These factors include the case for change, the stakeholder dynamics, and the customer’s decision process. These three factors help give shape to the complexity of selling today.

Looking at these conditions gives the sales professional insight into where they’ll need to focus their attention. Here, sales professionals are evaluating the “health” of the opportunity. They’re seeking answers to the question, “Is this a deal that can be closed?” To answer this question, many sales professionals will also need to assess the stakeholders.

Assessing the stakeholders begins by drafting a list of the decision makers. Sales professionals then need to speak with each stakeholder. Doing so helps visualize the reporting relationships and internal dynamics. Each stakeholder has unique needs and attributes. Engagement with each person clarifies these differences.

In today’s environment, decisions tend to be made by groups and by consensus. There is rarely one sole economic decision maker. Therefore, it’s critical to unpack the role of influencer.

Strategize

The sales professional’s strategy is their plan for winning the sale. The steps within that strategy are the tactics. Therefore, the sales professional must think about what those tactics — the stepping stones — will be.

Tactics are not final. Like real stepping stones, some might be shaky or insufficient. Many need to adjust or completely change tactics along the way.

Just as the buyer’s journey twists and turns, so does the sales professional’s approach. That’s not to say that the sales professional should improvise. Instead, they should have a plan that allows the flexibility needed for reevaluation.

The sales professional’s strategy must align to the customer’s strategy. It must fit around a value message that addresses the customer’s needs. The strategy must also address the underlying emotion driving the decision to buy. Generally, the motivating force is either fear of loss or motivation for gain.

When there is a fear of loss, the customer is afraid of lost time and effort. They fear losing credibility and their standing within the company.

Those motivated for gains seek achievement and recognition. They want the sense of accomplishment and the increased self-confidence that comes with addressing a challenge.

Prepare

Strategy is nothing without execution. A strong execution comes from preparation. Too often, sales professionals take the strategic plan and reach out to the customer. In their enthusiasm to meet with the customer, they move ahead without proper preparation.

Preparation means taking the time to understand the customer’s needs.

This process takes time given that numerous stakeholders are involved. It’s easy to forget that preparation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, some of the most effective sales professionals share insights with stakeholders in advance of key meetings. Then, they seek feedback to understand the customer’s outlook.

Thorough preparation is critical because today’s customers are performing plenty of preparation on their own. This information influences the customer’s thinking before a sales professional has a chance to engage the decision makers. The customer’s significant base of knowledge means that sales professionals must come prepared with more than just surface-level information and insights.

Engage

To advance the sale, every engagement must add value to the customer. The information gained from even the shortest conversation is often more powerful than any research.

Engagement with the customer provides critical insight into the stakeholder’s needs. Sales professionals can use this information to refine their process and even change how they assess, strategize, and prepare throughout the ongoing sales cycle.

This stage is also important for understanding the customer’s level of engagement. If a stakeholder provides short answers, sales professionals can be reasonably sure that engagement on the buying side is low and that something needs to change. Cues like these are important across a range of people within the customer’s business. For example, procurement and even finance will likely have influence over the final decision. Therefore, sales professionals must address this group, as well.

The buying process is long and dynamic. However, sales professionals still need a plan, no matter how many turns the buyer takes in their journey.

The key is for sales professionals to become intentional about their efforts. They must know where they will plant each foot. By committing to a process of assessing, strategizing, preparing, and engaging, sales professionals have a framework that keeps them mindful of their approach and how well it resonates with the customer.

About the Author

Richardson is a global sales training and performance improvement company. Our goal is to transform every buyer experience by empowering sellers with critical skills so they can create value to buyers and drive meaningful conversations. Our methodology combines a market proven sales and coaching curriculum with an innovative and customizable approach to learning that ensures your sales teams learn, master, and apply those behaviors where and when it matters most — in front of your customers. It’s our job to anticipate change in your industry so that your sales team can focus on fostering long-term relationships, becoming indispensable partners for their buyers.

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