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How Effective Sales Professionals Trigger the Buyer’s Journey

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The most effective sales professionals do more than follow the buyer’s journey — they incite it.

This skill is critical for two reasons. First, it creates an opportunity to sell. Second, it places the sales professional in the picture early when they can create the most influence.

However, triggering the buyer’s journey is difficult. While the customer might be aware of the need for a solution, they’re also busy with daily responsibilities and changing priorities. The sales professional’s challenge is to break through these routines. There are two main sources that trigger the buyer’s journey: a pain point or an opportunity.

A customer experiences a pain point when they encounter factors challenging their strategy. In contrast, an opportunity represents a potential advantage. Here, we look at these two factors and how sales professionals can use them to trigger a buying journey that ends with a sale.

Trigger 1: A Pain Point

Customers see the effects of the pain point before they know what it is. For example, they might experience declined revenue or profitability before realizing that the decrease is due to a new competitor, falling market share, or deteriorating economic conditions.

A customer experiences a pain point when they encounter factors challenging their strategy. Today, businesses are facing pain points more frequently than before. The reason: competitive forces and market changes are moving faster.

Change is so common that many refer to today’s business climate as one that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, or “VUCA.” With so much in flux, it’s not surprising to learn that most change initiatives fail to fulfill their intended objectives.

Many of these companies lack the ability to be flexible because “companies exhibiting higher levels of agility and resiliency are more competitive and profitable,” according to academic researchers. The sales professional’s challenge is to help the customer recognize the urgency surrounding the pain point.

An impediment isn’t always identified as a “pain point” — sometimes it’s simply classified as a challenge. For all companies, a challenge is anything that stands in the way of the business’s ability to make money, save money, or manage risk.

Trigger 2: An Opportunity

The unexpected nature of an opportunity means that customers often need new capabilities to realize its value. Opportunities arise when new markets open, regulations loosen or tighten, or margins become more favorable.

While the opportunity might be clear, the way to capitalize on it might not be. Sales professionals who help customers identify opportunities benefit in two ways.

  • They uncover a potential sale.
  • They demonstrate their strategic and analytic abilities by showing customers where to find more revenue.
This skill is a precursor to leading the customer through the buying journey. Seizing on opportunities is critical because today’s business landscape is one of “transient advantage,” as Colombia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath explains. She continues"

“It’s now rare for a company to maintain a truly lasting advantage. Competitors and customers have become too unpredictable, and industries too amorphous.”

McGrath attributes this characteristic to factors like technology and falling barriers to entry.

McGrath’s ideas illustrate why it’s important for sales professionals to help customers see opportunities and capitalize on them. Increasingly, opportunities are becoming the sustaining force for many businesses. The sales professionals who use opportunities within a customer’s business to spark the buying journey demonstrate their understanding of today’s changing business environment.

Before a sales professional can identify if a pain point or an opportunity will trigger the buying journey, they must understand the elements of the customer’s strategy.

Breaking Down the Customer’s Strategy

Breaking down the customer’s strategy allows the sales professional to see where the pain point or opportunity lies. This level of detail equips them to offer stronger insights that are relevant to the customer’s business. There are five key elements to a customer’s strategy:

  • Values and Culture: The attitudes and standards shared among the company’s stakeholders
  • Goals: What the business wants to accomplish within the next two to five years
  • Objectives: The business’s short-term measurable achievements against the goals
  • Issues: Challenges or opportunities relative to the objectives
  • Initiatives: Projects the business will pursue to realize their goals
Each of these parts connects with another. For example, values and culture flow into the goals, which flow into the objectives. Just as the customer applies more rigor to purchasing decisions, the sales professional must apply this same level of intensity to understanding the customer’s world.

Customers need to see how resolving a pain point or capturing an opportunity relates to their business. Therefore, the sales professional’s investigation into the customer’s strategy must be ongoing as challenges and opportunities change.

Sales professionals need to be prepared because a large purchase decision is essentially a decision to make an organizational change. With so much momentum needed to move the process forward, it’s clear that inciting the buyer’s journey is a major undertaking.

To start the buying journey, a sales professional must pursue either a pain point or an opportunity within the customer’s business. To determine which is appropriate, the sales professional must break down the customer’s strategy.

It’s also important to remember that a pain point and an opportunity represent opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. A pain point is likely to surface anxieties and concerns, whereas an opportunity will give rise to uncertainties surrounding change and the speed of forward movement.

The start of the buying journey represents the beginning of a change. For companies and people alike, change is difficult and uncomfortable and stirs emotions. Therefore, the sales professional must take on the role of not only a trusted advisor, but also a guide through the uneven terrain of a purchasing decision.

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