Customer Buying Journey: Simple Trumps Complex

I am blown away by the volume of sales advice available these days.  Sales training has become a cottage industry, thanks to many converging forces like technology, information explosion, and access to it.  There’s a lot of good advice out there.  It’s a good time to be selling.

But like the virtues of more information and more access to it, it comes with a vice.  Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.  Right before our eyes, without seeing it.  A blindspot.

When I coach sales people to set good strategies to qualify and win deals, often it’s something fundamental – simple – that they’ve overlooked, that’s getting in the way.

Which leads me to think that the key to getting better at selling is to escape the overwhelming onslaught of advice and just simplify.  Double down on a few principles that will never fail you.

Understanding how your customers buy is one of those.  It’s a simple, powerful concept of selling.

It’s proven that customers go through a “buying journey” when they make a purchase.  You do too when you buy something.   A significant, pivotal stage in that journey is when people really commit to buy something from somebody, that is, they’re no longer thinking about it, no longer going to “live with the problem”.  This is significant because it means that a customer has to spend money and businesses don’t take that lightly.  Plus, it means that “status quo” loses to the new solution.  Sometimes that means that someone vested in the old solution, the one that’s not working anymore, could suffer a loss of face.

It’s pivotal because once it’s decided to buy something from somebody the customer shifts gears in how they continue along the buying journey.  They’re no longer kicking around the idea of changing – they’ve decided to change.  Maybe it’s like going from holding the car steering wheel nonchalantly with two fingers to grabbing it at 10 and 2 o’clock and committing to having fun on the winding road.

One of the most common mistakes we salespeople make is thinking that a customer has reached this “decided to change” stage when if fact they haven’t.  As managers you have volumes of examples of your salespeople telling you about a prospect who “loves us” and who “can’t stand what they’re using” and with whom “we have a great relationship” and whose system is “really on it’s last leg and has to be replaced”.  And then nothing happens.

In our BuyCycle Funnel buying journey model we call this the “commit funding” stage.  Even when new funding isn’t committed to the buy it’s a commitment to kick out the incumbent and bring in something different.

CEB, which gave us in The Challenger Sale, the concept of “57%” popularized what many of us knew but couldn’t elucidate.  Many customers go through a fair bit of their buying journey before engaging with a salesperson.  Maybe a lot of salespeople today would agree, but they haven’t connected “57%” with something that drives their next selling activity.  “Commit funding” fixes that.

Sales managers would do well to simply, consistently challenge their salespeople to prove – to themselves – that a prospect has reached “commit funding” stage in their buying journey.  What’s the proof? It had better be more than “we have a great relationship” or “they can’t stand what they’re using”.

“Commit funding” needs an authority figure.  We call her the PFA, the Person with Financial Authority.  If the salesperson can’t verify who’s playing that role, then they can’t say a deal has reached “commit funding”.

“Commit funding” is not evidenced by a customer asking the salesperson for a quote or proposal.  That tail wags that dog every day.  If a PFA has “committed funding” then someone somewhere knows of a business reason for doing that.  If a salesperson has no clue what that business reason is, it’s hard to conclude that the customer has “decided to change”.

I realize there’s more to selling than just validating the “57%” leads.  But that’s a foundation that can’t be overlooked, so it’s a good idea for sales managers to repeatedly reinforce this.

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model of selling

Watch a short video on the customer buying journey

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