Improve Sales Coaching by Using the Customer Buying Journey

People in the sales trade from Gartner CEB to Hubspot, to Marketo, to Miller Heiman, to Pardot and others recommend defining your customers’ buying journey as a way to sell to them.  I’ve designed and implemented for clients my company’s BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model for selling for the past 20 years, so I couldn’t agree more.

But how does having a customer buying journey-based sales process improve sales coaching and leadership?
Here are 3 ways:

1) Focusing on customer buying journey creates “authentic” movement.

Too often I hear sales managers and their leaders say the “pipeline isn’t real”, or “deals aren’t moving.”  But when you talk to salespeople they can give the impression that they’ve been busy, busy, busy doing stuff.  The problem is, sales activity and busy-ness doesn’t define sales deal movement.  Rather, customer commitment defines movement.  No customer commitment in the buying journey, no movement.

Sales managers can use the customer buying journey to coach salespeople to seek customer commitment.  This could be as simple as asking a stakeholder to set up a meeting between your rep and another stakeholder.  It could be asking a stakeholder to collect information that builds the business case for change.  It could be getting help to set up a “top to top” executive meeting.  When customers commit through the buying journey, deals will move.

2) It gives the manager credibility with the salesperson. 

For a sales manager to have a coaching impact on his or her salespeople the manager needs to be seen as credible. This can be hard when the manager is new to the position or young in tenure.  “You’re going to tell me how to do this job I’ve been doing for 25 years?”, thinks the veteran rep.

What veteran reps don’t always see – and what new, young managers don’t always communicate well – is the customer buying journey is changing, and therefore selling needs to change too.  I can’t imagine an industry where buying hasn’t been dramatically affected even in the past 5 years, maybe due to technology, channel, product, regulation, geo-political, mergers, or many other influences.  The one thing that can be “neutral” ground for th4e manager and rep is the customer buying journey.  The most effective way to sell is to understand it and sell through it.  The veteran rep can’t pull the “you don’t know this business like I do” card, and the manager can stop trying to say “do what I’m telling you to do because I’m your manager.”

3) Provides a platform for asking, not telling.

With the customer buying journey as “true north” the manager can engage reps by asking questions, not telling.  Questions help the reps through discovery.  Questions challenge the assumptions the reps make about how a decision will be made, about the roles that stakeholders are playing, about who really has authority vs influence, and more.  Questions are a “teach to fish” approach, not a “here’s your dinner” approach, which can be used again and again by the rep.

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching Buy the book Blindspots here

and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling Buy The Funnel Principle book here

Creator of the BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey sales model, the most time tested, proven customer buying journey model on the market

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website

 

Are You a Dashboard Jockey Sales Manager?

Over the years (23 so far) that I’ve coached and trained thousands of salespeople and their managers, I’ve seen my share of unflattering, ineffective sales leadership. I don’t mean to be unnecessarily critical.  Rather, I want to make a difference.

In my book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales CoachingI list several profiles of the ineffective sales leader.  The Know it All Manager, The Super Salesman Manager, The Title Defender, The Process Preacher, The Activity Cop, the Laptop Leader. The sooner that you can identify the profile that you “default” to the closer you’ll get to the real you. Then you’ll know what you need to work on to become a better coach and leader.

Because you have blindspots, you’ll not likely see what may be obvious to others.  You’re just being you.  It’s very confusing.

In a recent podcast interview of me by Brian Burns (The Brutal Truth about Sales & Selling) Brian used a great phrase that describes a common sales manager profile today – “dashboard jockey”.

A dashboard jockey is a sales manager who hunkers down in the CRM bunker, surrounded by data and reports that “tell the story” of his reps sales performance.  After all, you can’t argue with data.   The data tells this manager that one salesperson’s funnel is weak in the early stages.  It tells him that she’s in the 43rdpercentile of reps making prospecting calls to generate new early stage opportunities.  It tells him another rep has a higher than average win rate but for the last 5 months has been behind plan.  It tells him another rep has a 3X funnel, but his close rate is in the 25thpercentile and he’s at 82% to plan for the year.

This data can certainly help the sales manager coach and lead.  But it was never intended to tell the whole story.  Yet, for many sales managers this is the new “recommending IBM stock for your portfolio”, as in nobody gets fired for recommending IBM stock (well, up until the past few years…).  Similarly, nobody gets fired for leaning heavily on the data in a salesperson’s CRM.

I knew a sales manager who was an absolute wizard with excel and spreadsheets.  She looked like an idiot savant.  She was amazing.  And she seldom got out in the field with her team.  She starved them of needed coaching, and they slowly died the death of a thousand cuts.  She was shown the door.

One reason that the slow but steady degradation of sales coaching has occurred, ironically, is because there’s more data.  Reps are expected to generate it, managers are expected to monitor it, and senior leaders are expected to justify the investment.  We need more reports!  I want more analysis!  I want more power users!

Believe it or not I’m not advocating a return to pre-automation days of 56K modem speeds and spiral bound notebooks.  I am offering a gentle reminder (or a wake up call if you need it) to remind you that your impact is felt most when you more fully understand your people and take the time to learn their full story.  For now, that’s not available in an app or downloadable report.

 

Good selling,

 

Mark Sellers

 

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching Buy the book Blindspots here

and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling Buy The Funnel Principle book here

Creator of the BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey sales model, the most time tested, proven customer buying journey model on the market

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website

 

 

 

 

Sales Leadership Lesson #3 from the Movie “Elf”

Blindspots insight #3 – More rewards than you could imagine

The beautiful thing about dealing with your blindspots is there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a rewarding, fulfilling life that you’ve barely imagined. All from being a better version of yourself.

In the movie “Elf” starring Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf and James Caan as his father, Caan is surprised one Christmas when Buddy shows up and tells him that he is Buddy’s father. After first denying it, Caan accepts it but keeps Buddy at a distance.

Eventually Caan is pressured by his wife and son to take Buddy into their home.  Buddy is a train wreck with everything he does.  He unwittingly sabotages Caan’s business meetings. One day Buddy’s antics destroy a big meeting that Caan needed to salvage his year and keep his job.  He screams at Buddy and says he never wants to see him again. Buddy leaves.

Now it’s Christmas eve. And Caan is called in by his boss for a last ditch effort to save his job.

Caan has an epiphany in the middle of this presentation.  He sees his blindspots.  He feels remorse about his nasty feelings about Buddy.  He knows he’s let his wife and son down.  He finds the courage to walk away, and goes and looks for Buddy.  He gets fired.  He eventually finds Buddy and they emotionally reunite.

But wait – there’s more!

With his newly discovered perspective on life Caan writes and publishes a children’s book about Buddy the Elf and it becomes a smash hit!  His career is saved, and then some!

This is pure Hollywood, but I can testify that it’s mainstream USA too.  When you confront your blindspots, be prepared for greater things to happen in your life.  Things you never imagined could happen.  Confronting your blindspots is like the Beverly Hillbillies finding “black gold” on their property, or like Caan getting fired and then writing a best-selling book.  Your newfound wealth could very well be of the monetary type, but that’s likely to be the undercard.  The main event when you confront your blindspots is you being released from a prison of attitudes and selfishness and scarcity that has held you hostage.  Your influence on the people you lead and everyone you come in contact with has profoundly changed.  People will seek you out.  You’ve suffered your way to wisdom.  You are now more valuable than you were before.

 

Good Selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching, and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling

Creator of the BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey sales model, the most time tested, proven customer buying journey model on the market

Buy the book Blindspots here

Buy The Funnel Principle book here

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website

 

 

Sales Leadership Lesson #2 from the Movie “Elf”

Fighting for your vices

One of the most common leadership pitfalls is not recognizing when some kind of behavior has become a vice.  Vices prevent great coaching and leadership.  Ironically, leaders fight for their vices all the time.

They just don’t know any better.

In the movie “Elf” starring Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf and James Caan as his father, Caan is surprised one Christmas when Buddy shows up and tells him that he is Buddy’s father. After first denying it (a typical blindspot), Caan accepts it but keeps Buddy at a distance.

Eventually Caan is pressured by his wife and son to take Buddy into their home.  Buddy is a train wreck with everything.  He unwittingly sabotages Caan’s meetings.  To Caan, Buddy is a nightmare that won’t go away.  He cannot see the good in Buddy, can’t see Buddy’s enormous heart and love for the joyful part of the commercial Christmas, because Buddy is a polar opposite of the father.

Caan’s blindspot is he fights to hold onto the world he has created because that world brings him joy.  Ironically, he would have far greater joy if he gave that up.  His professional success, his lifestyle, his routines, his status all mean too much to him.  Anything that challenges this world is a virus that must be eliminated.  Bringing another person into his life would be too disruptive.  It’s not something Caan planned for.  It’s not something he is open to.

I fought for many years for the vice of  an image I wanted to convey to the world as I built a business.  I was into appearances.  The casualty that I couldn’t see (blindspot) was in my being emotionally distant from my family and disconnected from my community.  Yet I convinced myself I was working so hard and building the business, not for me, but for my family.  When I admitted to myself that I was doing it for me, I had a breakthrough.

What vices do you fight for? Is it envy for what others have and you don’t?  Is it the image that you crave from a title?  Is it relentless achieving?  Is it a beef with a neighbor who’s wrong and you’re right (pride)?  Is it with a salesperson  who’s not taking your coaching?  Do you judge him and see him as a problem to be fixed?  These vices that you fight for prevent you from emerging as a greater coach and leader because they trap you in a small world.  A world of scarcity, not a world of abundance.

I’d like to see you keep fighting – but aim the fight at your ego.  It’s the source of energy of fighting for your vices.  Don’t let your ego “rescue” you when you’re faced with the choice of being honest with yourself, or continuing to keep your distance.

Good Selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching, and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling

Creator of the BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey sales model, the most time tested, proven customer buying journey model on the market

Buy the book Blindspots here

Buy The Funnel Principle book here

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website

Sales Leadership Lessons from the Movie “Elf”

Want to be a better sales leader?  Learn to deal with your “Elf”.

My family and I watched a favorite movie this Christmas, “Elf”, and while I knew it would make me laugh I didn’t know I would learn some leadership lessons from it.   Here’s lesson number 1:

 Denying your blindspots

You may know the plot. Buddy the Elf, played by Will Ferrell, finds out he has a father (James Caan’s character), so Buddy walks from the North Pole to New York City during Christmas to find him.   Caan is married, middle-aged, and the father of a 10-year old boy.  He’s also a workaholic executive in the children’s book publishing business.  Buddy finds him and that’s when Cann learns that Buddy is the outcome of a romantic relationship Cann had when he was much younger.

What’s Caan’s first blindspot behavior when he finds this out?  He denies it. A son he didn’t know he had?  An elf?  Gimme a break, he thinks.

Denying is what makes your blindspots flourish and your leadership weaker.  When you deny things that are true about yourself you keep yourself from yourself and prevent yourself from being the leader you could be.

This is a problem.  You don’t trust leaders who you think are phony do you?  So why should others follow you when you’re not fully true?

Denying sometimes looks like this.  Have you ever been asked to volunteer for something and said no because you were too busy or tired?  There’s no crime in saying no, but here’s the kicker: did you justify “no” by telling yourself it’s because you were busy, or by telling yourself you preferred busy to volunteering?

Or, have you said no to an invitation from friends to go out, and justified it by working late instead? It looks authentic doesn’t it, being busy, working late, being tired.  But how often does this happen? Are these honest reasons every time or are they your built-in excuses that you leverage?  Are you being honest with yourself?

Do you have someone on your team who you struggle to lead?  Someone you don’t connect with because he or she is very different from you? Does this person not take your coaching?  Do you get frustrated and impatient?  Maybe you’ve concluded that he’s the problem, not your coaching.  Is it possible that you’ve not found the right way to coach and lead him?  Are you being honest?

People ask me “how do I uncover my blindspots when I can’t see them?”  It seems impossible, but there is a right place to begin.  Start by being honest with yourself.  Take ownership of your beliefs and the actions that follow.  But – and this is critical – don’t judge yourself when you discover an unflattering behavior, or more.  If you judge yourself when you’re trying to discover yourself, your ego will come running to the rescue and convince you it’s not your fault.  You’re busy! You’re working late!  Your coaching is awesome – he just doesn’t get it!

Don’t let your ego win.  Instead, be honest. Surrender.  Discover.  And feel how liberating that is.  You’ll change how you see and lead people.  And people will notice.

To be a greater coach and leader you’ll have to confront your “Elf”, that is, the thing you are denying that prevents you from getting closer to you.

 

Good Selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching, and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling

Creator of the BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey sales model, the most time tested, proven customer buying journey model on the market

Buy the book Blindspots here

Buy The Funnel Principle book here

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website

Customer Buying Journey: Simple Trumps Complex Part 2

In my last blog I highlighted some reasons that using a customer buying journey model for selling makes good sense.

It’s simple.  It’s foundational.  It’s easy to coach to.  It’s true.

In this blog I want to suggest additional ways to leverage this sales model when qualifying and setting strategies for winning deals.

One of the most common mistakes we salespeople make is “over committing” relative to what the customer is committing during the sales process.

You know what I mean.  It’s when a salesperson agrees to work up a SOW without the customer agreeing to a sit down face to face or by phone to go through it.  It’s when a salesperson gives away too much “free consulting” and finds out the customer has used that information to buy from someone else.

Salespeople over commit their resources for many reasons.  They’re under the illusion that it’s the right thing to do.  They confuse being busy with being productive.  They think they’re engaging with the prospect.  They’re afraid that if they don’t do what the customer has asked then they’ll be out of the running.  I have these feelings from time to time too.

A customer buying journey model helps your salespeople avoid these common yet costly selling mistakes.  How? The model in effect lays out the customer’s journey.  It shows us what customers have to do when they are truly committed to buying something from someone.  So in a way it gives you markers that need to be crossed.  If they aren’t crossed then the customer isn’t progressing down its buying journey.  Your busyness by committing to something doesn’t make the deal further along.

One marker is the customer taking a proposal and acting on it.  Either accepting it or rejecting it.  Too often salespeople send proposals that then go into a black hole.  They then play catch me if you can with the customer, sending emails and phone messages.  “Hi it’s Mark, leaving you the 5th message about the same subject as the last 4…”

My clients are getting better at getting a quid pro quo when they submit proposals.  They’re getting the customer to commit to reviewing it.  This might not be a magic bullet but it sure disqualifies enough deals to save my clients a lot of time – they’re less likely to send a proposal that the customer doesn’t agree to review.

There’s another benefit – they lose a sale faster – they were likely to lose it anyway after sending the proposal, lose it to someone else with a lower price.  Why not walk away earlier and spend your time on other viable opportunities?

I realize that sometimes you have to go first with your committing something, like some resource or needs assessment or walking the site to work up an estimate, to get the customer to start committing.  But you are expecting – hoping for – a specific reaction from that commitment, eg the customer committing something in return.  If they don’t give it to you, then your commitment has accomplished it’s mission.  Before you commit to something else step back and ask why the customer hasn’t engaged.

Your time is valuable.  The customer needs to know that.  You can send that message professionally by not over committing your resources in the sales process.

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

www.breakthrough-sales.com

Watch a short video on the customer buying journey

Watch this blog in a video format

 

 

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

www.breakthrough-sales.com

Watch a short video on the customer buying journey

Watch this blog in a video format