Your Customer Buying Journey: Why it Matters

Do you sell the way your customers want to buy?

Nine years ago Selling Power magazine held its Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.  Speaker after speaker presented ideas on how to influence the “customer buying journey.”  This was a dramatic shift in sales thinking because for years salespeople were taught mostly techniques for how to open sales calls, how to ask questions, how to present, and how to close.  Of course these skills are important.  But they’re not enough.

Salespeople weren’t taught to understand how their customers buy. 

Today the concept of selling to the customer’s buying journey is table stakes, it’s the new standard.  Forward thinking sales organizations have built their entire commercial approaches on this concept.

Well known sales training and research firms confirm through studies and research the logic and benefit of selling to the customer buying journey.

CEB Gartner (The Challenger Sale) published a white paper earlier this year titled The New B2B Buying Journey and Its Implication for Sales.  “As B2B buying behavior rapidly changes, traditional sales approaches will dramatically underachieve”. 

 Aberdeen Consulting Group reported that companies with sales funnel stages defined by the customer buying journey had 33% more accurate sales forecasting and 40% more salespeople making quota. 

 CSO Insights reported that defining how customers buy must be the first place executives begin when conducting sales transformation efforts.

Miller Heiman’s annual Best Practices Study 2017 reported that organizations they rated to be ‘world class’ knew why their customers buy from them 30% more often than non-world class organizations. 

What’s Driving This Shift?

In a word, your customers.

It occurred to me fifteen years ago that customers had more information, more access to it, and more timeliness to it.  And that customers were being influenced more by their peers than by the salespeople calling on them.  Today, for salespeople these trends are only getting worse. Salespeople have to fight to be relevant.

When Customers Shift, Sellers Need to Shift

Your organization’s performance and results are at stake.  There will be casualties to underperformance.  If your team’s underperformance is due to a failure to act, to change how you sell, then you will have committed an unforced error.  In their book Shiftability, authors Mitch Little and Hendre Coetzee say that salespeople need to adopt a growth mindset, one that looks at the world through a learner’s perspective.  This is the mindset that selling to the customer buying journey requires.

Your customers are expecting this from you.

A Customer Buying Journey Defined

A customer buying journey is the collective steps a customer takes or the milestones or stages the customer completes that starts with a problem or opportunity and ends with a solution.  Often these are called “sales funnel or pipeline models” because the stages are used in CRM to guide salespeople in managing their funnels.  With funnel stages, companies can run valuable reports, analyze data and forecast more accurately.

But don’t let the sexiness of using this model to analyze and forecast better cause you to overlook the vital, dirty work of using this approach to sell better, one deal at a time.  This is the real value of a customer buying journey model.

Why Sell to Your Customers’ Buying Journey

You want to know the stage your customer is in when the customer is considering buying because that helps you best influence the customer.  It’s key to making a difference for the customer and your salespeople being relevant.

For example, if a customer you’re calling on is early in the buying journey they’ll want to be educated, not sold to.  They’ll respond a lot more favorably to insightful information you provide.  They want to know what you know, and they don’t mean product or service.  What do you know about their kind of situation that could help them decide to act on it or lower its priority?

On the other hand if the customer is well into committing to a solution, if they’ve already been through determining the impact or upside of the situation, if the checkbook is out, then they’ll likely want to know why should they buy from you versus another alternative.

Not knowing this stage information puts you at a serious disadvantage. You’re more likely to commit common, costly selling mistakes like making assumptions about everything.

Don’t Overthink The Customer Buying Journey

You could be tempted to get ensnared by the lure of research and data by big sales training companies that suggest this data tells you all you need to know about your customer’s buying journey.

While I have been intrigued by the research, I have learned overwhelmingly about customer buying journeys from my clients the past 20 years.  What I have learned most is that my clients know how their customers buy better than any consultant can tell them.  Including me.  My company’s job therefore is to pull it out of them and keep the design simple.   Brilliantly complex customer buying journey models for selling don’t get used.

There’s still time for you and your team to adopt this approach.  But don’t wait too long.

About Breakthrough Sales Performance®

We are the one sales training company to have devoted the past 20 years to helping clients define their customers’ buying journey.  120 global sales teams have implemented The BuyCycle Funnel™ customer buying journey model of selling created by Mark Sellers.  Clients have seen remarkable results, including:

  • Year over year sales increase of 68% for a large engineering consulting firm
  • 57% increase in year over year sales for a technology client
  • Double digit increase of sales of higher margin products for a client in the chemical industry
  • 240% increase in forecasting accuracy for a client in the construction/energy industry
  • Double digit growth of top line and net income annually for five years in a row for a client in the HVAC industry

 

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Blindspots Blog #5: Getting in Your Own Way

When you stop to think about the blindspots you might have, you’re obviously going to struggle to see something that you can’t see.

Think of your blindspots as you ‘getting in your own way’.

Frasier Crane, played superbly by Kelsey Grammer for so many seasons, routinely got in his own way. In one episode he planned the perfect evening with a lady friend, in control of every well-thought out detail, only to see it collapse due to something the audience could see coming, yet he was blind to.  In another episode, he orchestrated a public ceremony in honor of himself, gratuitously attended by hundreds in a downtown park, only to miss it due to a string of transportation snafus brought on by his insistence on wearing a particular pair of Italian shoes that were painfully too small.

Frasier got in his own way because he committed a lot of unforced errors.  But since these are blindspots how do you become aware of them?

You get in your own way because of the ‘vice in the virtue’, that is, when your  success traits, your virtues, eventually betray you, and become your vices.  Here’s an example.

One of my success traits is discipline.  I’m naturally effective at getting something done that I put my mind to.  Could be a house project, like the 22 x 20 deck I built mostly by myself two years ago.  Or, publishing my latest book Blindspots.  But because I am good at starting and finishing things I’m not quick to seek help.  Therefore, I sometimes lack the patience to slow down the start or finish of a project to take in someone’s advice.  Therefore, I often miss out on getting some really good advice.  I could point out lots of opportunities in my career where I would have been better off reaching out to someone for feedback or coaching. Thankfully, I am getting better at this.

When a new sales manager doesn’t take the time to get to know his team, the business, and if appropriate the marketplace if that too is new to her, she’s likely to double down on success traits that worked for her in the past.  And it’s only a matter of time before this leads to her getting in her own way.

I’ll brag on my wife for a second.  She’s held leadership positions in three companies in her career.  Each of those was in an industry that she had never worked in. What did she do?  She asked tons of questions of the people who reported to her. She asked questions of people in other departments.  She visited customers.  She avoided jumping to conclusions early.  She was patient.  Instead of trying to form what she heard and learned into a pre-formed framework or model of what worked in the past, she used her rich experiences to create new models and frameworks for how to lead.

She operates this way because she has a strong desire to learn, she has empathy, she’s humble, and she has no personal agenda to drive.  She commits few unforced errors.  She avoids getting in her own way.

If you know of anyone who seems reluctant to try new things, or consider alternative points of view, or who doesn’t seek much input or feedback, don’t be surprised to see this person often getting in his own way.  These people double down on success traits to a fault – until they become vices that get them into trouble.

Maybe that person is looking back at you in the mirror.  Think about your top 3 or 4 success traits.  Traits or characteristics that for sure helped you succeed.  Think about how you could ride these traits too far to where they get you in trouble.  This week be more aware of how you are using these traits, in meetings with customers, with people on your team, or with your peers.  It’s important not to judge yourself if you catch yourself pushing it too far.  If you judge you’ll be tempted to shut down the observation and the lesson could go to waste.  You’ll have to learn to accept that your next significant growth will come by failing or ‘falling’ and learning.

 

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Everyone Has Blindspots

For the past several weeks since my new book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching was published, I’ve been on a tear spreading the word about this phenomena I call blindspots.  I’ve suggested that they are killing your coaching and leadership.

It’s possible that some of you are still struggling to understand how this really affects you, because you believe you’re doing just fine, you know there’s always room to improve, and you don’t believe you have any problems that could be having a significant effect on your leadership.

I understand how this is possible.  I denied my blindspots for many, many years.  In the book I share my story of what it finally took for me to see clearly.

In this blog I want to tell you about two very well-known leaders who fell hard because of their blindspots.  I would bet my next commission that both men would’ve said that, before the respective pivotal events that rocked their worlds, they too were completely blindsided by what occurred.

Before the start of the 2018 college football season Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer unwittingly professed to his own blindspot regarding his program. Meyer was heavily criticized for not being 100% transparent with information he knew regarding an assistant coach.  This was serious stuff – an investigation into a domestic abuse allegation made by the wife of an assistant coach on Meyer’s staff. Meyer was also heavily criticized for not knowing more about this situation.

The PR damage crushed Meyer, the football team and the university. Though Meyer was never seriously considered culpable regarding the allegations, and the assistant coach was never charged, Ohio State president Michael Drake suspended Meyer for the first three games of the season.

Why did coach Meyer think it could be OK to not be fully transparent with what he did know? I’d say it was because of a blindspot.

In the press conference the day before his first game back following the suspension, Meyer was asked if he thought that members of his staff were reluctant to bring him negative information. “I hope not”, he said. People need to feel comfortable coming to me. I always thought I created that atmosphere.” Well, maybe coach was wrong.

If you’re a college football fan you know that Urban Meyer strikes a serious and intimidating demeanor. Would you like to bring him bad news? His blindspot was in not seeing that his serious, intimidating demeanor might actually create the opposite of what he wanted – instead of people feeling comfortable coming to him with negative information his demeanor discouraged them from doing so.

I know people who personally know coach Meyer.  I have every reason to believe that he is a good man who cares deeply about his players and coaches and his community. The expectations of a public figure like coach are reasonably high, easily matched by the public’s appetite for castigating perceived missteps.

The  second public figure is Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. Recently, someone uncovered photos of the PM at a party when he was 29 years old dressed in a ‘black face’ costume. Other, very public political figures have dressed up like this in their pasts.  Most educated people should know by now that this behavior is considered very offensive to black people.

Mr. Trudeau  was quick to confess to the “massive blindspot” in his thinking.  He said, “I have always acknowledged that I came from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that comes with a massive blindspot.”

This is not the venue to debate anything about these two events and the sensitive subject matter of both. I  would bet my next commission check  that both Meyer and Trudeau are deep down good men with honorable hearts, and like all people they made some big mistakes due to their blindspots.

The paradox of the blindspot is that these hard lessons are  gifts meant to  teach us something about ourselves.  I wouldn’t begin to attempt what those lessons are for Meyer and Trudeau, but if they don’t learn big from the lessons then the gift is wasted.

In my next blog I’ll reveal some of the reasons that you get in your own way.

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Why You Have Blindspots

In my new book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching I suggest that something I call your blindspots is killing your coaching and leadership.

In this blog I want to reveal why that’s happening so you can do something about it.

The main reason for your blindspots is explained with a paradox.  One of my favorite paradoxes is ‘to speed up sometimes you have to slow down’. Another one I like is ‘nothing succeeds like failure’.  These are paradoxes because the two things seem to be at odds with one another. Yet, within the paradox is the deeper meaning that reveals the connection.

You’ve probably heard of Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team.  I heard that Cuban was a mentor of sorts to former Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick during Kalanick’s early days with the company.  Kalanick left in 2017.

Cuban said of Kalanick, “The thing that’s impressive about Travis is he’d run through a wall for you.  And the thing that’s troublesome about Travis is he’d run through a wall for you.”

How can both be true?

It’s a type of paradox I call the vice in the virtue.  Kalanick has some impressive virtues, eg some traits that have been instrumental in his success.  I don’t know and don’t need to know what those are to know that those same traits that helped him succeed have at times also betrayed him.

Here’s an example maybe you can relate to.  Do you know someone who is very disciplined?  I bet this discipline has helped this person in both his or her professional and personal life.  Discipline helps someone get things done, stay focused, and accomplish things.

But take a moment to consider how being disciplined can get this person into trouble.  Being disciplined usually takes having forethought and good planning skills.  If taken too far however, too much planning and forethought could mean missing out on important, maybe fun things happening right in front of her.  Taken too far and the disciplined person lacks valuable spontaneity that makes for a richer life.

In his thought-provoking book Range, author David Epstein tells the story of Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of The Girl Scouts.  Hesselbein had basically four professional positions her in her life,  a career that spanned six decades.  Each position sort of fell into her lap.  She apparently never sought out any of them.  This wouldn’t likely be at the top of someone’s career building advice but it certainly worked for her.

As  a planner I surely can relate.  My wife has taught me to ‘be open to the possibilities’, and it’s made a big difference in many aspects of my life.  The saying ‘life is what happens when you’re busy planning’ has a lot of truth to it.

Discipline usually comes with sacrifice because it means saying no to something to be able to say yes to something else.  The value of making sacrifices is not debatable, but again if taken too far then saying no to some things could be a bad decision.

The New York Times conservative columnist, and author David Brooks knows too well the vice in this discipline virtue.  He’s had a celebrated career.  He’s written several books.  He’s a sought after speaker on popular news programs.  He also has gone public the past few years with his personal struggles that culminated in a divorce after 27 years of marriage.  He confessed to being a workaholic who said for most of his life he “prized time over people and productivity over relationships.”  Sacrifice gone wild.

It takes courage to share that witness with the millions of people who know and follow him.

The question you should be asking is “what are my virtues, my impressive traits that are helping me succeed in my life?”  That will be an easy, quick exercise.  Your big challenge is in seeing the paradox of how those traits have and will continue to betray you.  Be honest and don’t judge yourself.

 

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Sales Managers Stop Asking These 3 Questions

In the pursuit of the truth, sales managers routinely set themselves up for not getting it, by asking these three questions:

1) What’s your confidence level on this deal? 2) Who’s the decision maker?  3) What’s your next step?

What’s your confidence level on this deal?

Sales managers ask this question when their funnel/pipeline stages have ‘confidence measures’ assigned to them.  Stage 2 might have a 30% measure of confidence in winning the deal.  Stage 5 might have 80% confidence.  The intent is to drive a logical, objective conclusion of the deal status which drives the manager’s coaching regarding next steps.

The problem is the confidence measures too often steer the manager away from the intended objective – what’s really going on?  They get squishy replies like ‘I have a good relationship’, or ‘they like our solution’. A manager confided in me not long ago that he lost count of the number of deals he ‘felt confident’ were going to close that didn’t.

Instead, managers should ask pointed, specific questions to inside the confidence measure. Questions about stakeholders and influence, about what matters and what doesn’t, about why they want to change and why change now.  Managers should seek ‘tangible evidence’ in the reps’ replies.  They should ask questions that challenge assumptions, especially about relationships.

Who’s the decision maker?

There are at least two problems with this question.  The first is that it’s not always clear what it means as therefore you’re handicapped in coaching to it.  Does it mean final approval?  Veto authority?  Does it mean the ability to disqualify your solution from further consideration?  When your rep Kyle says yes Mary’s the decision maker how do you coach Kyle to the next activity?  The second problem is this is the same question your reps will be asking the stakeholders they call on.  They will often get misleading or insufficient information.  They’ll ask someone in purchasing “Are you the decision maker?” and she says “Yes I am!”  And yet, as my clients have shown me the past 20 years that question too often misleads.

A better question to ask is around role in the buying process.  What role does the head of engineering play in this buying process? What role does the IT manager play? What role does the construction supervisor play?  You’re more likely to identify the stakeholder whose role is to deliver on a top line or bottom line objective, and that includes being able to make investments to achieve those objectives.

What’s your next step?

Every manager in a deal review discussion has jumped to the question “What’s your next step?” ‘What’s next’ is internally focused on the rep’s activity.

Problem here is this too often leads to busyness and busyness doesn’t always lead to effectiveness.

A better question is one that is based on the customer buying process.  Customers have to make commitments to buy something.  All of those commitments collectively make up the customer buying process.  So let’s trade ‘what’s next’ for ‘what does the customer need to do next?’

For example if a problem isn’t a priority then some stakeholder needs to take time (commitment) to make it a priority.  Or, if your salesperson knows the cost of the problem, then a stakeholder has to commit to acting on information.   Otherwise the deal is stalled or even dead.

 

Mark Sellers

Managing Partner, Breakthrough Sales Performance LLC

Sales training, coaching and consulting with businesses from 25M to 250M in revenue

Author The Funnel Principle – named a Top Sales Book to Read by Selling Power

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching (to be released in 2019)

 

 

A Sales Manager’s Most Difficult Task

If you’re privileged to sit in the sales manager chair long enough you’ll experience the most difficult task a manager has – you’ll fire one of your salespeople.

I’ve had many conversations with my clients about people they are considering firing.  Some clients use me to pressure test their conclusions and some want a sanity check.  None of them have taken lightly the responsibility.

Firing a salesperson is difficult for at least the following reasons:

It’s personal. Someone’s livelihood and life is affected.  Their income stream is now cut off.  Their ego is likely injured.  They have to go home and tell the wife or husband.

You think you’ve failed.  All managers are affected by firing someone but some believe they have failed.  They think about what they have done, and what they have failed to do.  In the song These Days, Jackson Brown says “these days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do – for you.”  That’s a heavy burden to carry, so it’s reasonable that a manager would put it off.

You avoid conflict.  Some people are wired to avoid conflict and certainly firing somebody falls into that category.

You hang on with hope.   Let’s face it.  Deep down us sellers are heavily optimistic and romantically hopeful in our trade.  We resist purging our funnels of Plymouth Rock deals, and we often put too much stock in what a stakeholder tells us.  We like glasses colored rose.

The challenge is to know when you have a ‘necessary ending’ on your sales team.  In his wonderful book Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud gives us an entire field guide for understanding the complexity and necessity of endings.  He says we need to make them a normal part of life throughout our lives, instead of making them artificially unusual and often overly traumatic.

Anyone downsize lately? Yikes.  Anyone have that box (or boxes) of stuff in your basement that you haven’t opened in 12 years?  The ones that have survived 3 moves?

One way to know if you have a necessary ending on your team is to consider the following:

  • Is this butt in the right seat? People who aren’t an ideal fit for the sales job can still succeed in it.  However they might need to expend an enormous amount of energy.  Over time they can flame out. Can you afford to keep this person on?  Can you invest time and training in them?
  • Have they gotten your best effort to make them successful in the job? Be honest.
  • Have they repeatedly not taken the message of direction, strategy and what you need them to do? The scientific term for this is thick skull.
  • Do they show a pattern of not being coachable?

With such a dramatic outcome at stake it’s always a good idea to get another person’s opinion.

Finally, for those that need to go, this is your responsibility to your entire team.  You can’t shirk that duty.

Good selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Companies in the range of 25M to 250M hire me to train, coach and consult around sales matters

Author of The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power magazine a Top Ten Best book to Read

Author of the soon to be released book Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

 

 

 

A Life of Leadership

He was lovely.

This past week our 41stpresident of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush passed away. He was 94 years old.

Like most of you, I yearn to find those brief and random moments of civility as I scan the papers or scroll through the sound bites on my phone.  I was thrilled to read the tone of the reporting on the former president’s passing.  The New York Times reported that when James Baker, the former president’s secretary of state appeared at Mr. Bush’s side sometime during his final days Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert and asked “Bake, where are we going?”  Baker replied “We’re going to heaven.”  The president responded “That’s where I want to go.”

The Washington Post offered a wonderful reflection of Mr. Bush as a high school senior when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.  Instead of choosing the security of Yale, he enlisted.  Before he was 19 years old he was assigned to fly torpedo bombers off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  On a sortee toward a Japanese island Bush’s plane was shot down.  He commanded his crew to eject before the plane crashed into the sea.  Miraculously Mr. Bush survived.  His two crew members died.

CBS’s Sunday Morning had a reporter who recalled the 1987 Newsweek cover story of George Bush that labeled Mr. Bush ‘a wimp’.  The reporter said man did we get it wrong.

This is the paradox of humility.  What looks like weakness is actually strength.  Thomas Merton might say when you’re humble you’re living a second half life, a fuller, richer and more meaningful life than the false impression that a first half life wants us to believe.

We applaud humility but would rather not wear those shoes ourselves.  It takes too much sacrifice, too much risk, too much vulnerability. We fear how we’ll be seen (weak). We fear being taken advantage of. We fear we’ll miss out on something. Which is true, but in an ironic way.

Another article highlighted the relationship that Mr. Bush nurtured with another former president, Bill Clinton.  With the game clock expired neither one had anything to do against the other so they joined forces.  They used their heavy weight influence to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for charities.

It’s ok to think that it’s hard to be a strong leader today.  It probably seems that every day there are multiple forces working against you, some as simple as a flight delay to an important meeting and others complicated like a poorly functioning salesperson or manager.  It sure helps to have something to believe in, or maybe multiple things to believe in. Your strength needs a rock solid base.

Mr. Bush believed in country, family, friendship, God, service, the power of kindness, collaboration.

As for lovely comment, that came from Mr. Bush’s longtime friend Mr. Baker during the 60 Minutes interview.  Mr. Baker was emotional.

I watched the interview at our kitchen table with my wife Sunday evening and said to her “when was the last time you heard a man call another man lovely?”

Me neither.

How lovely.

 

 

Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power magazine a Top Ten Best Book to Read

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching, available late Q1 2019

Sales trainer, coach and consultant