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

 

 

A Learning Culture for Sales

I want you to ask yourself this question at the end of each day this week.

Did I do my best today to promote a learning culture in my company?

If you’re a sales leader this is your responsibility, but not one from a place of guilt or some piously purposeful motive.  Do it because it’s what drives results.

How many times have sales training programs been met with skepticism or even mutiny?  How common is it for the first reaction to some kind of training is a negative or skeptical one?  Often it comes back to the leader and how he or she set it up.  Leaders that sold the idea of needing the training get more buy in than leaders that didn’t explain the “why”.  This latter, compliance leadership is usually short lived and falling short of potential.

Learning gets compromised when we don’t make time for it.  John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, was said to have enjoyed practices as much as games.  At his core he was a teacher.  He loved to see his players learn.  He decided the place to learn wasn’t during games as much as it was during practices. Game time versus practice time.  It’s hard for salespeople to make time for practice. Leaders have to find a way.

I read an interview this past week in the Wall St. Journal of the CEO of Snap, Inc. Evan Spiegel.   He came under fire last year for making some courageous leadership decisions about the app Snapchat.  He was driven by the long view.  Spiegel shared that his parents forbid him from watching television until he was a teenager.  His parents encouraged him to find things he was passionate about.  They never held it against him when he failed.

So there are two lessons here. One, encourage learning and growing. Two, don’t make failure a negative thing.  How does that hold up in your culture?  What are you doing about it?

Recently I made it safe to fail when coaching a salesperson. He was wondering which tactic he should take next in trying to make progress on a sales opportunity.  I offered up one tactic and he had a different one. Because he was having a stellar year, and because his sales funnel was very healthy, I suggested that he try his tactic for no other reason than to use it as a learning opportunity, a sort of sandbox for selling.

What can you do to “do your best today to promote a learning culture in your company?”  Be a learner yourself.  Be curious and ask more questions.

Show others that it’s ok to fail. This can’t be lip service.  If they see you fail and live to tell they’ll be more likely to give it a go.  If you tell them failing is ok but then whack the snot out of them for failing, that’s not strong leadership.  So put yourself out there and dance like no one’s watching.

Provide resources for learning. Blogs, books, videos, etc.  The world is overflowing with ideas for selling. Salespeople need the next greatest idea for selling a whole lot less than they need to be reminded of a practical sales idea that they can put to use right now.

Mark Sellers

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

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Founder Breakthrough Sales Performance

 

Would you like these results for your sales team?  A client of ours for 5 years this company has delivered double digit top line and net income growth annually the past five years.  Another client increased sales 35% year over year thanks to our coaching and sales training program.  A third client increased the value of its sales funnel by 55% in 9 months.

 

Check out this short video on The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model

Download a FREE chapter from Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Buy the book The Funnel Principle on Amazon

Buy the book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Buy the Kindle version of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Using Customer Buying Journey to Make Better Sales Calls

Understanding your customer’s buying journey is not an exercise in pedagogy. It is practical and real.  It will help you be more effective in what you do today re: sales opportunities, meetings, strategies and more.  Let’s see how understanding your customer’s buying journey helps you make better sales calls.

Recall, a customer buying journey is the collective set of steps or stages customers go through when they buy.

Let’s say you live in a 22 year old house and the roof has never been replaced.  You’re wondering how many more years it can last.  But nothing’s leaking so far. You put it off.

In a different situation, let’s say you’ve had hail damage and you’re concerned about the roof’s condition. You’re compelled to call your insurance agent to get it looked at.

As a customer you’re in two different stages of your buying journey in these examples.  What gets your attention is different in each one.  In the first one you’re likely more interested in getting educated – how long should your roof last?  What happens if you wait too long?  What are some signs of the roof needing to be replaced?

In the second situation you’re probably more interested in knowing the process for filing a claim, how you pick a roofing company, how long the job takes, and the timeframe for all of this to happen.

If you’re in sales for a roofing company, and you had these two leads on your desk, you should approach them differently, and base your approach on where the customer is in the buying journey.  For the hail damage, you might get some direct mail out asap.  Other roofing companies will be doing the same thing.  With data on which neighborhoods were affected, you might make some cold calls or even canvass the neighborhoods. The message might focus on educating the customer on what happens to a roof during a hail storm, empathizing with the customer (it sucks to have to get a new roof), and giving the customer reason to trust you in this time of stress.

For the non urgent roof situation the message might be about the importance of investing in your home before a roof fails and educating the customer on the dangers of doing nothing.

I sell sales training and coaching services.  An early stage lead for me might be a referral from a client.  For these leads I focus on demonstrating competency, building trust, and learning what I can about the organization.  The leads I get from some of our channel partners often have progressed through several stages of the buying journey.  They bring me in to help close the sale.

In general, for early stage deals you’re safe to focus on this:  build credibility, earn trust, and don’t be overly eager or overly aggressive. Get the stakeholder to talk but don’t ask too many questions.

For later stage deals your selling activity should focus on qualifying a ‘commitment to fund’, meaning, qualifying that the customer is committed to buying something from somebody.  How much has been committed?  The answer to this critical question pivots your selling activities in one direction or a different one.  If you qualify the customer is committed to buy then you shift into “why buy from me” mode.  This is where the customer’s head is at.  Meet him where he is.  Finally, be prepared to tell the customer what a solution should look like.  This presents you as an expert.  Be careful to not come across too cocky.  Most customers like to have options too.

 

Mark Sellers

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

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Founder Breakthrough Sales Performance

Would you like these results for your sales team?  A client of ours for 5 years this company has delivered double digit top line and net income growth annually the past five years.  Another client increased sales 35% year over year thanks to our coaching and sales training program.  A third client increased the value of its sales funnel by 55% in 9 months.

Check out this short video on The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model

Download a FREE chapter from Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Buy the book The Funnel Principle on Amazon

Buy the book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Buy the Kindle version of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threethe power of marketing clout. In 2011 CEB published The Challenger Sale.  While it’s initial shock factor was stating that ‘relationship selling is dead’, the underlying driver of that claim became the lead story.  That is, why relationship selling was dying.  As customers became more ‘knowledge independent’ from salespeople they didn’t need salespeople to help them buy like they used to. Customers had less incentive tobuild relationshipswith sellers, especially since many weren’t paying off. Finally, with everyone’s schedules becoming super compressed, it’s become harder for salespeople to establish contact early in the process and develop the relationship throughout the cycle.

 

CEB coined and marketed a fabulous term for what was happening in the customer buying process called 57%.  Their Challenger research revealed that customers routinely go through as much as 57% of their buying process before engaging salespeople.  The implications are dramatic.  Customers are not engaging with salespeople early in the process.  Salespeople are therefore not part of discovery and shaping of solution images early.  By the time customers engage salespeople they don’t add much value beyond price and availability.  It’s harder to differentiate.

 

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

 

Contact us today to learn more

614.571.8267

info@breakthrough-sales.com

www.breakthrough-sales.com

Buy The Funnel Principle book here

Buy the book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Check out a video on The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model

 

 

The Cure for the High Cost of Losing Customers

When you hear about businesses that have high turnover of customers you might be tempted to think there’s something wrong with the business.

After all, why do customers leave their suppliers?  Maybe it’s an operations issue like a product problem or delivery problem.  Maybe it’s a sales issue.  Isn’t sales supposed to retain customers?  Maybe the customer has outgrown the capabilities of their supplier. They need ‘y’ and the supplier can only provide ‘x’.

Before taking any course of action companies would do well to know how their customer attrition rate compares to that of competitors.  Maybe your competitors shouldn’t be the bar you set but falling behind is probably not optional.  You might even compare your attrition rate to other industries.

Customer attrition of any degree is another reason to have a sound funnel management process.  Reducing attrition gives you fewer lost customers to replace YOY but in the end you’re going to lose customers and you’ll have to replace them to get back to square one.

Build or test your funnel management process against the following 4 parts:

  • Do your people have a funnel? A funnel is simply a list of opportunities that are getting selling attention.  It doesn’t matter if the list is an excel spreadsheet (cost effective!) or a fancy CRM.  The list provides visibility to you and them.
  • Do you have a way to organize the list? The best way to organize the list is to define how qualified the opportunities are. We call these funnel or pipeline stages. Each stage has a definition of deals that belong there.  This is critical for communication and valuing the funnel.  Our clients organize their lists with our BuyCycle Funnel™ model.
  • Do you have a way to talk about the funnel? If you speak Italian and I speak Dutch we’re not going to communicate very well.  Or, if you’re the coach of a basketball team and you draw up plays to beat a press, and your plays look to your players like a 4 year old’s pre-school artwork, they won’t get your coaching.  Every funnel management process needs terms and phrases for things like stages, funnel value, win rate, and more to enable coaching and understanding.
  • Finally, do you have a funnel inspection process? Funnels need to be changing throughout the year.  If they’re not they’re not healthy.  If you’re not aware of how your reps’ funnels are not changing, you can’t coach to reality.  They’ll get behind and backed up and in a corner that you can’t pull them out of.

So how does your company’s funnel management process stack up against this framework?  If you have all four parts, you’re off to a good start. But – and I mean a big but – you still might have a long way to go.

For example, visibility is important but it’s not valuable if what’s visible is not real.  When it comes to funnels it’s GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

For example, if your funnel inspections are nothing more than going down the list of deals and asking ‘what’s next?’, you’re not coaching to the funnel.  That will eventually catch up to you and your reps.

And if your way of talking about the funnel isn’t focused on where the customer is in the buying process then you’re swinging a golf club with one arm.

No one said it’d be easy. But the payoff is worth it.

 

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle

Named a Top Ten Best Book to Read by Selling Power

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

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

 

 

 

 

A Sales Managers’ Toughest Duty – Necessary Endings

One of the challenging parts of a sales manager’s job is to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em when it comes to retaining or firing a salesperson.

In Henry Cloud’s wonderful book Necessary Endings, he talks about the need to prune even the live branches of a rose bush for the healthier, live branches to thrive.  Sometimes the best thing a manager can do for not only her region but also for the salesperson is to let that salesperson go.  As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says in his poem Elegiac Verse ‘great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.’

This metaphor applies to our personal lives too. We all have necessary endings that we must prune.  Habits we’ve fallen into, patterns of thinking that have become toxic, malaise, prejudices and biases that we’ve allowed to creep into our thinking, pride taking over, etc.

Here are 3 things to consider when going through the challenge of deciding if you’ve reached a necessary ending with one of your salespeople.

One – Is she coachable?

Maybe this is highest on the list.  When someone is open to coaching it shows several characteristics including humility and an acknowledgement of weaknesses.  Being coachable means he’s open to feedback and to getting better. This is a darned good start.

 

Two – Does she give a shit?

If a salesperson comes off as lacking the drive to make changes and to be open to feedback she could be missing the fundamental need to have the energy to change.  I’ve seen ‘veteran’ salespeople who are sort of mailing it in, not willing to do what’s being asked by the manager to adopt a sales process.  This is passive resistance.  I’ve seen stubborn salespeople who resist taking the manager’s coaching because they think they know what’s best for themselves.  This is active resistance.

In our Funnel Audit process we can see more clearly if a salesperson lacks give a shit.  We still need to get under that to understand the motives.

 

Three – is he capable?

In the end sales managers need salespeople who are capable in the job.  For example, sometimes the sales manager needs more hunting activity than farming activity. If a salesperson doesn’t show capability in doing more hunting that doesn’t bode well for the rep.  If they show willingness to be coached or show give a shit energy sometimes those can compensate for deficits in capability.

Underperforming salespeople deserve a thorough and objective assessment of the reasons for their performance.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

How to Leverage 80/20 for Sales Success

You’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule.  Also called Pareto’s Rule.  It’s one of the simplest, hardest principles to consistently apply. But boy does it pay off!

Take a quick test.  Look at your reps’ weekly or monthly to do list.  How many times do they fail to completely finish it?  How does that make them feel?  Are they finishing the goals that will make the biggest impact on their quotas and their lives?

Do your salespeople a favor and help them apply 80/20. Here are some ideas.

One – work on selling deeper into their existing customers before letting them pick ‘x’ new customer targets.

Often I see salespeople that aren’t getting more share of their existing customer business.  They either don’t target getting more share or they assume that the customer that buys from another company wouldn’t consider buying more from them. But these are great ‘Stage 0’ conversations to proactively engage with the customer.  It might sound as simple as this:

“I’d enjoy the opportunity to learn more about your total business needs and how we might better serve you. Can we get together to discuss?”   

Two – consider firing some of their existing customers.

Who would walk away from existing business?  I have a client that does this through its ‘product line simplification’ process.  It’s in their DNA to do this.  They spot low volume, low margin products that hurt the bottom line. Not only do these products return low margin but they also gobble up production time that could be spent producing and selling higher margin products.

Three – practice saying ‘no’.

This might be the hardest for many salespeople.  They love the hunt right?  But getting better at saying no to business that will cost more to service and with customers that offer little potential for growth and volume is often good business practice.

What happens when your salespeople exercise any of these strategies is they are forced to double down on existing customers and those with truly attractive potential for longer term growth and volumes.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel