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

 

 

 

 

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

Blindspots of Public Figures

Blindspots, ironically, don’t discriminate.  Smart people have them.  Affluent people have them.  Highly educated people have them. People in power have them.  Good people have them.  You have them.

Several weeks ago Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau confessed to a “massive blindspot” – he was found to have worn a blackface outfit to a costume party when he was in his late twenties.

Obviously, this wasn’t clarity of judgment.  Blackface is offensive to African American people.  It is a form of theatrical makeup used mostly by white performers to represent a caricature of African American people.

I’ve never met the PM.  But I’m going to do something that I would do with just about anyone else in this pickle of a situation.  I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he meant no harm by his extremely poor judgment.  I have read comments by people who know Mr. Trudeau and they’re favorable.  They say he’s a decent guy with good values who wants what he thinks is best for all of the people of Canada.

To his credit the PM said this at his press conference responding to the calls for an explanation:

“I always acknowledged that I came from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that that privilege comes with a massive blindspot.”

The Prime Minister’s blindspot hijacked his clarity of thought and integrity of action.  Whether you choose to forgive him for his action is a personal choice.  I wouldn’t judge you either way.  Forgiveness is perhaps the most powerful act one can choose, even forgiving someone for something he cannot see.  He’s still responsible and must own up to it.

Blindspot episodes are opportunities to grow, and it takes a humble soul to trust that an embrace of the pain of the situation you caused will somehow lead to a better outcome.  Weak leaders will double down on their behaviors and defend it.  This makes their pain sort of go away, but only for a while, like when a bad hangover finally subsides.  A pattern of defending blindspot behaviors causes weak leaders to build up a pressure cooker of unhealthy, undesirable emotions like bitterness, anger, judgment, or self-righteousness, to name a few.

Look around your office.  Does someone you work with consistently exhibit blindspot behaviors that bother you?  Make you mad?  Frustrate you?  Hurt you?  You could try forgiving them for what they know not.  Then, if you have the courage, and I don’t say that lightly, consider how you might make this person aware of his or her blindspot.

Consider telling the person how you are choosing to respond to his or her behavior, and how that affects you.  This makes it partly about you, because you still control your choice.  The minute you give that up you’ve relinquished control.  Resist the urge to create an instant “aha” that will turn this person’s behavior around.  It normally doesn’t work that way.  Recently I found myself in a car ride to a downtown dinner event and asked the guy driving us, the senior most executive of the business I was consulting with, if he thought he sent signals to his staff about his wanting them to push back on him, to not be “yes men”, that were counter to his telling the staff to push back on him.  He paused and considered the possibility.  That’s progress.

Finally, turn the gaze inward and ask yourself what blindspots am I missing about me?  Trust me they’re there.

 

Mark Sellers

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

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Founder, Breakthrough Sales Performance LLC

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model

www.breakthrough-sales.com

614.571.8267

info@breakthrough-sales.com

 

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