The age of the customer demands a different approach

The combination of technological changes in the internet, mobility and social media has changed the way customers buy. Knowing your customers better than they know themselves and engaging with them in a buyer-aligned way is the only sustainable competitive advantage moving forward.

Research by Forrester shows that 74% of executive buyers, once they commit to making a change, will go with the company that’s able to help create the buying vision. Industries already heavily impacted by this change have come to the conclusion that sales has changed from a push to a pull strategy. Sales now has to facilitate the buying process based on the strengths of its offering and the impact it will deliver for the customer. So a lot of companies are re-evaluating their current sales and marketing approach. And it’s no surprise that they tend to have some common questions:

  • Is my current sales process adapted to the age of the customer?
  • All vendors tell me their sales method is aligned to the buyer journey. How do I know if this is true? How do I choose the right one?

Critically important questions

Answer the questions correctly and you’ll be able to deliver the results shown in a recent study by the Sales Management Association. They found a 28% higher growth rate for companies using a buyer journey-based sales methodology, along with lower sales costs and improved margins.

But get the answers wrong and you’ll have the opposite:

  • Worse relationships with prospects and customers. You’ll even alienate them.
  • Less power. No influence over the customer buying proces
  • Lower hit rate, higher sales costs, fewer leads, less revenue, decreased margins

Below you’ll find the three most critical evaluation criteria when selecting a sales process/methodology.

1. Pseudo buyer alignment versus real buyer alignment

You can typically recognise companies offering a Pseudo Buyer-Aligned Process by the following:

      • They translate the buyer process into a sales process. So first they analyse a customer buying process and then superimpose a second process that has the corresponding sales process steps to take for every step of the buying process. They claim that because the steps of the sales process are aligned with the steps of the buying process, they have a buyer-aligned sales process.
      • It is a linear process that is identical for all opportunities.

This is not only wrong, but so theoretical and complex that the sales force find it impossible to implement with a high adoption rate. Consider a simple analogy: in the spring we plant seeds to align our farming activities with the season. But planting seeds does not mean that therefore it’s spring. You have to monitor the seasons and align the farming activities accordingly. You don’t monitor the farming activities and then deduce that the season is aligned.

When salespeople follow a Pseudo Buyer-Aligned Sales Process they make the same fatal assumption. They assume that since they executed this step of the buyer-aligned sales process, the customer will now move to the next stage of the buying process. Can you see how this is completely wrong? Their reference points are the steps of the buyer-aligned sales process, instead of those of the customer buying process.

The second problem with this approach is that the Pseudo Buyer-Aligned Sales Process is a sequential set of steps:

      • You take a step
      • Finish it
      • Check box
      • Done
      • Next step

In contrast, the buying process is neither linear nor sequential. It is a dynamic and iterative process, which means that the customer goes back and forth within each stage of the buying process. So even if your sales process includes customer milestone checkpoints when passing from one stage to the next, it still doesn’t work in reality. Because the customer may say one thing one day and then something else another day. How many times have you had a meeting where the customer was enthusiastic about something you said but then changed their mind at the next meeting. Why? It’s very simple. Customers do not live in isolated worlds. After your meeting they talk to peers, they go on the internet, they talk to colleagues. This influences or even completely changes their opinion.

Recent research by SiriusDecisions shows that 71% of customer decision criteria and their buyer journey are influenced by online information. Sales reps need to be able to see how their customer has evolved since the last meeting. Contrast this with a salesperson who follows the pseudo buyer-aligned linear sales process: “I did step A of the process, so now I need to do step B?” But who says so? Who says that because your step is executed that the customer also evolved? And if so, who says the customer didn’t change their mind or wasn’t influenced by others since your last contact? Your sales force needs to be focused on the customer buying process and adapt their behaviour accordingly.

Therefore, implementing the sales steps in your CRM won’t help, even if they are aligned with a generic buying process. Your salespeople will focus on those sales steps and lose track of the buying process. What you need to do is to implement the buying process stages and tools to continuously monitor buying readiness.

Check: ask your vendor to show and explain their sales process and a screenshot of a CRM implementation.
If you see sales stages and/or a linear process, you know you have a Pseudo Buyer-Aligned Process. 

2. Company buyer journey versus individual buying readiness

As we learned in the previous point, it is critical to detect the buying stages and align activities accordingly. Not the other way around. That being said, there is another dimension to this that makes this even more critical. Each member of the decision making unit (DMU) is going through the buyer journey at their own pace, dynamically and iteratively. Each person is influenced in many ways and could potentially be involved in another stage of the buying process.

Misalignment of the sales activity with individual buying readiness will result in a longer sales cycle and a lower win probability. So there’s no need to explain why you need to install a process that enables you to monitor individual buying readiness and/or alignment of the DMU. Implementing a company buyer journey doesn’t help because it doesn’t exist. Every company has a unique buyer journey, with stages that include:

      • Definition of requirements
      • Evaluation of vendors
      • Short list of vendors
      • Negotiation with short list

As you can see, these stages are very high level and company-based. They don’t allow you to monitor individual buying readiness, which means your sales force won’t be able to individually align and influence DMU members. We have seen many initiatives from top management stall because people lower down in the organisation were not aligned in their buying readiness. Identifying these individual misalignments and having the right sales and marketing activity to resolve these friction points is key to winning deals.

Check: does your sales methodology spontaneously talk about the importance of individual alignment? Ask to see the sales process.
If it has general buying stages you won’t be able to focus your sales on aligning DMU members.

3. Is your sales process multicultural?

There is a big difference between European companies and US-based companies. Most sales methodologies developed in the US fail in implementation in European and global companies. The US has a ‘hero culture’, where the CEO, VP Sales and people delivering results are considered heroes. This has a totally different impact on the way sales reacts to or views top-down implementations and rule-based ways of working. In Europe, the fact that top management says something can actually have the opposite effect on salespeople.

Here’s a simple test to define the culture: count how many salespeople are using individual spreadsheets – a feature of the hero culture. The methodologies of US-based companies are developed using this hero paradigm. So in all the intricacies of the method you buy, you will find all kinds of resistance to adopting it from your sales force.

Check: is your methodology based on multicultural diversity?
If not, be prepared for resistance.

These three requirements are crucial if you want to implement a process that will truly align your sales with the new buyer and be adopted and used by the team.


We received this e-mail from Michael Hebda, Director of Marketing North America at MEGA International. Perpetos trained Mega’s Sales teams globally. We implemented a Buyer-Aligned sales process that enables Sales reps to align their approach with the customer’s buying cycle. We like to thank Mike greatly for his willingness to have us share an example of the impact of this change.

Pascal,

I wanted to share a quick story with you. David was on the phone with a prospect the other day and the gentleman was pressuring David for a demo.

The prospect pushed further by telling David that he already had demos scheduled with two of our competitors, and wanted to see MEGA’s as well. David engaged the gentleman in a conversation about expectations, executive support, etc., and determined the prospect was between 6 and 8 o’clock on the buying clock.

When David summarized the scenario for the prospect by saying that we first wanted to get an understanding of the CIO’s goals, discuss specific pains, short- and long-term goals, etc., the gentleman had an epiphany …
He told David “You’re right. Moving forward at this stage, with none of the necessary information in place, would be a waste of time. I’m going to cancel the other two demos and re-approach this initiative correctly.”

I thought it was worth sharing that David used Buyer-Aligned Selling methods to establish himself as a trusted advisor, and did it so well that the prospect canceled competitor demos.

Talk soon,  MEGA new logo
Mike

 

Are you looking for a new Sales Processes?
Are you looking for a new Sales process to find a (new) way to reduce your cost of sales, stop margin erosion or better align your approach with the customer’s buying cycle? Or maybe you’re simply no longer happy with your process in place?

Choosing the wrong Sales process can have some unwanted consequences and a high impact on team performance.

  • So which selection criteria are important?
  • And how can you be sure that the selected process will be just right for your business?

At Perpetos, we have been implementing sales processes for many years. This first-hand experience has helped us establish a hands-on checklist of seven characteristics of a sales process guaranteed to work. We typically see the success rate of Sales people increase by at least 22% at our customers. Download your Ebook to learn more


Every day we’re being confronted with increasing sales costs and margins under greater and greater pressure. In this blog, we explain why this is happening and look at the solution in detail.

Increasing sales costs and greater pressure on margins are usually the result of inadequate or non-existent internal sales training and supervision. There are also a few die-hard habits that many companies and sales reps cling on to which can cause even bigger problems for sales performance.

Directors will already be familiar with the changed buying behaviour and understand the impact it has on their sales and marketing organisation. The fact that up to 75% of decision-making criteria are influenced online means it’s important for us to allow sales to start a dialogue with customers at different times and with different messages.

If sales is forced to wait until customers are ‘ready-to-buy’ or in the quotation stage before they spring into action, it’s impossible to sell customer value, so:

  • Margins continue to fall
  • Products and services are experienced as commodities

This habit comes from:

  • Managers being mainly interested in the time frame that deals are agreed in
  • Sales who think it’s a waste of time to enter into a buying process early, and prefer to wait for ready-to-buy leads from marketing
  • Sales who are willing to start the buying process early and influence the customer, but don’t have the necessary skills and messages to appeal to customers in this early stage

The solution: do the right thing at the right time with the right person
Management behaviour and how to direct sales teams is crucial here, although that’s a separate topic just in itself. But how can we arm sales to face these new challenges?

  • Train sales to detect and facilitate the entire buying process
  • Implement a sales process that allows your team to document opportunities based on the customer’s willingness to buy (buying process) – and embed this in the CRM
  • Document messages for each product-market combination, and teach sales to use these messages at the right time in their comfort zone using ‘how to sell’ training with role plays

The buying process in figure 1 shows the complete customer journey. Whether it’s for existing or new customers determines how sales deals with it.

For existing customers, sales mainly need to convey ‘why customers need to stay’ – combined with behaviour that we label as ‘account development’ rather than ‘account management’. With existing relationships, detailed knowledge of the customer and their environment provides a great opportunity for increasing the value perception, and so embedding the relationship more deeply.

For non-customers, the first question is: ‘Has the customer already decided to change?’ Has the customer not decided to change yet? Then it’s best to base your messages and interactions on breaking the status quo, and so increasing the willingness to change. Customers aren’t usually aware of what improvements are possible. Or the customer thinks the risks that come with the change look too big. Or they’re not familiar enough with exactly what’s required.

These ‘why change’ messages assume the customer’s point of view and are the best way of developing prospects. And this is where the biggest challenge is identified in terms of sales performance. Various studies and analyses of our customers show that up to 60% of opportunities simply disappear from the forecast without any decision being made by the customer. The biggest competitor isn’t another supplier, but the customers themselves simply not deciding to buy anything. So messages about how good your company and its solutions are, or the extra benefits that you can offer, won’t help stimulate the buying process.

Has the customer already decided to buy? Then the next question is of course: who should I buy what from, and how much for? Sales responds to this with messages that underline why the customer should choose them. These ‘why us’ messages are most effective at this point in time. Most companies and a large proportion of sales reps score quite to very highly in this area.

Figure 2 shows when these three types of messages are most effective from a sales perspective

In summary, we therefore need to enable sales to convey three different types of messages convincingly according to the situation and depending on the product-market combination:

  • Why change
  • Why choose us
  • Why stay with us

How much do your sales convey these three sets of messages? And to what extent can they discuss them with the customer at the right time? You can compare your sales performance and customer orientation with best in class companies in the Sales Performance Benchmark


We are living in a time where buyers can find information about your solution with a single click, and where peer recommendations are more valuable than any supplier’s advice. So it’s time for organisations to rethink their lead generation. You can start by sharing the responsibility of finding new customers across various departments. A sound, integrated approach will help your company keep costs under control, and the sales department stay focused on what it does best: closing deals.

Revenue performance development requires an update in tactics, especially as the profile of B2B sellers has changed dramatically over recent years. Sales people often used to be a sole source of information, but buyers have clearly taken huge leaps forward now because of the internet. They have taken control of the buying cycle for themselves.

Lead generation to fill the gap

This causes sales departments to panic and think they have to fill the gap with more leads, so lead generation often focuses solely on the numbers being found, and marketing departments often don’t have the resources required to take all the qualifying criteria into account. The consequence: sales people’s diaries are too full of unqualified leads, resulting in poor quality appointments. Sellers become demotivated and miss out on leads. Having more leads doesn’t necessarily mean generating more income.

Less is more

Research shows that less is more. Sales can achieve better results with fewer leads, as long as the quality of these leads is high and insights into the client’s readiness to buy are developed sufficiently. So what a sales team needs is qualified leads that have been developed in a consistent and intelligent way.

It’s the marketing department’s job to systematically influence its market sectors with relevant (i.e. non-commercial!) content tailored to their specific business challenges. Sales will only take over and do more business in shorter cycles when an individual’s readiness to buy has reached the required level. In short, marketing campaigns have to be moulded into a continuous process to promote dialogue with clients rather than push messages into the market one-way. Also important: many companies don’t give their marketing people short-term quotas.

 

How efficient are Lead Generation and follow-up in your company? 
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Are you good at selling your company, products and services? The majority of sales and marketing managers answer ‘yes’ to this question, but the facts don’t back them up. A recent study by CSO Insights shows that almost 70% of companies aren’t able to generate useful leads. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Things often go wrong the very first time contact is made. Compare the following conversations:

1. Hello Mrs Brown. It’s Tony Johnson here, account manager for New Technologies. We supply payment systems all over the world. I’m calling because I’d like to discuss how you could speed up payments in your sales outlets and reduce costs. I’d like to arrange an appointment to demonstrate how we can help you with our innovative, integrated systems.

2. Hello Mr Jones. It’s Pete Baker here from New Technologies. I’ve just read that you’d prefer a lower proportion of cash transactions in your shops. We recently completed a project for another retailer who wanted exactly the same thing. And after just four months he saw his cash payments reduced by 19.6%, and in busy periods his sales increased by 5.4% because of the shorter waiting times for customers. Are you free to meet me on Thursday next week to discuss how we can do this for you too?

Which of the above pitches do you think is the most appealing? In order to grab a potential customer’s attention and persuade them to take action, you need more than just a general chat about what your company makes and delivers. You have to put yourself in your prospective client’s environment and market position, and empathize with their challenges, etc.

Potential clients will only make time free for you if they believe you can possibly improve their business. To succeed at this, consider the following principles:

  • Understand you prospective client’s challenges and check to see if your products and services can offer a solution
  • Speak mainly about the impact on their business, and not about your product or company
  • Make sure your employees can adapt their sales pitch to the situation and role of the person they are talking to

Also make sure you adapt your actions to the prospective client’s willingness to buy: they might only want an introductory conversation; maybe they’ll soon be writing a call for tender; or perhaps they signed a contract with a competitor just two months ago?

Focusing on what the client really wants will put you in a better position to make a sale based on value rather than price. This won’t only reduce your sales cost; you’ll also get a better view of your forecast and increase your margin on every deal.


Scientific research has shown that every buying cycle is a sequence of the same mental processes; almost as certain as a law of nature. Our Buying Clock is an easy way to see the willingness to buy of everyone involved in a potential sale:

You can work out where the client is in Buying Clock by asking questions such as:

  • Are 100% sure that the current situation has to change?
  • What can you do with the new solution?
  • Have you calculated the cost and ROI?
  • What criteria will you use to compare suppliers?
  • Are you trying to understand the differences and benefits of the various options?
  • How do you guarantee your future supplier won’t eventually drop you?
  • Have you checked if the new solution brings new problems with it?

Buying-Clock-isolatedThe clocks are far from always synchronised

You know ‘what time it is’ in the buying cycle when you’ve got answers from everyone who has to decide on the purchase. Everyone goes through the same mental processes in a purchase, and it’s very possible that different people are in different stages.

The speed at which we go through the various stages of the buying cycle depends on various factors: experience of buying similar services, understanding the various options’ impacts, the decision’s importance and impact on us and our organization. A buying cycle can last from a few seconds to months or even years depending on these factors. The deal can be sealed when everyone involved has completed all stages.

Understanding this buying cycle leads to better results

Do your sales and marketing teams know what time it is on every client’s Buying Clock? Wouldn’t it be great for your team to discover how ready your client is to buy, so they could approach them in the right way? Then sales would never start talking about product features before the client is ready to even consider buying that type of product. And marketing wouldn’t overload anyone with too much information about all the benefits. Clients will feel better understood, and make a decision faster, when approached with messages that match their buyer readiness.

When everyone in your organization can see the client’s buying cycle, you can develop shared terminology to align your sales and marketing activities and increase your efficiency and effectiveness. To maximize your organization’s potential, make your client’s readiness to buy the reference point for every action. This can lead to the following benefits:

  • Shared terminology for sharing experiences better and improving the whole team’s performance
  • Precise timing of your actions, resulting in lower sales cost and higher ROI
  • Higher conversion
  • Less loss of margin
  • Objective, predictable forecasts
  • In summary: more sales with higher margins at a lower cost