For a while, I’ve been talking about how “sales processes” are outdated, and that the important issue in sales now is to understand and navigate the Buyer’s Journey. In fact, it’s a big focal point of my Webinar that’s coming up next week, “The Top Four Sales Trends That Could Double Your Bottom Line.” That said, I haven’t explained what the Buyer’s Journey is. That’s the focus of today’s article.
We are living in a perfect storm in sales right now. Several elements that are cultural, technological, and generational have empowered buyers. I’ve said for many years that salespeople who thought they had “control” over the customer were kidding themselves, and I was right. But today’s buyer has control. And they damn well know it. And YOU had better know it, too, and respect it. If you do, you can not only survive. You can prosper, thrive, and quite frankly, kick the asses of the (many) salespeople who will choose not to internalize this fact of their professional life. So, without further ado, here is now to navigate the buyer’s journey:
Step One: Motivation
Every Buyer’s Journey begins with Motivation. Something provokes that buyer to feel dissatisfaction with his or her current situation and envision a desired future situation. The simplest example would be a buyer thinking, “I’m hungry,” and envisioning a time when he is no longer hungry because he’s eaten something satisfying. That’s how motivation works. It begins from a feeling of discontent, and the buyer begins his or her journey.
So, how does motivation happen? You might not have realized this, but most advertising is aimed at creating that feeling of dissatisfaction in its audience. Ads for Coca-Cola, for instance, try to make you discontented because you’re not drinking a tasty, ice cold Coke right now. Ads for cars try to make you feel discontented with the old heap you’re driving around in (even if that heap is only a year old). And so on, and so forth. Advertisers attempt to create a feeling of dissatisfaction in the minds of their target customers – and get them to envision a better future state in which their products or services ease the buyer’s pain.
Motivation can also be produced through sales techniques like cold calling, email prospecting, social media outreach and prospecting, and other direct outreach tactics. Salespeople who excel at cold calling know that they must create dissatisfaction through the words that they use – for instance, a salesperson might tell a prospective customer how they have helped a similar company to solve a problem that the prospect might be facing and then use questions to draw the prospect into a conversation. It’s important to remember that, when prospecting, you aren’t trying to sell the customer. You are just trying to create that feeling of dissatisfaction that will motivate the prospect to embark on a buying journey. In fact, most of the time, the salesperson is not as much creating dissatisfaction as he is highlighting and bringing a latent dissatisfaction to the surface.
Step Two: Investigation
After the buyer has become Motivated and decides to move into a buying journey, the next step is Investigation. At this point, the buyer knows that he or she is dissatisfied with the status quo, and that there is a better future out there. But what exactly is the source of that dissatisfaction? Where does that dissatisfaction rank in terms of priorities? In the Investigation phase, the buyer’s needs and wants are prioritized. Think of it like a visit to the doctor when you aren’t feeling well. The doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms to define the unwell feeling. In the same way, salespeople will ask questions of the buyer and analyze data and information to help the buyer define his or her needs or wants.
The Investigation phase goes far beyond the simple, outdated process of “qualifying,” to help the buyer define a successful purchase. We know that there is a desired future situation that the buyer is seeking – in the Investigation phase, we help the buyer define what that situation is and how to get there. The key to a successful Investigation is comprehensive, customer-centric questioning. Remember, the buyer is the star of this show. Our job is to help him get to that future state. Questioning that is limited, narrow, and leading will work against the buyer – and likely get you kicked out of the Buyer’s Journey. You can’t navigate the Buyer’s Journey if the buyer kicks you out of it.
Make no mistake – the Investigation phase is the key to winning the sale. If you do not correctly capture, interpret, and understand the buyer’s needs, you cannot make up for it later in the process. We need to make the most of this time.
Step Three: Solution
Once we have correctly identified and understood the buyer’s needs (the source of their dissatisfaction with the status quo), it’s time to show them how we can solve those needs – or, if we cannot solve them, discontinue our participation in the Buyer’s Journey. Wait, what? Discontinue? Yes. If we continue to push our products and services, knowing they won’t fix the buyer’s problem, we kill our credibility. Many a future sale has been won by a salesperson who told the buyer, frankly and honestly, that they could not solve the buyer’s problem. And, let’s face it – the buyer will figure it out anyway.
In this phase, the salesperson must present his or her plan for solving the problem, as well as showing the advantages and benefits of adopting the salesperson’s plan by buying what the salesperson has to offer. Further, the salesperson should show why his solution is the best available solution. In today’s information age, the buyer can easily access data like product specifications, features and benefits, etc., so the salesperson should focus on customized presentations that directly address the buyer’s definition of success, as established in the Investigation phase.
Step Four: Evaluation
Evaluation can be thought of as the “price and terms” phase. At this point, if your buyer has expressed genuine interest in a purchase, he’ll likely ask the classic question: “How much?” It’s our recommendation to make the answer to that as quick, concise, and to the point as possible. The more you babble before telling the customer how much a solution costs, the more the customer understands that you are scared of your price. This invariably leads to negotiation, which in turn leads to discounting.
Make no mistake – what the buyer wants from you at this point is to know what they will be asked to pay. Answer them. The buyer will be asking themselves three questions:
- Can I afford it?
- Are the terms acceptable?
- Does it represent good value?
If the customer answers all three of those questions “yes,” you probably have a win on your hands.
Step Five: Decision
In the Decision phase the customer decides to buy or not buy. Your job is to ask them to do so. The key to the Decision phase is simple. Ask yourself four questions:
- Is your customer motivated? In other words, does the customer feel dissatisfaction with the status quo in such a way that a purchase would create a desired future situation?
- Have you assisted the customer in a complete investigation of his or her needs, helped her define success, and gotten her agreement that you have accurately captured the source of her dissatisfaction?
- Have you shown the customer a solution for the dissatisfaction, and gotten his agreement that this would relieve the dissatisfaction?
- Have you helped the customer evaluate your solution by quoting price and terms in a simple fashion?
If the answer to all four of these questions is “yes,” then you have to ask the customer to buy. Period.
And that, in short form, is how you navigate the Buyer’s Journey. How important is this? It’s vital. Going forward, my sales training will be centered around this concept, because I believe in preparing salespeople for the NEXT 20 years in sales, rather than the last fifty.