Tag Archives: Buyer’s Journey

Which Sales Skill Should You Focus On Improving?

I’ve had some interesting conversations lately with business owners and sales leaders who know that something is wrong.  They just don’t know what.  They haven’t kept their sales teams abreast of the way that selling is changing, they haven’t retrained and developed their people, and because of this, they are feeling a little lost.  And they want to change their results – NOW.

When people feel lost and want to change results, they look for the “magic button” that, if they can just find it and press it, will fix all their problems.  So, instead of, “Can you assess my issues and perhaps retrain my salespeople to update their skills,” they ask, “Can you teach my people how to (close/prospect/present/etc.).  In other words, they’re looking for the one piece of the skillset of successful salespeople in the current environment – and if their people can learn that ONE THING, they’ll return to success.  So, I’m writing this article to help them – and you.  I’m going to tell you what the most important skill that salespeople can possess is.

The answer is – all of them (sorry).  Salespeople need to be competent to excellent in every phase of the Buyer’s Journey, and if they’re not, sales will fall away.

First of all, salespeople need to understand what the Buyer’s Journey is, and what their role is in navigating it.

Then, the salespeople must be good at Motivating their prospects to enter a Journey, because without good Motivation skills, they won’t have anyone to sell to.  We used to call this skillset “Prospecting,” but I seldom use that term anymore.  What we called “Prospecting” is now elevated, and Motivating is really a better description of the salesperson’s role in this phase of the Buyer’s Journey.

Salespeople must be skilled at helping their Buyer through the Investigation phase, where the Buyer defines his or her needs and sources of dissatisfaction, as well as the Buyer’s Desired Future State.  Only by understanding the Buyer’s needs, dissatisfaction, and definition of success, can the salesperson deliver a targeted presentation of a solution.  If you can’t master this phase, you’re spraying and praying.

Presenting the customized, tailored Solution, using your expertise, is what guides the Buyer to the success that they are seeking – that’s why they began a Buyer’s Journey in the first place.  Salespeople need great presentation skills.  Not only is the presentation of Features and Advantages important, but salespeople should be skilled at illustrating the solution through customer success stories that engage, entertain, and show the Buyer why their solution is the best.

If your Solution works for the Buyer, it’s time to navigate the buyer through the Evaluation phase by presenting your price and terms in a fashion that is both definite and easy to understand.  The more complicated your proposal, the more fear the buyer will have.  The less definite you are in your presentation of price and terms, the more you invite negotation – and move farther away from the sale.

Finally, your closing skills help the buyer with the Decision phase of the sale.  Even today’s empowered buyers still need and want to be asked to buy – and if you forget this part of the Journey, all your work to this point will likely be for naught.  Part of this phase is the ability to handle and resolve objections, and to remove the Buyer’s fear.

My point is this:  Being a “great closer” or a “great presenter” is worthless if you don’t have the other skills.  That wasn’t always true; in pre-Internet days, if you were a great closer, you could browbeat your customers, make them bleed from the ears, and close enough business to get by.  Great storytellers and rapport-builders could also get enough business.  Even the old “hunter/farmer” sales mentality is obsolete now; salespeople have to be able to both initiate and maintain relationships.  Buyers are more empowered now, and that’s changed the landscape. Today’s salespeople have to be great all-around players.

Is that a lot of work?  Yep, it is.  I didn’t promise that it would be easy.  The best professional salespeople are tuning and improving their skills on a weekly basis.  Here’s a tip for both salespeople and managers:  Focus on one skill every week, and work to improve it.  Try things out, watch to see how customers respond, and use that feedback to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  Your customers are the best focus group that ever existed!

That’s a lot to improve.  I’m not quite done yet, though.  Today’s environment requires additions to the old skill sets.  To maximize your opportunities today, you need to be skilled and ready to use communication platforms that include phone, email, text, video, social media, and IM.  Can you write a persuasive text in 240 characters or less?  If not, you’re going to lose business to salespeople who can.  This is one place where AI (something else you need to be good at) can help you.  Type in what you want to say, and ask your AI app to condense it to 240 characters.  It works.  Just beware of “Chat crap,” and refine your result to eliminate it!

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is.  Let’s be honest.  The job of being a winning salesperson is more complicated than it used to be – and it’s not going to get any less complicated in the future.  This is a moment where you really have an opportunity to differentiate yourself, if you put in the work, learn new techniques and technologies, and keep yourself not only relevant, but vital.  My opinion?  It’s one hell of a fun time to be in sales.

 

How to Gain Trust With Customers

In a conversation a few weeks ago, I heard a phrase that, frankly, I was hoping had made it to the dumpster of old sales philosophies.  There is an antiquated mentality in sales that says “Buyers are liars.” This mindset teaches salespeople to be skeptical of everything a customer says and to never fully trust them. The logic is that if you don’t trust the customer, you won’t get taken advantage of or misled.  It’s a fear-based mentality, and as you know if you read my work, “Fear” is the worst four-letter word that starts with “F” in sales.

However, this distrustful approach is fundamentally flawed. You cannot build trust and have an authentic relationship with someone if you start from a place of skepticism and withholding trust. Trust has to be reciprocal – you have to give it in order to earn it. Salespeople who say they want their customers’ trust, but don’t extend any trust themselves, are being hypocritical.  And yet, this is something I hear a lot.  Let’s talk about how to REALLY gain trust with customers.

If you go into every sales interaction suspicious of the customer’s motives and truthfulness, the customer will pick up on that vibe. They’ll sense that you view them as a liar or adversary to be conquered rather than a relationship to cultivate. Why would they then open up, engage authentically, and place their trust in you?  Short answer:  they won’t.

The role of a salesperson should be that of a trusted advisor and solutions consultant, not someone just trying to tap the customer’s wallet, regardless of the result. When both parties enter the relationship with trust and authenticity as the foundation, better solutions are reached that serve both sides’ needs.

I’ve said before that “You can either embrace transparency or have it forced upon you.”  Well, if you want to gain trust with customers, you’d better embrace it.  In other words, you need to lead by example and be the first to extend trust to the customer. This means:

  1. Asking Open-Ended Questions & Really Listening: Too often, salespeople fall into the habit of talking at the customer instead of having a dialog. They make assumptions about what the customer needs instead of taking the time to truly understand through asking open-ended questions. Asking and sincerely listening shows you trust the customer to openly share their real needs, sources of dissatisfaction, desired future state, and thoughts.  In fact, let’s take this to another level.
  2. You must ask open ended questions, even when the answer might harm your ability to make a sale:  I’ve seen salespeople who are normally good questioners shy away from asking certain questions, because the answer might disqualify them as a solution to the customer’s needs.  Don’t do that.  “Putting yourself out there” in this way is a way to gain trust with customers – and it’s a way to avoid making deals that you’ll regret down the road.  Don’t ever be afraid to walk away from deals that will have a negative result for you or for the customer.  Many times, you’ll win that business back down the road.
  3. Being Fully Transparent About Your Business Process: Instead of obfuscating next steps or giving vague half-truths about pricing or logistics, be fully upfront and transparent about every aspect of the process. Lay out the exact path from where the customer is today to ownership and implementation of your solution. Hedge nothing. This open communication demonstrates you trust the customer can handle the full truth.  Keep in mind – your role is to help the customer navigate their Buyer’s Journey.  They already know what THEIR process is and where they are in it; you shouldn’t hide YOUR process from them (and of course, your process and their Journey should mesh).
  4. Being Upfront About Pricing & Value: Manipulative tactics like holding back pricing until the end, or overpromising value and downplaying costs, demolish trust. Be accurate and upfront from the start about pricing and quantify the concrete value/ROI. Trust the customer can make an informed decision in their own best interest.  Keep in mind:  Your customer CAN discover a price for your stuff – or your competitor’s – without a salesperson’s intervention these days due to technology.  If they have to resort to technology, you have made yourself unnecessary.  Don’t bitch when they treat you that way.

In today’s world of open information access and buyer empowerment, trying to “control” the sales process no longer works. In truth, it never really did – the customer always had the real control – but it’s definitely easier for customers to kick you out of their Buyer’s Journey now.  If you want to succeed in this world, you have to get rid of fear-based techniques, embrace transparency, build trust, and engage customers in an open and authentic sales conversation. When you lead by demonstrating mutual trust and transparency, you’ll get the right deals done – deals that make everyone happy that you did business, and deals that make the customer look forward to doing business with you again.  And isn’t that what we’re really after?

You Can’t Always Get What You Want…But In Sales, You’d Better Ask!

Sometimes, the key to success in selling is to get back to basics. I’ve talked a lot in the last few years about how the balance of power has shifted firmly towards empowered buyers. With more information at their fingertips than ever before, customers can research products, compare prices, and make informed decisions without relying heavily on salespeople. This has led some salespeople to become hesitant about taking an active role in guiding buyers through their Buyer’s Journey.

In fact, I’ll be frank. I worry that I’ve dissuaded some salespeople from remembering an essential truth of selling.  If you don’t ask for what you want, you won’t get it.  To not ask your empowered buyers to buy – or help them advance through their journey – is to abdicate your responsibility as a salesperson.

Don’t make this mistake. Even as buyers have become more empowered, your job is still crucial – to your company and to your buyers. Buyers may have more information, but that information can also be overwhelming – and in many cases, inaccurate or a bad fit for their situation. A skilled salesperson (and you are one of those, right?) who takes charge can cut through the clutter, ask the right questions, and help the buyer arrive at the best solution for their needs.

The key is that you have to be assertive without being pushy. Buyers don’t mind assertive salespeople – but pushy salespeople get eliminated from the Buyer’s Journey. You have to recognize that the buyer is in the driver’s seat, but you must also understand that the buyer often welcomes guidance. By actively participating in the buyer’s journey, the salesperson can help the customer navigate the process more efficiently and come to a decision with confidence. Your buyers will find themselves thinking (or saying) “so, where do we go from here?” quite a bit.  Be prepared to guide them.

Here are some ways salespeople can reassert themselves in the sales process:

  • Ask thoughtful questions. Dig deep to really understand the customer’s needs, challenges, and goals. Don’t just go through a surface-level qualification checklist. Uncover the underlying issues the buyer is trying to solve. I’ve said for many years that 80% of your chance to win the sale is through your questioning, and that hasn’t changed.
  • Provide valuable insights. Use your industry expertise to share perspectives the buyer may not have considered. Offer creative solutions they hadn’t thought of. Position yourself as a knowledgeable partner, not just a vendor. And don’t be afraid to provide expertise, even when it’s not directly tied to a sale.  Salespeople today must earn their spot in front of the buyer, and you do that by making the buyer a little better and more knowledgeable during every sales interaction.  Salespeople are the world’s best collectors of industry best practices – and some of the worst at sharing them.  Break that pattern.
  • Journeys need a guide. Don’t be afraid to take charge of the sales cycle. Suggest next steps, schedule follow-up meetings, and keep the buyer on track. This shows you’re invested in their success, not just making a quick sale.
  • Address objections head-on. When the buyer raises concerns, don’t dodge them. Acknowledge their doubts, then provide reassurance and evidence to overcome them. Demonstrate you’re listening and want to alleviate their fears.
  • Close confidently and directly. Don’t be afraid to ask for the business. If you’ve done the work to truly understand the buyer’s needs, you should be able to make a compelling case for why your solution is the right fit. End the sale decisively, not tentatively.

The most successful salespeople today don’t just react to the buyer’s lead – they proactively shape the sales conversation and Buyer’s Journey. They recognize that even the most informed, empowered buyer still values the salesperson’s expertise and guidance. By reasserting themselves as sources of expertise, these salespeople are able to navigate the buyer’s journey and close deals with confidence.

Of course, this assertiveness must be balanced with genuine curiosity and a customer-centric approach. The goal isn’t to strong-arm the buyer, but to collaborate with them in a way that meets their needs. If you can strike this balance, you will thrive in the new era of buyer empowerment.

Sales and Marketing: The Marriage Whose Time Has Come

Note:  This article is a collaboration between myself and Stephanie Smith of The Grind Marketing.  I’ve asked Stephanie to collaborate with me because I want my readers to be on the cutting edge – and these days, you can’t be on the cutting edge of Sales without incorporating Marketing.  There will be more of this content to come.

For the entire time I’ve been in sales – and probably longer – there has been a disconnect between the sales team and the marketing team at many companies (including many that we have worked for and worked with). The salespeople, who interact directly with customers, often feel that the marketing materials and campaigns don’t match up with what they’re seeing and hearing from clients in the real world. Meanwhile, the marketing folks think the sales reps don’t fully appreciate the importance of presenting a cohesive brand image and messaging.

This divide causes issues. The messaging can be mismatched, lead generation suffers, and the overall experience for the customer gets jumbled up. When sales and marketing aren’t working together, it becomes really difficult to create a smooth, consistent experience for customers across all the different touchpoints they have with the company. This can damage trust and loyalty over time.  This is more pronounced now, since customers have more access to marketing messages through technology.

The key is getting sales and marketing on the same page through open communication and collaboration. They need to understand each other’s roles and perspectives.   Instead of working at odds, Sales and Marketing need to be viewed as one team with different, and complementary, roles.  Here are five good ways to get started:

1. Work-alongs:  We were tempted to call this “ride-alongs,” since the idea began with marketing people should periodically ride along with salespeople to see sales interactions in the field – but the concept works both ways.  Salespeople should be part of the creative process in Marketing.  In fact, the teams should have regular meetings to share customer insights, align their strategies, and get on the same page with positioning and messaging.  The marketers can take the customer pain points and challenges that the sales reps are hearing about and use that to shape more relevant marketing campaigns. And the sales team can apply the marketers’ skills around branding, messaging, and buyer psychology to have more impactful conversations.

2. Use Tech:  Sharing data and technology is also critical. You should be using a good CRM that both Sales and Marketing work with. When Sales and Marketing are using the same systems for tracking leads, analyzing customer behavior, and sharing data, both teams can make smarter decisions and create more seamless, personalized outreach.

3. Define Lead Scoring Together: Historically there has always been tension between Sales and Marketing when it comes to defining a “good lead.” When markets are hot and the buying power is in your favor, the definition surrounding what constitutes a qualified sales lead doesn’t matter as much, because the opportunities inbound are plentiful. However, when markets are down, the definition matters more. Without definition, Marketing will continue to contest; “what do you mean sales are down? We sent you 800 leads last month.” Determining how to score leads requires both teams to clearly understand the buyer persona and what makes the perfect prospect. Assigning real-time lead scoring based on an agreed-upon set of criteria reduces the blame game and allows both teams to focus on optimizing lead-generation tactics. This type of clarity also provides the flexibility for both teams to adjust mid-campaign. If the results aren’t where the team forecasted that they should be based on known customer behaviors and market conditions, the team can reposition messaging and establish retargeting tactics to fuel the funnel appropriately.

One note here – if the sales department doesn’t respond to leads quickly, they don’t have a leg to stand on in this conversation.  As I’ve demonstrated before in this space, leads get cold quickly.

4. Think Holistically About The Stages in Your Buyer’s Journey Map: Formally known as a Sales Funnel, this approach takes similar concepts in defining what stage a customer is within the sales cycle and understanding the amount of nurturing it will take to close the initial deal. With so many new ways a customer can enter the pipeline and equally as many new ways to nurture a customer without ever even having to meet with them face-to-face, this is where a sales and marketing collaboration can truly shine to deliver consistent messaging throughout multiple touchpoints required to prompt conversion. Through this tactical approach,  it is important for marketing teams to share real-time behavioral insights with the sales teams. Again, by leveraging a comprehensive CRM platform, this important customer data can help both teams understand exactly where a customer is at in the funnel before the initial call is ever made. Not only does this create a better customer experience, it also reduces the sales cycle and enhances the time-line to close.

5. Create a Service Level Agreement Between Departments: Okay, that sounds more formal than what it needs to be, but honestly developing a written agreement on deliverables and clearly defining expectations for both teams is one of the most effective ways to maximize productivity. This can be as simple as assigning mutually agreed upon goals that benefit both teams. For example, marketing will provide X number of qualified leads required to help support overall sales quotas and the sales team will aim to close X number of deals from lead generation tactics to meet specific revenue targets. All Leads that are not “sales-ready” (i.e. Motivated and ready to begin a Buyer’s Journey) will be marked as such by the sales team and sent to marketing to be enrolled in automated lead nurturing campaigns through the CRM.

In the B2B world especially, where you’re dealing with long sales cycles and multiple decision makers, having this united sales-marketing strategy is make-or-break. Your customers don’t want to have to choose between brand messages and figure out which one is the “right” one.  Presenting a unified front throughout the entire customer journey builds credibility and trust, ultimately leading to more sales.

The old silos have to come down. When sales and marketing get in sync through transparency, cooperation, and shared goals, the whole company can deliver a much tighter, more compelling experience that resonates with customers and drives better results.

Can Sales and Marketing work together seamlessly? Sure.  This article is an example; Troy Harrison is the Sales Navigator, and Stephanie Smith is a marketing expert, and we coauthored it.  In fact, we will be doing much more collaboration on this concept in the coming months.

About Stephanie Smith:

Passionate about transforming ideas into impactful stories, Stephanie Smith brings extensive experience in strategy development, marketing, content creation, branding, and digital tactics.

Results-driven with a history of leveraging new technologies and market trends to develop collaborative sales and marketing strategies that consistently generate new revenue growth. Her strategic insights and ability to navigate the challenges of blue-collar industries have led to her being approached by B2B family-owned businesses seeking to enhance their go-to-market strategies. Under Stephanie’s guidance, these businesses have seen significant growth, with some experiencing a 300% increase in year-over-year sales performance while earning industry recognition for their impactful campaigns.

With over 15 years of experience in the ever-evolving marketing landscape, Stephanie has led cross-functional teams to align with overall business goals. Her adaptability shines through in fast-paced environments, where she manages multiple projects seamlessly. This experience and Stephanie’s passion for supporting blue-collar workers and their businesses led her to a pivotal point in her career to launch a startup marketing community. Dedicated to delivering go-to-market strategies specifically crafted for small to mid-sized business structures in these industries this community helps companies thrive in today’s business landscapes.

As the Founder of The Grind Marketing Collective, Stephanie leads a team of talented professionals responsible for developing and executing innovative and impactful marketing campaigns that drive brand awareness, customer engagement, and revenue growth for the companies they serve. Leveraging their experience in marketing communications, social networking, and B2B marketing strategies that showcase the value and quality of their clients’ products and services.

Stephanie is always open to connecting! To contact Stephanie visit thegrindmarketingcollective.com or email her at stephanie@thegrindmarketingcollective.com 

 

When You Join the Buyer’s Journey in the Middle

Joining the Buyer’s Journey in the middle is a unique challenge, but let’s face it – most of you are doing that on a regular basis.  When a buyer calls “just wanting a price,” they have completed a significant portion of the journey – at least in their minds.  In 2019, Forbes Magazine published an article quoting a study saying that the average B2B buyer has completed 57% of his or her Buyer’s Journey before ever contacting a sales rep.  Well – this blew up the Internet, and continues to do so.

In researching this article, I found a number of posts that argued with the 57% number.  Some say it’s much lower, and some say it’s higher.  But I never found one that could effectively argue with the concept that buyers are performing much more of their own due diligence and research before involving a salesperson.  As I’ve been saying for years, it’s a different world.  Today’s buyer is more educated and informed than buyers used to be – which creates different responsibilities and opportunities for us.  It also creates some significant challenges.  I’ll list those challenges and give some ideas on how to deal with them.

The challenges can be:

  1. Your Buyer doesn’t trust you. A 2017 HubSpot study concluded that only 3% of buyers consider salespeople to be trustworthy.  That’s a kick in the pants, isn’t it?  At least we beat out lawyers and politicians, but that’s not exactly good.  Unfortunately, the actions of too many past salespeople stick with our profession, and when a buyer calls saying that he knows what he needs and just needs a price, that is an expression that he doesn’t trust salespeople to accurately define his needs and assist in a solution.
  2. Your buyer has done a lot of research, and not all of it may be correct. Research on nearly any topic is both plentiful and readily accessible nowadays, but that’s a double edged sword.  Most articles, guidelines, whitepapers, and other forms of Internet research are nonspecific and one-size-fits-all.  In fact, so is this article.  I know that most of my readers are B2B salespeople and the managers and business owners who employ them – but that still leaves a wide field.  What the Buyer’s Journey means, specifically, may be different between industries or even companies and product lines within the same industry.  That means that your buyer can access a lot of information that might actually run counter to what he or she really needs – because it’s not specific to your buyer’s situation.
  3. Buyers don’t know what they don’t know. Even when defining their own needs, buyers might be asking the wrong questions of themselves and their counterparts and co-workers.  This is especially true when entirely new types of product or service are being considered.  We add value when we can be a part of the Investigation phase of the Buyer’s Journey – if the Buyer will allow us in.
  4. Competitors may have guided their research. We have all seen this one.  We get an RFP with specifications that are obvious attempts to limit offerings to one company’s products or services, and we know – the competitor helped set the standard.  Today, it doesn’t have to be a bid spec.  A buyer with a pre-existing relationship could have had that salesperson point them to sources of research that favor your competitor, thus setting the standard for the purchase.   The road here is uphill.

Not all of this news is bad, however.  What you must realize is this.  When a buyer calls asking for a price, or even a demo on a specific product, they believe that they have completed a substantial part of their own Buyer’s Journey, and they believe that they have completed it correctly.  Whatever you do from here, you absolutely must respect the work that they have done – or they will disconnect from you, and buy elsewhere.

When the buyer calls you and makes it obvious that they believe they have completed a substantial part of their Buyer’s Journey, here are some ways to position yourself as a key part of their process:

  1. Show respect. This is mandatory.  If you come off as know-it-all or condescending, your buyer will immediately assume that you are trying to get one over on them (remember that 3% number), and either disconnect or make it incredibly difficult for you to impart your knowledge and expertise.  Instead of saying, “How do you know that’s what you need?”, ask a question like, “Wow, you’ve obviously done your homework!  Knowledgeable customers make my life a lot easier.  Just out of curiosity, would you mind telling me how you researched and found our product to be the one you need?”  Hopefully, they will give you enough information to let you know exactly where in the Buyer’s Journey that you intersected with them.
  2. Have 2 or 3 great questions to ask. If your buyer believes that they already have the answers, they’re not going to give you much time for a full discovery.  At least, not at first.  What you need to do is have two or three really great, incisive questions to ask to pinpoint their needs.  Sometimes, the answers to these questions will let you know that their research is right on target – or sometimes, it’s wrong.  Depending on their demeanor, if their research is on target, you may want to move ahead with them in their journey to the Evaluation step.  If they’re wrong, a more gentle approach is needed.
  3. If there’s a pitfall, expose it, but in a different way. Sometimes there are common pitfalls with products or services that nobody talks about, and that you can’t easily find with Internet research.  These are things that your buyer must know – but remember, you have to respect their knowledge.  You can do both.  The approach here is to say, “Well, as much research as you’ve done, I’m sure you already know about X problem.  Do we need to talk about that?”  If the buyer isn’t aware, this could be a “Wait, what?” moment for them.  If it is, now you have the credibility to back them up and go back through the Investigation phase.
  4. Don’t sell them the wrong stuff. Sometimes you will go through as much due diligence and questioning as possible, and not only is your buyer determined to buy something that won’t fix their problem, they’re getting mad at you for attempting to guide them.  This situation is no fun at all.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  But ultimately, it’s your credibility that’s at stake.  Sometimes you have to lose a sale now to win a relationship later.  Politely but firmly explain that, based on your experience and expertise, they will not get the result they are looking for and that you’d rather not sell them something that won’t meet their needs.  Further, you hope that you can recontact them down the road.  Keep the relationship whole; few things build trust and credibility quite like refusing to make a sale.  That’s pretty much the opposite of the behavior of those salespeople who created that 3% trust stat.

Joining the buyer’s journey in the middle is a challenge, and it’s a challenge that grows more common each day.  As I always say when people complain about the new trends in customers – get good at dealing with them, and you can separate yourself from the pack.  Is 57% the right number, in terms of how far a buyer has progressed down their road prior to talking to you?  I don’t know – but I don’t think it’s as far off as some other people do.  Within change lies opportunity.  Let’s capitalize on it.

Motivation: The Foundation of the Buyer’s Journey

Last week, I did a one-on-one Zoom call with a guy who was trying to sell me a marketing system.  He opened by saying that he had sold life insurance for over 40 years and, “As we both know, all sales are 90% emotional.”  I stopped him right there.  I told him that I’d been in sales for 34 years, and that the emotion-to-intellect ratio in the sales had shifted significantly over my career.  In fact, I said, it had never been “90% emotion” in my career, and that salespeople who understood how their customers think have the edge over those who attempt to manipulate how they feel.  His response was, “You’re wrong.”  The call ended there.

I tell you that to tell you this:  Today, we’re going to talk about an element of sales that melds thought and emotion, and it’s the foundation of the Buyer’s Journey.  Your job is to help navigate the customer through the Buyer’s Journey.  Think of it like building a house.  A good house needs a foundation, it needs walls and a roof, it needs mechanical systems like plumbing and heating, and it needs furnishing.  But without a foundation, that house can’t be built.  Motivation is the foundation of the Buyer’s Journey – without it, you don’t have a sale, and yes, there is a combination of emotion and intellect that drives Motivation.  So let’s dive into what Motivation really is, shall we?

I define Motivation this way:  Motivation is a feeling of dissatisfaction with the Current Situation, and a desire for a better Future Situation.  In other words – “I feel like something’s wrong now, and I want something better.”  This feeling can be emotionally driven, it can be logically driven, or it can be a combination.

One thing I want to make clear:  Motivation is different than Prospecting.  Motivation is buyer-driven; i.e. it is something that the Buyer thinks, feels, or thinks and feels at the same time.  Prospecting is salesperson-driven; it’s that activity where we reach out to potential Buyers that we don’t know and attempt to engage them.  Here’s where they do come together.  Good Prospecting is designed to highlight or create Motivation in order to engage the Buyer.  That’s why your prospecting message is important.

The lamest prospecting messaging begins like this:

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  I’d like to talk to you about…” Who cares?  That’s “me” driven.  Good prospecting is “them” driven.

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  Can I quote on your next order of…” Yes, by all means, let’s reduce the entire sale to a price right out of the gate.

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  How are you today?”  That announces you as a pesky salesperson who can’t think of anything good to say.

Back to Motivation.  As I said, Motivation can be either discovered, highlighted, or created.  Here’s how:

  • Discovering Motivation: This is an “educated guess” approach, and it’s based on the idea that your targeted prospects are very likely to have a problem that you’ve solved for others like them.  The problem is just bubbling below the surface in your prospect’s mind, and that feeling of dissatisfaction has to be highlighted in order to move them into a Buyer’s Journey.  Let’s say that you know of a common problem in a given industry that you serve, and you’ve fixed it for others.  Your messaging needs to center around acknowledgement of the common problem, painting a picture with your words of what the prospect’s day will be like when it’s solved, and then asking a question about their experiences with the problem.  For example:  “Mr. Customer, I know that independent shops like yours replace a lot of exhaust gaskets on late model GM V-8s, and when they do, they break bolts – which takes up your shop time and money.  Our induction bolt heater has solved that problem for other shops like yours.  Would you like to see a demo of how this can save you hours on every one of those jobs?” (For the record – bolt induction heaters are awesome.)  A talk track like this highlights a dissatisfaction with the Current Situation that your prospect already has, and may bring Motivation to the surface – enabling you to get an audience and start them on a Buyer’s Journey.  Your Buyer probably is aware of both the problem and a potential solution – but you are bringing it to the surface.
  • Highlighting Motivation: This is possible if, in researching your Buyer, you discover something that would be a motivating factor for purchasing your stuff.  As an example, let’s say that you notice that your Buyer is getting ready to add three new locations, and they are in an area where the incumbent vendor for your stuff doesn’t go – but you do.  Or, they’re taking on a new product line and you sell a product that perfectly complements their new line.  You get the idea.  In this case, the Motivation probably exists on some level – you just have to bring it to the fore and suggest that you are the key to relieving their dissatisfaction.  This can get you an audience, if you do it right.
  • Creating Motivation: This approach works best when you have something new that your Buyer is probably unaware of.  The Buyer might not even be dissatisfied with the Current Situation as they understand it – but the awareness of something new could change that.  For example, once upon a time, the Lockheed Constellation was considered the luxury yacht of the skies and passengers loved flying on it.  Then came the jet – and all of a sudden, the Constellation was consigned to history because it was very loud and too slow.  Creating Motivation isn’t easy, and it requires a product that is genuinely new to the market and has such a high ability to change the customer’s perception that the mere awareness of it Motivates your prospect.

Whatever way Motivation happens, understand that you will not get a sale unless it’s present.  If your Buyer reaches out to you rather than vice versa, you need to understand what Motivated them to enter their Buyer’s Journey – and as you move through the Journey, you need to verify that it’s still present.

The bottom line is this:  When you approach a potential Buyer, you should understand that he doesn’t care, in the least, about what YOU want to talk about.  He only cares about his own dissatisfaction with his Current Situation – and the first words out of your mouth (or keyboard, as the case might be) need to speak directly to that.  If not, you probably won’t get the appointment.  Then, as you move through the Journey, you need to make sure that this dissatisfaction is still there.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and theirs. If Motivation goes away, so does your bouncing baby sale.

How to Navigate the Non-Buyer’s Journey

I’ve been writing about how to Navigate the Buyer’s Journey for months now (and if you don’t know what the Buyer’s Journey is, read this article now before moving on, or watch my Webinar on this topic).  I truly believe that this is the foundation for sales as we move into the future – but I’ve neglected the flip side.  My work on the Buyer’s Journey is optimistic (as I am as a person).  It begins with the assumption that the Buyer enters the Buyer’s Journey with a true intent to buy from YOU, if the Buyer’s definition of Success is met.

But we all know that it isn’t always that way.  Spotting the difference between a real potential buyer and someone just kicking the tires is tricky. Genuine buyers show real interest—they ask relevant questions and want to know more about what you’re selling. The time-wasters, on the other hand, might be more interested in getting information or a better deal without any real intention to buy. So, let’s take a little dive into how to qualify buyers for seriousness – or, as I say, Navigating the Non-Buyer’s Journey.

You need to understand that qualifying the buyer is an area where your questioning skills come to the fore.  You can ask these questions in such a way as to turn a real buyer into a non-buyer if you’re careful.  Too many sales training “systems” have as their foundation a hefty skepticism – and I’ve seen those types of tactics send a genuine buyer right into the arms of a competitor.  My first sales job had a training system that said – repeatedly – “buyers are liars.”  I disagree.

It’s important to remember that when a Buyer enters into a Buyer’s Journey, they are probably going to buy SOMETHING from SOMEONE. Whether they buy your stuff from you is the open question.  Having a customer that is using you to “keep their supplier honest” is a pain in the ass and a huge time waster.  On two different occasions, I’ve had prospects say that exact phrase to me – “I want to keep my supplier honest.”  My response was, “If you’re worried about them being honest, why in the world would you keep buying from them?”  Both ended up as my customers.

Before we launch into a few guidelines for separating Buyers from Non-Buyers, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Your time has value.
  2. It’s okay to say no. You don’t have to do everything the prospect asks just because they ask.  See #1 above.
  3. Any Request for Proposal has specifications in it. If you didn’t help write those specs, one of your competitors did – and they’ll probably get the business.
  4. A Buyer’s Journey is a MUTUAL journey – you should both be proceeding through at the same pace. If your Buyer stops, you stop.

With that said, here are a few questions you should ask to separate Buyers from Non-Buyers.

  • The Decision Making Process: Are you talking to the person who will make the decision?  The old method of doing this was to ask, “Are you the decision maker?”  It’s a personal and confrontational question that would almost always generate a “yes” answer – EVEN IF THE PERSON WASN’T THE DECISION MAKER.  A better way is to ask about the process, which depersonalizes the question and makes it safe to tell you that they are not the decision maker.  “Mr. Prospect, could you tell me about the process that will be used to make this buying decision?”  Remember – most of the time, a salesperson has access to the decision maker.  If it’s not you, you’re probably just doing this for practice.
  • Priorities: Your normal sales questioning should establish the need – but where that need is prioritized in terms of the overall company big picture is important, too.  Even if the need is important to your Buyer, does the Buyer have the horsepower within his/her organization to get it done?  Will, for instance, a Marketing project lose to an Engineering project?  Don’t just ask about your own sphere – ask about the overall picture.
  • Resources: For years, I’ve told salespeople not to ask “The Budget Question.”  There are many reasons for this – you’re unlikely to get an honest answer, it opens the door to price pressure, and there are issues beyond money that could prevent you from getting the business, among others.  However, I think there’s a place for a question about   Resources are more than money – it can include time, technology, personnel, etc.  “What resources to do you plan to allocate to solving this problem?”
  • Timeline: The “timeline question” is important – and it’s often done incorrectly.  Salespeople ask about the timeline for the decision – when in fact, they should be asking for the date the solution is needed.  This does two things for you.  First of all, it helps the customer envision their problem getting solved – which makes the process about them and not   When you ask about the decision, you are a supplicant – “please tell me when you are going to buy from me.”  Asking about the solution makes you a partner in the solution.  Secondly, asking about the solution timeline allows you to help set milestones for completion of the different parts of the Buyer’s Journey, as well as to guide the post-decision milestones. Ultimately, it gets you toward success for the buyer and for yourself.

The key is this:  If you aren’t getting the answers that you need, you must not be afraid to discontinue your participation in the process. Again – your time has value, and you could be prospecting to find someone who will embark on a Buyer’s Journey with you.  By paying attention, keeping communication clear, and using these questions, you can tell the difference between a promising lead and a dead end. It’s an ongoing skill that gets better with practice and helps focus efforts where they matter most.

How to Navigate the Buyer’s Journey

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:

  1. Can I afford it?
  2. Are the terms acceptable?
  3. 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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Have you shown the customer a solution for the dissatisfaction, and gotten his agreement that this would relieve the dissatisfaction?
  4. 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.