Start addressing the issue by looking at how realistic your sales process stages are and how closely they relate to how your prospects typically make buying decisions. Think of it this way, a simplistic sales process (that some people actually use) is Prospect > Qualify > Demo/Presentation > Quote/Propose > Close. Granted, these stages are all things that sales reps typically do, but reps can do them all day long and still be nowhere near closing a sale. This process generates a lot of activity but not necessarily any results — and it can leave you frustrated. You’re working hard but nothing is happening. So, what’s the problem? If this describes you, your problem is likely that your sales effort is not aligned with your prospect’s buying effort.
What? Buying effort? Yeah, if a person or organization intends to pursue a change such that a sales opportunity will emerge, they will spend effort to do it. They will go through a process – a buying process. So sellers, get over yourselves, what you do only matters in the context of what the buyer is doing. To be successful and add value as a seller, you have to understand the process your prospect uses to make a buying decision and then map your efforts to it. You need to figure this out because it’s the environment you’re selling into. Your sales actions don’t matter if they don’t mesh with where the buyer is in their process.
Here’s a look at the basic decision stages most buyers go through. These will give you a basis for mapping your sales activities to your buyer. Think about and practice ways you can help your buyer successfully exit each stage and you will have a lot more success and a lot less frustration. I’m your buyer, this is what I’m thinking. Help me and I may buy something.
- Awareness – I’m deciding to decide. I’m somewhere between “leave me alone”, “maybe I have a problem/maybe I don’t”, to “yeah, I have a problem but I’m not sure I want to solve it”. The buyer is becoming aware that there may be a need to change and that there are other ways of doing things that may be better, but they are not convinced.
- Feasibility – OK, I have a problem and I want to try and solve it, but can I? What solutions are available? Are there any solution approaches that could work? What’s realistic considering my constraints like budget? The buyer now has intent but is uncertain over if, or how, to proceed.
- Evaluation – A feasible approach to a solution has been identified. How do I choose from among the options available? What stands out about the alternatives I have? Unlike the earlier stages, sellers have better access at this stage because buyers need details and pricing in order to make a decision. This is the stage where obvious sales activity occurs like custom demos, presentations, and proposals.
- Resolution – I know how I want to proceed and who my choice is, but I need to get over my fears and I’m sweating the details. The buyer wants to move ahead but there is fear, usually along at least two dimensions, 1.) can they (the buyer) do what they need to do to ensure success and 2.) can the seller back up their claims?
- Commitment – OK, let’s do it. The buyer needs help with the transactional stuff like negotiating final terms, paperwork (contracts), etc. that you do to wrap up the deal.
Once you have the buying process down, map the activities you engage in to assist the buyer in each stage of their process. Once you’ve done all that, sales becomes a matter of being aware of your buyer’s stage in their process and making sure you are engaged there so you can help them progress through that stage. Our job as sellers is simply to engage buyers and help them work through their buying process. If you don’t know where the buyer is in their process, you can’t offer the right help, and that’s why your deal is going nowhere for you. But the deal will be going somewhere for the seller that is aligned.
One final note – more often than not, when a seller is out of alignment with a buyer, you will find that the seller is ahead of the buyer, not the other way around.