Applying Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits to Your Buyer’s Journey

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In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents seven habits (and one bonus habit) that he observed made some people more effective than others.  Since his passing in 2012 I have revisited my copy of this book on a number of occasions.  I have found overwhelming similarities between how these 7 Habits, if practiced consistently, not only produce more effective people but also more effective companies.  Over the next week I will highlight each habit and how it can translate into helping you understand your buyer’s journey.

Habit 1 is about being proactive and taking responsibility.  In business, the leader’s job is to provide the vision for where the company is headed, and is the owner and nurturer of the company’s culture.  Many companies delegate cultural ownership to the head of HR or some other executive.  But culture is much deeper than simply finding a champion or cheerleader.  Culture is about setting a tone, establishing expectations, accepted behaviors, and perhaps the most difficult ingredient of the culture, which is the creation of confidence.  The ultimate leader of the company sets the culture even if he or she doesn’t want to “own” it.  It just happens.  Employees look to THE leader as both watchers and witnesses to behaviors. How THE leader acts and behaves is how the entire organization will act and behave.  If the leader is proactive, the company will be proactive.  If the leader hides behind walls, doors, and desks, the entire company will hide from its customers’ behind walls, doors, and desks.

To be proactive requires a great degree of curiosity.  It’s the ability to wonder what if, what could be, or how could we?  The ultimate one word that demonstrates just how proactive someone is – “why”.  When you ask “why”, you’re being proactive. Think about it.  If Thomas Edison never asked why, would we have lights? If Steve Jobs hadn’t asked why, would we have many of the modern-day conveniences and access to information that we have today?  There are thousands of examples of how asking why delivered major inventions or innovations to our society.  If no one took the time to ask why, we’d simply all be sitting around, idle, stagnant, and unchanged.

As you look at your buyer’s journey ask why?  Be proactive.  Don’t wait for a major disruption or crisis to force your evolution.  Get out in front of it. Take every opportunity to talk to your customers and ask questions, get their ideas, opinions, emotions.  Don’t rely on paper, or automated survey’s.  Engage them live, in real time.  Be bold, brave, and most of all be proactive in understanding what’s important to your buyer.

 

 

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There’s No Such Thing As Too Big For Social Selling

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Many management teams are struggling to align around the significance and impact social selling has on complex products or services. Most agree that some products like consumables, and other “quick purchases”, benefit from a social media strategy.  But what’s the difference between social media and social selling? While differences are many, think of social media as the channel of communication and social selling as the user of that channel.  Social sellers, otherwise referred to as today’s modern sales people, leverage multiple forms of social media to achieve their goals.  Social sellers are communicators, sharers, educators, networkers and connectors. The size nor the complexity of what they’re selling matters… they are socially connected.

If your company provides a highly complex and/or expensive solution and you’re still wondering about the value social selling can have on your sales efforts consider these points:

  1. 92% of all B2B purchases begin online
  2. 300 billion emails are sent each day
  3. 40 – 70% of the purchase decision is made before the buyer meets with a sales person
  4. Less than 40% of sales teams reach their quotas
  5. Average sales force turnover hovers at 50% each year
  6. Google alone reports more than 1 trillion searches each year
  7. The global average of time spent on Facebook each day is 20 minutes, in the United States it’s 40 minutes per day
  8. 500 million tweets each day
  9. 4 billion videos viewed daily, totally 6 billion hours of time watching videos daily
  10. More than 50 marketing automation platforms on the market designed to “push and pull” content into the public domain

It’s hard to imagine any product or service being immune to the impact of hundreds of social tactics available to buyers. If a buyer isn’t looking at your company you can rest assured that he or she is looking at you, your sales people, your management, and even other customers using your service.  The fact is, you’re open for business 24/7/365 thanks to the internet and the tools that have been introduced to buyers over the past few years.  The company’s brand, your brand, and that of your employees is on display for all to see, evaluate, judge, avoid, or select… the controls rests with your buyer.  Are you ready? Social has arrived. There’s no turning back. It’s up to you as to how you want to be seen, when you want to be seen, and where you want to be seen.  One things for sure… if you’re not visible… by definition… you’re invisible… and it’s quite difficult to sell something when the buyer can’t find you.

5 Things To Prepare For Before Mapping Your Buyers Journey

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up, or a business that’s been around for 50 years, your buyer has changed. He changed last month, last week…he even changed yesterday. Thanks in large part to Moore’s Law (technology doubles every two years), we know that his access and availability to information is endless.  Today’s buyers are more connected, more savvy, more social than ever before.  In fact, it’s likely your buyer will know more about you than you know about him before you ever meet one another.  That is if you ever do meet one another.

We have all heard the statistic that 92% of all B2B purchases begin online.  That means that 9 out of 10 prospects will be checking you out well before any meeting ever comes to fruition. We also know that many sources report that at least half of the buying process is complete before the buyer ever meets a sales person.  For some companies like Amazon, Apple, and Tesla, they thrive on this disruptive buyer.  The buyer who shops at her own pace, educates herself on what she wants, with the content she wants, and from the sources she wants it from.  For other companies perhaps not as sophisticated in their understanding of this evolution…this buyers journey…the need to gain this understanding is critical.  It’s urgent.  It’s truly about survival.

To map your buyer’s journey requires time, access to customers willing to participate and answer questions, and likely the most important requirement being the business’s willingness to listen and change based upon these findings.  This is critical work, not easy, but certainly doable.  The rewards of understanding your buyers are many. The risk of not understanding your buyer is simple…irrelevance that leads to extinction.

Here are 5 things you need to prepare yourself, and your company for as you begin to map your buyer’s journey:

  1. Open-mindedness. Start this work with a beginners attitude. If we were launching today, knowing what we know, what would we say to our buyers, how would we say it, when, and where would we say it?
  2. Honesty. If your brand promise is “fast and easy” but your delivery is slow and confusing be honest about it. Guess what, your buyers already know this about you.  Resist the denial urge.
  3. Customer mindset. Our buying habits and expectations as consumers are gradually following us into our business lives. If I can buy a new computer fast and easy at home, I expect to be able to do the same thing at work no matter what product or service I’m shopping for.  My expectations for speed and ease, transcend the business experience.
  4. Acknowledgement and Acceptance. All change requires acknowledging there’s a better way, and accepting the fact that we will have to do something(s) different to achieve that better way.
  5. Action. Be ready, willing, and able to act. Some people, and businesses, are ready for a different outcome, but are not willing or able to implement the change required to generate that better outcome.  Change only happens when a different action is taken.

The age of the buyer is here.  Those who decide to align their business around the buyer will survive and thrive while those who still believe they control the sale will slowly fade away. Your job is to understand how you can best facilitate your buyers process – their journey – not your sales process. Helping and serving have become the keys to success in the age of the buyer. Now you just need to know where to help, and how the buyer wants to be served.

5 Things Social Sellers Do Differently: SCOPE

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Social sellers are today’s modern day sales people.  They know how to connect, where to connect, and when to connect.  Establishing a personal brand is the cornerstone of today’s social seller.  It’s no longer enough to sell a well-known, or respected product, from a great company.  Today’s buyers want more…they want to buy from someone who delivers an equally great experience…on a personal level…beyond the company brand.

Here are 5 things social sellers do differently than sales people of yesteryear:

  1. Share.  Social sellers are reading, absorbing, processing, and sharing large amounts of information on a daily basis across their network.  They are both sources, and producers, of content, insights, and information.
  2. Connect. Social sellers recognize birthdays, anniversaries, key milestones, accomplishments, as well as, the periodic “hello”. They are following – not stalking – key influencers and thought leaders and connecting via Twitter, InMail, or directly through email.
  3. Observe.  Social sellers are constantly observing. They are looking at who’s who, what she’s sharing, who she’s following, her ideas, insights, actions. These sellers are constantly balancing the importance of context and content. Content without the right context has as much value as a snow shovel provides to a resident of Jackson, WY, with a hundred foot driveway, where 60 inches of snow each year is the average. Not a lot you’re going to do with a shovel.
  4. Participate. Social sellers are active in LinkedIn groups, tweets, Likes, and Shares.  They raise discussions, respond to conversations.  They have a voice for their ideas and viewpoints and are active participants, not armchair quarterbacks.
  5. Empathize. Social sellers understand.  They relate. They feel.  They empathize.  This ability to connect with others, to “walk a mile in my shoes”, to make others feel valued and relevant are key attributes of today’s social seller. Empathy is what ties the previous 4 items together.  For without it, sharing, connecting, observing and participating would lack relevance, and irrelevance is a manifestation of inauthenticity. Genuine empathy equals authenticity.

The Disruptive Buyer: A Cautionary Tale of Change.

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The business owner sat behind his desk staring out the window.  He started his business 7 years ago and for the most part things were okay.  He made it past the infamous first year when most start-ups go under, but it wasn’t easy. His sales were consistent, but flat over the past 3 years. Running a business was one thing, growing it was quite another.

The owner knew he needed to purchase a few super widgets to achieve his growth goals.  He had heard through the grapevine that other businesses using these super widgets were making lots of money. He had to get them if he too wanted to make more money. He needed them now. He wasn’t sure where he’d find them, or who sold them.  So he started his shopping the same way every other business did…

Like every business owner shopping for new products, he reached for the yellow pages and flipped to “W” for widgets but found nothing.  How could that be?  He thought some more and flipped to section “G” for growth. After all, the purpose of super widgets were to make businesses grow faster. Although his guess was correct, he wondered how long he would have looked if it hadn’t been. He would have kept looking if he hadn’t found them in this section, after all, the yellow pages is only so big. He found 2 pages of companies selling widgets. He wrote down the names, and phone numbers, of 5 businesses that sold these widgets and began dialing his phone. With each click of the rotary dial he was introduced to a sales person who offered to send him a packet of information which he’d receive in the mail in less than 10 days. This excited the business owner. In no time I’ll be making more money because of these widgets.

Two weeks past and the business owner sat in his office looking through 5 different packets of information from each of the companies he had called.  From there he narrowed his search down to the 3 companies whose brochures most appealed to him. He decided to begin making phone calls to these 3 companies immediately.

As he made his calls, each sales person sounded identical to the other telling him how long they’d been in business, why they different, and how happy they had made all their customers.  One specific sales person asked about his kids and right then and there the business owner was hooked.  He had made his decision on who he would buy from. It was this sales person who asked about his kids that he liked best. “She shares the same values as I do,” he thought.  She cares about my kids and my family. And with that he gave the order over the phone to purchase 5 super widgets.  He hung up the call excited to receive the purchase order in the mail the following week. In no time he’d be up and running with his super widgets.  In fact, it only took 3 – 4 weeks to receive them once his sales person received his signature on the purchase order and his payment in full. He sat back in his chair and thought about how easy buying these widgets was.  It only took a matter of weeks to educate himself and less than a month later to select a provider and have his super widgets in hand.  This was great…so he thought.

STOP THE PRESS!

Remember when? It wasn’t really all that long ago that this is how buyers made their purchasing decisions.  It’s how you and I both bought products and services.  It’s how we all shopped, considered, and purchased. We relied on the information we were “allowed” to have by the seller along with the claims and promises made by the seller relative to the value delivered by their products and services. We knew just what the seller was willing to release and not much more. You could say we were a lot like mushrooms just a short time ago.  Kept in the dark and fed a lot of….

But that’s all changed.  The age of the customer is upon us. She’s educated, connected, and socially engaged.  She wants information.  She wants a trusted advisor. She doesn’t want to be sold.  She doesn’t need to be sold.  She simply wants someone to help her along her journey, not the sellers journey, but her own personal journey.

If how you’re going to market still approaches the buyer like it’s 1999 I would ask two questions.  First, why? And second, how’s it working for you?

At the recent Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco, Jill Rowley, Social Selling Evangelist, talked about the disruptive buyer. A sales persons job today is to “facilitate the buyer on their journey, getting them ready to buy.” Quite a different and refreshing approach to selling.  A salesperson can no longer survive by having the brightest, shiniest widgets on the market.  They must have strong business acumen.  They must know how to use the tools at their disposal. Jill’s point of “a fool with a tool is still a fool” is quite thought-provoking.  It’s also still how many companies operate.  Produce the cool tool and let Sales run with it.  Bad idea.  Your buyers are way too sophisticated to simply follow the shiny bouncing ball. And not only will they not follow the bouncing ball, but they’ll kick it…hard…in the other direction making you have to chase after it to try to catch it.

Your job now is to be where the buyers are, and answer their questions where they raise them, when they raise them, and how they raise them.  Build it and they will come no longer works. Leading with the sale equals failure, while leading the buyer to the sale equals success.

Why as consumers don’t we want to be pushed, prodded or strong-armed into a sale?  We don’t like pushy sales people in our personal lives yet in business we direct our sales people to be exactly that. A robot can twist an arm, mail a piece of content, and do an online demonstration.  That’s not what the buyer is looking for when she finally engages with a sales person.  And forget value. All this talk about presenting value is overrated.  What is value?  In a recent study conducted by Sirius Decisions, the number one reason sales people lose a sale is because of the sales persons inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.

Your buyer is now the disruptor, more so than technology. She now drives the sales process, you don’t.  She has all the control because she determines what information she wants, from who she wants it, when she wants it and how she gets it. She has access to social platforms that provide feedback about you, your product, your company, your brand, your reputation.  She knows what you sell and how closely it delivers against your brand promise. The slightest disconnect between your brand promise and the experience delivered and you’re out of the game, kicked to the curb.

It’s your job to be engaged socially where she is shopping and learning.  You need to be there at the right time with the right content to help her through her journey.  She doesn’t want to be sold.  She won’t be sold.  She wants to be advised.  She wants information.  She wants hero stories…how others like her have benefited from following your recommendations.  She wants to feel connected to you and your company.  She wants to understand your brand…both brands…that of your company’s and you personally.  She won’t settle for anything less.

The age of the buyer has arrived.  Each buyer is unique.  Each is on his or her own personal journey. Each favoring different points along that journey where they need or want help. So are you still leading with a sale, or leading your buyers through their individual journey to a sale? It’s time to answer that question.

3 Big Learnings from the Digital Growth Conference 2016

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This week I attended the Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco put on by SalesforLife.  It was a remarkable event packed with great content, inspiring and thought provoking speakers and some of the industries most respected thought leaders in the digital and social selling world. The attendees listened, asked questions, pondered, and talked with one another about how to effectively interact with today’s digital buyers, all while grappling with the ever-present challenge of how to transform our sales people into social sellers.

Here are my 3 Big Learnings from the conference:

  1. Today’s buyer is far more disruptive to the buying process than technology. Social selling evangelist Jill Rowley said during her keynote, “The buyer has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100.” The disconnect between our buying habits and preferences as consumers, has not followed us into our businesses. Buyers are hyper-connected, plugged in, educated, informed, and knowledgeable. They are no longer waiting to be sold, but instead, they are controlling the sales conversation and process. This evolution begs a change to traditional sales processes. Your sales people today must be brand ambassadors both for your company’s brand, as well as, their own personal brand. Jill drove this point home by saying, “Your online digital footprint is how trust will be built before you meet your customer, your personal brand is so important.” The modern sales person sees this, embraces this, acts on it, and is constantly working to develop his or her personal brand. The question we should all be asking is, what about those sales reps who are not making the transformation to the modern sales representative? What to do?
  2. Since the buyer is now in control of the sales process, the job of the sales rep is no longer to sell, but to facilitate the buyers journey. Viewing a sale in this different light may be quite stirring…perhaps even provocative to many. However, the digital buyer is here.  There’s no going back. Sales people need to be socially engaged where the buyers are learning. It’s no longer enough to simply know where the buyer is.  The sales person now has to be interacting with that buyer before the sale in the places the buyer is learning and with those who are helping to educate and inform them. Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Strategist for Salesforce said, “How much of the journey they (the buyer) have gone through is irrelevant. It’s where they went in between that’s important.  Who are their advisors, where did they go to get info?”.  The sales rep is no longer leading with the sale, but leading the buyer to the sale. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to aid in this transformation from a focus on the selling process to a deep understanding and alignment to the buyers journey?
  3. While the buyer has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, business has been much slower to change. Sure, it may feel to many that things at work are changing at light speed, but our sales process is still the same. Fill the pipeline, manage the pipeline, close the pipeline.  We may have changed the words we use, going from prospects, to pipeline, to funnel, but it’s still the same message, and same management. A true transformation to a buyers journey-centric focus requires great preparation, training, knowledge and assets that provide Sales with the tools they need to align with this “new buyer.” According to Sales Enablement guru Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Strategy Officer at Strategy to Revenue,” The #1 reason sales people fail to make a sale is due to their inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.” This reason, and its #1 ranking, hasn’t changed in 5 years. Why? The reason can be connected back to the disconnect between what we expect from our buying as a consumer, versus what we expect as a business person. This has to change.  To make this transformation we need to begin with hiring the right talent, providing that talent with the most effective on-boarding and training, and build a process that acknowledges the buyers journey by focusing on “education, solution, and selection.” It’s all about enabling your sales team to maximize all of their buyer interactions, because what got us here, won’t get us there. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to better enable our sales teams?

As I reflected on my Conference take-aways on my flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I found myself thinking about the pace of change in our consumer lives and Moore’s Law – the speed of technology will double every two years. We all use technology to improve our lives, educate ourselves, inform one another, and buy things. The age of the customer has arrived.  They’re looking for an advisor. They want answers. And while today’s buyers conduct much of the buying process on their own, results of an Accenture survey presented at the Conference showed 65% of buyers still want a combination of digital and human interaction when buying.  This requires being there (where the buyers are), and being prepared (talent, training, knowledge, assets). Business needs to recognize and acknowledge these changes have happened.  We all need to begin to let our behaviors and expectations as consumers follow us into our jobs. Those willing, capable, and brave enough to make this transformation will be the companies that become the high-water-mark the rest will be chasing in the future.

 

 

 

Newsflash: There is no one-size-fits-all sales methodology

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Newsflash: There’s not one sales approach that works in every selling situation. While some may believe “there is one ring that rules them all”, I would suggest that believing this ignores your buyers behaviors.

There are numerous sales methodologies in the marketplace today that have real value.  Many sales leaders pick a specific approach because it “feels” right, or natural relative to their specific style and tendencies.  However, the sales methodology you select for your company, and your team, should reflect your buyer’s journey first and foremost.  If you haven’t taken the time to study, ask, and understand what motivates your buyer to buy, you’re missing big opportunities.

Not every sale is a one call close.  Not every sale has an 18 month cycle time.  Nor is every buying decision made by one person.  By studying your buyers you will identify what drives them, makes them tick, causes them to take action.

You can force a sale for sure, but it’s likely you won’t find a return customer.  Given the cost of acquiring new customers it would seem almost too obvious that sales leaders and their marketing counterparts would be striving to better understand their buyers.  Once you’ve identified the various steps or phases your buyers’ go through on their way to the cash register you can then begin to align a sales process to the buying process.  Always work outside-in.  Begin with your customer and create the process he or she will warm to.

I’m often asked which sales methodology I subscribe to.  The simplicity of my response may sound arrogant but hear me out.  The methodology I subscribe to is my own.  My own, because I’ve invested my time and money reading, testing, educating, retesting, and selling.  Because of this experience I am comfortable and confident in deploying a custom-made sales methodology to each individual sales organization based upon their buyer’s journey.  I take the time to learn the buyers behaviors first and then create a process that aligns to those behaviors…outside-in.

There is no one ring that rules them all.  It’s up to you to make the investment to expand your knowledge and apply it to gather learnings.  If you know when your buyer begins her journey to satisfy a need, you’ll know how to prospect her in a way that is non-threatening and value added.  If you know how many steps your buyer goes through before making a purchase decision you’ll know how to establish a contact strategy that touches him at the right time, with the right message, and the right tone.

Forget the one-size fits all, and take ownership of your buyers journey.  Once you do that your sales results will produce remarkable outcomes.