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.

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.

 

 

 

A Remarkable Sales Lesson From Yankee Candle

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Yesterday I went into Yankee Candle to purchase some of their awesome selling Balsam and Cedar scented candles.  I had a Buy Two, Get Two Free coupon.  My goal, as always when shopping, is to know exactly what I want, get in, get out, and get home!  I certainly hadn’t expected to get schooled in Sales while buying something as simple as a candle.  But I did.

Immediately upon walking in I was greeted by a very nice, “in-the-Christmas-spirit” sales associate.  She noticed I was a “man on a mission”, and asked what she could do to direct me to what I was looking for.  I told her I had a coupon for the buy 2, get 2 and I specifically wanted Balsam and Cedar candles.  She directed me to “get a basket” and then led me to the display where she then said “you want to buy the large candles with that coupon.”  I told her I was planning on getting the medium size jars.  What she said next hit me like a brick.  In all my sales career this was a first.  Her response was so quick, and so filled with conviction it just completely disarmed me.

She said, “Look…you went to college.  The large jar is $27.99 and the medium is $24.99 but the burn-time difference is 60 hours.  I know you can do the math.”  WOW!  This lady was spot on.  She used my own intelligence against me!  I did go to college and I could do the math.  With that I said yes, and out I walked with 3 Balsam and Cedar candles and a Mountain Lodge (my favorite) for a bit of variety.

On my drive home this experience got me thinking.  This lady’s style and level or persuasion rivaled any C-Suite sales executive I’ve ever dealt with and she was working for Yankee Candle!  While I might be wrong, I’m betting her sales skills were all her and not taught by Yankee.  If I’m incorrect I’d love to know more about their sales training program.

Yankee Candle Lady’s Sales Style:

  1. Smile.  The entire interaction she was smiling and genuinely cheerful.
  2. Recognize and acknowledge body language – “man on a mission”.
  3. Provide subtle direction – “get a basket”.  She’s in control.
  4. Respond accordingly – “follow me”, as she led me to the display.
  5. Know your product and your price points – “you want to buy the large”.
  6. Ready with quick reply to objection – “You went to college…you can do the math”.  Her response is disarming.  She’s challenging my intellect but subtly…and with a smile.
  7. Close the deal – she walks me up to the counter to be cashed out.
  8. Thanks me for coming in.  I wish her a Merry Christmas and she looks at me, still smiling and says “Merry Christmas to you too”.

What a truly unexpected and wonderful experience buying a candle!  Yankee, you’ve got yourself a Raving Fan! What do you think?

Confidence THEN Conviction

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Confidence is one of the most studied, sought after, and revered human traits. We all aspire to have confidence. The confidence to ask for a raise, or a date, or the confidence to ask for the business. Nearly everything we do in life requires confidence. But do you know what ingredient is needed to super-charge your confidence? It’s conviction.

 Years ago I found myself sitting in a meeting with the brilliant founder of Intuit, Scott Cook. In that meeting we were discussing why one of our product lines wasn’t acheiving the level of sales success we had anticipated. All of our research suggested it was due to a lack of brand awareness within that product category’s space.

At the end of our presentation Scott sat back and looked around the table. We were all quiet, anxiously awaiting his approval of the depth and quality of our work and findings. Instead he sat up, placed his arms on the table in a folded position and said, “I have a question. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of a Yugo.” We looked around the room at one another and quickly hands began to rise. Still looking around the room Scott then said, “Now keep your hand up if you’d buy a Yugo.” One by one hands came down and we now knew we were about to get schooled in the topic of brand awareness.

“Your problem is not with awareness. Your problem is that the market has no conviction in your product”. Scott effectively made the point that strong awareness without conviction equals failure. Our job was to instill conviction in the marketplace. Doing so required us to establish confidence first with our buyer. They needed to first “believe” we were capable of what we said we could do, and only THEN could they demonstrate their conviction to buy from us.

Establishing confidence begins with awareness, followed by increasing the buyers familiarity with your offering. Once familiar, the marketers job is to instill confidence. This can be done through a variety of ways including testimonials, surveys, samples, free trials, or a no-risk guarantee. Regardless of which method you use to instill this confidence it must be real before you can ask for the customers conviction to purchase.

To make this journey successfully you must be willing to truly hear what your customers are saying. You need to assess the marketplace. And perhaps most importantly you need to exude a personal conviction that by doing these things your business will grow with happy, delighted, and profitable customers.

Your Doctor May Be Your Best Sales Coach

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In my previous blog post I talked about a selling strategy that helps to eliminate lost sales.  Lost due to a disconnect between the prospect and the sales person.  A communication miss fire on either end is responsible for every sale not made.  If the sales person is communicating and observing the prospects response, or reaction, there should be no last-minute surprises of lost business.  In fact, if you were really honest about it, most of the time you knew deep down that sale was going nowhere.  But the sales gods have been clear for decades that you never give up, never walk away, always be closing, and never take no for an answer.  If you’re into self-deprecation that might be exactly the approach you’re looking for.  But for those of us who are interested in transcending the age-old image of a product pusher to one of a true sales professional, looking for the “no” is how you should approach each sales opportunity.

For years I have taught and coached sales teams across a variety of different industries to approach a prospect as a doctor approaches a patient.  Curious, thoughtful, prescriptive and honest.  Here’s how:

  1. Curious.  The first thing a doctor does when he/she enters an exam room is begins asking questions.  What’s going on?  When did it start?  Is it like this, or like that?  Do the symptoms increase in intensity during certain times or are they constant and unchanging?  The doctor is beginning to diagnose your problem.  Asking questions, no matter how uncomfortable they may be, is the first step to a proper diagnosis.
  2. Thoughtful.  In my experience (and to be completely honest I believe I have the world’s greatest doctor) great doctors never provide knee jerk responses.  They go through their diagnosis phase and take a moment to process the information they’ve just gathered.  Sure this process step may take seconds, but in most cases pay attention the next time you go to the doctor and watch for that “medical processing pause”.  This refers to the time it takes for the doctor to thoughtfully provide their assessment and prescribe next steps.
  3. Prescriptive.  Depending on the assessment of what’s wrong with the patient the doctor may have one to many different prescriptions to offer the patient.  The prescription may not be solely medicine related.  A doctor may prescribe physical therapy, or eliminating a specific food from your diet.  He/she may also prescribe a mobility aid such as crutches or a walker, or even a sling or splint depending on the injury.  The point is that in many cases there are a variety of paths forward and the doctor presents these options in the form of prescriptions.
  4. Honesty.  This element of the doctor-patient relationship is the most important.  No matter how good the doctor is, if there is no trust that exists between him/her and the patient the above 3 ingredients are useless.  By the time the doctor gets to the prescription phase of the patient examine, he/she is presenting options along with their personal choice.  How many times have you heard a doctor say, “if you were my son”, or “when my mom went through this we decided to do…” The trust and honesty that exists between a doctor and patient – their ability to communicate transparently with one another – is the ingredient that results in the patient’s ability to improve their condition.

The relationship between a doctor and patient exists for one of two reasons:  to fix something currently broken, or to avoid something breaking in the future.  Isn’t that the relationship between you and your prospect?  The prospect has either agreed to meet with you because something in their business is currently broken or because something may be changing that may cause something to break that they’re trying to avoid happening.  Regardless of whether it is a current problem or future, follow the 4 steps above and you’ll find a more engaging, trusting, and action-oriented relationship develop between you and your prospect, soon-to-be customer.

The anatomy of a great Sales presentation

Over the years I’ve read hundreds of sales books.  I’ve attended countless sales training sessions with various philosophies from Spin Selling to Solution Selling, and Relationship Selling.  As I’ve sat through these courses as both a rep and ultimately as the head of Sales I began to watch expressions and reactions to the material being presented.  I have seen the excitement, and the hunger, in people’s eyes as they listened intently with the hope that “this will be the training that changes everything” for them, and that “this class will provide the silver bullet” that has eluded them throughout their career.   Most often times they’re wrong.

A recent article on training cited a statistic that 87% of sales training was forgotten within the first 30 days.  This begs the question, why?  Is it because the philosophies being taught are not good?  Are the different sales processes wrong?  Is it just bad information?  Is it because the rep tried it and it didn’t work?  I would offer that all of these sales methodologies have great aspects to them. They all offer tremendous insights and perspectives on various sales situations.  But there’s no such thing as one-size fits all when it comes to Sales training.  Why?  Because all people are different and as such react in different ways when they are being sold to.  That means it’s incumbent on the sales rep to be savvy enough to know what elements to apply in any given situation.

No Sales training methodology will work 100% every time.  The key is knowing what pieces to take from each perspective and incorporate them into your own style and process.  The best sales people know what to say, when to say it, when not to say anything, what questions to ask, how to ask them, and when to ask.

Recently I participated in a discussion on “What makes a great Sales Presentation?”  Some of the responses were very classroom-ish.  The fact is, the more complex you make something the less likely it will be tried, let alone followed.  As such I put together my own step-by-step recommendation for delivering consistent, high-quality sales presentations.

To get the most out of every Sales presentation follow the steps below:

1. Prepare – know the buyer persona you will be meeting with, your competition, your own products and services.

2. Be early. If you’re on time you’re late.

3. Dress the part. I can’t tell you how many sales presentations I’ve sat through where the reps tie was not straight or a blouse had one too many buttons undone. Attention to the small details says a lot about you.

4.SMILE – no one wants to spend time with a grouch or scary person!

5. Listen twice as much as you talk – that’s why we have 2 ears and one mouth.

6. If your product requires a formal presentation use an iPad and get theSlideshark app. It is a powerful tool and demonstrates your ability to “integrate” various tools into a process…the sales process.

7. Boil your presentation down to 3 salient points…be clear and concise but have back-up and detail should the buyer want to dive deeper.

8. Gain continuous buy-in. Throughout your presentation make sure you check in with the buyer to gain their continued approval and agreement. When you get to the end you can sum up your presentation by saying, “we agree this solution makes sense for your business so lets talk about next steps”

9. No matter what the outcome, shake hands, smile, thank them for their time and let them know you will keep in touch…then do it!

Give this a try for a month, or however long it takes you to do no less than 25 presentations.  Then let me know what your results were.  Remember, to be successful in Sales you MUST be a continuous learner, broadening, and deepening your perspective each and every day with each and every presentation you give.  Not even the 9 steps above are a silver bullet but they can certainly help you improve  your overall sales effectiveness.

Like this if it helped.

Happy Selling!