Do you recognize that powerless feeling after asking your potential customer for the third time the progress on your proposal? Again, you had to hear “another excuse.” Apparently this time another stakeholder got involved and your proposal is now on her desk. Welcome to the buying process! It’s like watching a game of Table Football, and you are the ball.
Let’s think about this logically; You, as the seller are behaving according to your sales process; you follow up on your proposal. Your potential customer, on the other hand, is behaving like a regular buyer. Although your solution may sound solid to your contact, a change will not happen until there is consensus amongst multiple stakeholders. In fact, some of these stakeholders may not even agree that there is a problem and vote for remaining the status quo. Others may come up with new ideas, innovative alternatives to the company’s challenges that make your proposed solution obsolete. And you thought it was just a matter of keep following up. These two processes clash every day, which is frustrating from a seller’s point of view. How to stop being kicked around in the buying process?
Awareness. If you want to be someone worth doing business with, accept that customers have their own buying process. And that their buying process is not linear. That means, that this process is very rarely a straight line, and more often bounces up and down horizontally and vertically across multiple functions. The stakeholders involved may each have a different agenda and are in a different phase of their buying process. In the end, they all want to help the company to grow but there is no consensus on the strategy to get there. In other words, if everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to be heard, then this can become quite messy. They need your help.
Work Vertically, but also Horizontally. Let your linear sales process not stop you to behave non-linear. Did you really complete the discovery process? Have you spoken to all identified stakeholders? Do you understand their views on the top company’s challenges? In a recent study, Gartner identified six B2B buying “jobs” that customers must complete to their satisfaction in order to successfully finalize a purchase:
- Problem identification. “We need to do something.”
- Solution exploration.“What’s out there to solve our problem?”
- Requirements building. “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”
- Supplier selection.“Does this do what we want it to do?”
- Validation. “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”
- Consensus creation.“We need to get everyone on board.”
Where are each of your potential customer’s stakeholders on these questions? Traditionally, salespeople go through the first three “buying jobs” with one or a few contacts of their potential customers. Instead of pushing up “the need to change” vertically until you reach a person of authority to sign on the dotted line, explore first your Needs Discovery horizontally across multiple functions. Understand from Warehouse to Penthouse what’s going on, who believes what, who influences who, and how you can help.
Believe you can help. Business people listen to business reasoning. From all your discovery, you need to build your own opinion on how you can help the potential customer, and that sticking with the status quo is a less attractive option. In the end, you want to displace your competitor. Your opinion needs to lead to a better business outcome. Share your ideas, share insights, share stories to shine a different perspective on the customer’s challenges. What risks do you see for their business if they do not make a change? What opportunities would be in reach when making a change? Discuss all these with key stakeholders across their departments until you find someone who believes in you. Use this person as your Change Champion to open doors and get more stakeholders on board. Believe you can be a Trusted Advisor helping business with strategic value and business outcomes that set them apart from their competitors.
To stop being kicked around means you need to take more control over the whole process. Instead of being the ball, grab the handles and push and pull the ball to the players who you think can help to move it forward until you reach being in front of the goal. Your competitor is outplayed after you hear that hard bang of the ball hitting the back of the goal. You have just won a new customer!
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