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Why Your Customers No Longer Know How to Buy

Posted on  9 March 11  by 

Comment (4)

consensus buyingOver the past few years, the SEC has advocated the use of commercial teaching and how important it is for reps to teach customers about previously unknown business needs in order to lead them to your unique value offering. But this year, as the sales environment becomes increasingly complex, it’s time for your reps to take commercial teaching to another level… by teaching your customers how to buy.

Why? As it turns out, your customers no longer know how to buy. Well, not exactly, but an emerging trend from recent conversations with members certainly suggests it. To clarify, we’re hearing that customers are unsure of how to buy suppliers’ increasingly complex and disruptive solutions— i.e., they lack a formalized buying process for solutions of such scope.

So, it’s not that your customers don’t know how to buy things anymore; it’s just that they don’t know how to buy your thing.

The real point of concern here is customers’ immediate reaction to deals of this scope: involve more stakeholders in the decision. Today’s solutions are generally cross departmental in scope and will require significant change on the part of customer organizations. As a result, organizations are involving more stakeholders in the deal in an effort to mitigate the complexity and risks involved in the change.  

From a suppliers’ standpoint, an increase in the number of stakeholders involved in a deal is not good news. At best, it translates into a lengthened buying cycle, and more likely than not, a missed sale. How? In its simplest form, more people involved in the deal means more opinions, more objections to overcome, etc… essentially more ways for the deal to go south.

Most companies selling complex solutions haven’t fully adapted to customers’ buying processes (or lack thereof…) and are not closing business as a result.

But a few organizations are figuring out how to consistently close sales by leading customers through the deal—essentially teaching the customer how to buy their solution.

How are they doing this? By learning from trends in previous sales and identifying the stakeholders that typically need to be involved in the deal, possible points of risk, concern, and objection in the sale, and conventional timelines for gaining consensus on the deal. Using this information, reps are able to lead the group through the process and successfully teach the customer how to buy their solution.

Do you think this strategy is realistic? Do customers really not know how to buy anymore? And if so, are your reps the ones who can teach them how? Let us know in the comments below.

SEC Members, we’ll be covering this topic in our 2011 research study – stay updated on our latest observations and hypotheses, or schedule a call with us to discuss how you’re dealing with customers’ changing buying processes.

Comments from the Network (4)

  1. ryan tognazzini
    on March 10, 2011

    Interesting article, Taylor. Think this ties in well with Thull’s theory on the customer challenge. Because our customers only “know what they know,” they can only take action against the problems, opportunities or products they are aware of. The ability of the sales person to educate their customers on a new point of view and educate them on the buying process is truly value-based selling.

  2. Christian Baillet
    on March 10, 2011

    This is definetely a real challenge we are facing when selling solutions which impact all business operations to customers who only buy them once every 10 to 20 years. It conducts to customers calling in 20 to 30 people, which in turn requires complicated consensus building. What makes one stakeholder happy, upsets another one… It also makes selection criteria unclear and changing, and often conducts to vendor selection being driven more by price than value.

    I very much look forward to the findings of your research on that topic

  3. Adam Sands
    on March 10, 2011

    A very timely post, this one! There is no doubt that much of the above article is true. Our challenge (as sales leaders / coaches / trainers) is to lift the underlying business acumen of sales people so they’re able to ask commercially savvy questions, understand their customers responses and relates that to their customers business, customers customers, prospects & markets. Only then can the sales person ‘teach’ their customers how to achieve their organisational objectives with the help and support of whatever relevant product or service the sales person is representing.

    Simply telling sales people that their role is now to teach their customers how to buy their solutions without developing the competencies to do that, is a strategy doomed to failure and frustration.

    It’s absolutely the way selling needs to go, but to achieve that ‘selling’ will need to become recognised as a true profession and become populated with people with knowledge, experience and skills from across the business spectrum. We’ve come a long way from the time when you went into sales when you’d failed at everything else. I’m now looking for candidates for sales roles who through academic achievement and / or commercial experience can demonstrate well developed business acumen…

  4. Steve Richard
    on March 15, 2011

    The concept makes a ton of sense when you look it at from the standpoint of getting in the door in the first place. Prospects that don’t know how to buy certainly don’t know what to look for in partners who are trying to set a meeting with them. The salesperson might have great research indicating that the prospect could benefit tremendously, but in many cases the prospect doesn’t have the information about their own organization to see it the same way. This divide is amplified in the first part of the sales process, especially when a new vendor is attempting to unseat an incumbent. It definitely helps to explain the gap between sales and marketing. For a recent ebook, we recently surveyed 1,150 sales reps about the source of their most qualified leads and best deals. Here’s what they said:
    +39% definitely self generated
    +32% probably self generated
    +19% probably marketing sourced
    +10% definitely marketing sourced

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