Do you remember the last time you made a significant buying decision as a consumer, such as a decision to buy furniture or a car? How structured and organized was this decision-making process? Or was it perhaps a more iterative process or cycle, because you heard something here and learned something there, and all of sudden, a different, but amazing, offer came your way. If you have professional B2B buying experience, reflect on some of those decision processes. How many were linear, without iterations? Probably not a single one.
Buying happens in iterations, and the buying dynamics have to be navigated
I remember one of my biggest buying decisions in a large corporation, which was about an account management system that should support a newly implemented customer-core account planning and management cycle. The whole buying process took two years, from scoping to developing the solution, to the pilot, up to buying (not including implementation). From start to finish there were phases that were straightforward… until something happened. It might have been a budget freeze, the appointment of a new sales leader, or the IT department changed its strategy. Some stakeholders left the project; others joined, and both the exits and the entries impacted the specific context of the project, based on their different viewpoints and even different goals.
Was that a linear, straight buying process that could be simply managed by following the process? No. Not at all. It was an iterative process with moving targets and various stakeholder changes, and on a global level. Lots of dynamics happened that could not be managed by applying learned mechanics. Those dynamics had to be navigated, situationally, based on a changing context, moving targets and a changing buying team with changing thoughts and expectations. Overall, it was an iterative, dynamic process that had to be navigated carefully, in a very focused way, and with lots of situational awareness, creativity, and adaptations.
More information does not necessarily lead to more understanding – context is often missing
Customer behaviors have fundamentally changed and are still changing, and their expectations are rising. There is no doubt that buyers are much more informed than ever before; exactly as salespeople should be much more informed about their customers and competitors, etc. But often more information does not necessarily lead to more knowledge on the buyer side – it leads to more confusion. Why? Because lots of information is without any context. And context matters. Context is queen, if not king. And that’s where the value of a sales professional comes into play.
Buyers decide how to connect, collaborate and calculate throughout their customer’s journey
Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study reports that today’s buyers decide how they want to connect, how they want to collaborate with salespeople and how they calculate value. Selling is no longer about products; it’s about the specific value customers can achieve through a provider’s products and services. Value is always specific to the customer, dependent upon their situational context and the buying teams’ approaches on how to tackle the challenge. Professional B2B selling must be dedicated to creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey for each impacted buyer role. Click here to take the survey for the 2016 CSO Insights Sales Best Practices Study.
Customer-core strategies for enablement leaders
Knowing and understanding how buyers want to buy is essential for every enablement leader. Understanding the customer’s journey and working with the customer’s journey and the impacted buyer roles has to be the foundation of any enablement strategy, mapped to the specific challenges of the sales force.
Reflecting these buying dynamics throughout an often formalized, but iterative customer’s journey, three key strategies should be applied by sales enablement leaders:
- Implement a dynamic customer-core engagement principle: Such an engagement principle – we call ours “Providing Perspective” – defines how to connect and engage with different buyer roles throughout their customer’s journey related to the buyers different focal points in each phase. Furthermore, such an engagement principle sets the stage for a dynamic value messaging approach that also has to be tailored to the customer’s journey phases and the different buyers’ needs in each phase.
- Align and integrate content and training services: It’s not enough to provide content such as playbooks, messaging guidelines, new case studies, brochures, etc. Salespeople need to know how to use which asset most effectively in which customer interaction. Short videos, featuring salespeople explaining to their peers how to take advantage of a certain asset, are one of the most credible ways to drive adoption. Connecting content and training with small, but impactful steps is always a winning strategy.
- Build salespeople’s adaptive competencies: One of the biggest competitive advantages a salesforce can have is the ability to shift strategies, activities and behaviors to changed, complex and new situations, fast and effectively. Developing salespeople’s adaptive competencies becomes more and more a strategic necessity to develop a salesforce that can create additional and differentiating value to their prospects and customers – in their context, addressing their desired business value.
Last but not least, the internal process landscape must allow iterations exactly the same way as customers process their iterations. To adapt internal processes this way, collaborating with sales operations is essential, to better integrate principles and to remove one-way rules.
How do you deal with buying iterations, from a sales and a sales force enablement perspective?
Did you already adjust your internal processes; and if so, how?
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, October 27, 2015.